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Matt Mullenweg: young, obsessed and doing it his way

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Mindful of his fast rise, Matt Mullenweg has given some thought to leadership. The idiosyncratic 25-year-old founded Automattic, parent company of the blogging tool WordPress, which powers 12 million blogs.

Some of his priorities:

Knowledge. Mullenweg reads business books “because I feel like I should figure out how to be a real businessman before someone figures out that I’m not.”

Flow. To grease the creative process, he uses a high-end sound system for music, mostly jazz, and sometimes replays the same song hundreds of times so that he stays in a zone while coding software.

During this process, Mullenweg turns off instant messaging and e-mail. “If you are taken out of the flow, if that little toaster pops up that says you’ve got mail—and you look at it, you’ve lost it,” he says. “You’re juggling [and] the moment you look away, it all falls to the ground, and you spend 10 minutes getting it all back in the air again.”

Communication. Mullenweg’s employees communicate using P2, a program they invented that allows instant messaging and group blogs, so they can share a thought or some code. They also use Skype for one-to-one and group teleconferences.

The boss maintains personal connections as well, going to lunch with his CEO at 12:30 and staying until 5.

Trust. His strategy is “to find extremely self-motivated and talented people and then let them go. There’s no manager looking over your shoulder every day, so you need to be able to completely direct yourself.”

Purpose. His aims are pure. His blog serves as his living room (he throws out obnoxious guests) and his mother was his motivation for building anti-spam software.

“I was worried about my mom,” he says. “She hadn’t started a blog yet, but I had this crazy fear that when she did, she’d be bombarded by spam for Viagra and think that had something to do with what I did all day.”

Obsession. “Reading is my break,” he says. “Otherwise, I go to sleep and wake up thinking about WordPress.”

—Adapted from “The Way I Work,” Matt Mullenweg as told to Liz Welch, Inc. magazine.

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