Leader’s Game Plan: Tigran Sloyan CEO of CodeFights, Explains The Leader’s Primary Responsibility

What do you think is the leader's primary responsibility? The lack of a proper answer is what sends a leader to fail the company and the team.

When I posed that question to Tigran Sloyan, CEO of CodeFights, Sloyan explains, “Amazing things happen when a group of incredibly smart people works in unison to change the world, and as a leader, your job is to create that environment.”

Building an environment where your team can thrive is a crucial cornerstone, of success. While there are various ways a leader can create that environment, the best way is by adding value to your team; to give them what they need to flourish.

How are you building an environment that allows your team to change the world? It’s OK if you don’t currently have a strategy. Poet John Keats (October 31, 1795, to February 23, 1821) coins the phrase “Negative Capability.” This is the willingness to embrace uncertainty.

In his Selected Letters Keats writes: “Several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously — I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.”

Let’s read what else Sloyan is doing make sure his team succeeds and how he has managed to live with uncertainty.

So Tigran, what is your story?

My story starts in Eastern Europe, in a small country called Armenia. I spent most of my childhood there. At some point in middle-school I applied to the top 3 private schools in the country and got rejected from all 3. As a middle-school kid that was quite devastating since it was the last year you could get admitted through the regular process. I still decided to ask them if there was another way in. They told me that if I won National Math Contests, they would admit me on full scholarship without an exam.

They were probably joking since winning national contests is much harder than getting into those schools but in the next 5 years that followed I won every national math contest in the country and received 8 international awards in Math. I did get offers from all of the top schools in the country but I never took them since at that point they were irrelevant.

The international awards opened the door for me to go to MIT so I made the big move from Armenia to Boston. I got a double major in Math and Computer Science at MIT and a minor in Economics. In the years that followed, I went on to work at Google, Oracle and later started my own company, CodeFights.

How do you inspire innovation? How do you frame the challenge in terms so daunting that no one (yet) knows how to solve the problem?

Innovation comes from seeing the world in a way that most people don’t. When you see and experience a huge problem, as a problem solver, you start looking for ways to solve it. And when you find a solution, that becomes your innovation. From there on, it’s about surrounding yourself with amazing people and getting them to see the world the way you see it.

What is the WHY that differentiates the simple businesses from the purpose-driven business?

To this day the world values people based on their background and not their merits. Unless you are an engineer from MIT or you worked at Google, doesn’t matter how smart and talented you are, you will never be given a chance to even interview at great companies. We believe that this is wrong and we are on a mission to fix it.

How do you get your new employees to buy into your “why?”

Actually, companies that have a REAL “Why” don’t have to try too hard to convince others. It’s like a giant elephant in the room. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. So my job is to make people see the elephant. It’s easy.

Do you think that a leader’s primary goal is to manage the results or manage the people that get the results?

You don’t manage the people. You give them the environment that encourages and rewards delivering results and you manage the process instead of the people. Amazing things happen when a group of incredibly smart people work in unison to change the world and as a leader your job is to create that environment.