What We’re Reading: On Leadership

By Josh Jones-Dilworth, CEO, Co-Founder, JDI

Leaders know well enough to stay behind the scenes, where their effectiveness can more easily flourish?

Who do you truly admire? Who do you model yourself after? Who is setting the tone in 2019?

As we begin to think about themes for next year’s Culturati Summit, the word leadership keeps coming up, especially since we’ll be in the throes of choosing a new leader of our country come January 2020.


Leadership is one of those words that’s been so overused that it has started to become meaningless. A quick Google search returns a litany of listicles about what it means to lead.

  • 17 Ways Great Leaders Motivate Their People
  • 12 CEOs Describe Their Leadership Style
  • 4 Things That Set Successful CEOs Apart
  • 6 Essential Leadership Lessons Learned from Experience
  • Drucker’s 8 Principles of Successful Leadership

How are we to have a novel conversation about leadership in the face of so much churned-out business advice, or perhaps better put, the CEO industrial complex?

Just as troubling is perhaps how difficult some of us find it to list 5 living leaders we truly admire. I’ve been asking friends and colleagues this question ceaselessly for the past 2 weeks. Folks are stumped more often than not.

A “some of this, some of that” answer is easier to come by. But who really sets an example you want to follow? Why does modern business seem devoid of role models?

Is the task difficult because we’re looking in the wrong places, atop Fortune 500 org charts? Is it because scandal seems to find anyone and everyone on a long enough timeline? Has principled leadership gone increasingly out of style in an EBITDA-or-else world? Or do our very best

Yet, when we see or meet a great leader, it’s immediately clear that something special is happening. Great leadership won’t ever go out of style.

And if you have ever had the great fortune to be around a truly exceptional leader at the top of her game, spending the rest of your career trying to become one instinctively feels like a damn good use of time, no matter how close you may ultimately get.

The best reading we’ve done of late is from Harvard Business Review and Daniel Goleman back in 2000:

“Research has shown that the most successful leaders have strengths in the following emotional intelligence competencies: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill…and the best leaders don’t know just one style of leadership — they’re skilled at several, and have the flexibility to switch between styles as the circumstances dictate.”

We liked that quite a bit. Goleman goes on:

“Ask any group of businesspeople the question “What do effective leaders do?” and you’ll hear a sweep of answers. Leaders set strategy; they motivate; they create a mission; they build a culture. Then ask “What should leaders do?” If the group is seasoned, you’ll likely hear one response: the leader’s singular job is to get results.”

Whether you find yourself in a big role or a small one — working for a large company or a startup, a for-profit, a nonprofit, or in the government, academia, or military — getting sh*t done and making a dent is the ultimate satisfaction, isn’t it?

Culturati Founding Member Jason Cohen also blew us away with his most recent blog post, simply titled Kung Fu. Give it a read right now.

“Your first 10 people will join because you’re a startup: they get excitement, influence, caché, unique experience, and a small shot at outsized remuneration. But why will the 500th person join?” For you and your company, why will that 500th person join?”

That’s as good a leadership question as we’ve heard. It’s easy to lead when the task at hand demands your best no matter who’s out front. At larger sizes and when there’s much more ambiguity about what is best and what is meant, leaders are testing in an entirely different way.

I can’t wait to publish the audio from Mark McClain’s session at our 
Summit. It was so good. Mark is a top-ranked CEO on Glassdoor, and remarkably has lead his team through the whole “stack” of growth as CEO, from scrappy startup to large publicly traded company. It’s a privilege to be on the receiving end of true wisdom.

Please send us what you’re reading too, and especially anything on or around leadership that cuts through the noise: programming@jones-dilworth.com


Josh Jones-Dilworth

I’ve spent my career making sure that the right things get the attention they deserve.

At work and in life, I’m passionate about frontier technology; my specific expertise lies in the areas of brains, bots and bodies.

I spend most of my professional time working with innovators in the fields of artificial intelligence, big data, healthcare IT and “omics,”​ neuroscience, robotics, chemistry, material science, and aerospace, as well as scientific research commercialization generally.

I founded JDI (Jones-Dilworth, Inc.) in 2009 to bring emerging technologies to market. I love our clients and my team. Think of us as an outsourced, full-stack marketing department, with a domain emphasis on both the social and physical sciences. We work with folks commercializing breakthrough technologies that positively impact the world.

JDI is much more than a boutique consultancy however; it’s the epicenter of everything I do, and a shared capacity that we bring to bear on a wide variety projects and causes. JDI also acts as a venture studio of sorts, having helped both and grow 3 serious, profitable ventures and counting. We are currently formalizing this process and instigating a sidecar fund too.

I co-founded Litmus Health with two of my best friends. I work on Litmus daily, helping grow our sales and marketing operation. Litmus sells a data science platform for early-stage clinical trials and large-scale observational studies. We are focused on understanding why sufferers of chronic disease have good days and bad days. One day soon, we’ll be able to predict outcomes and suggest corrective action beforehand. Almost everybody has an experience with chronic disease. For me, it’s debilitating migraines.

I also co-founded and help run programming for Culturati, a non-profit membership organization and yearly Summit that’s all about building modern, high-performing corporate cultures. We hold up incredible organizations and show what makes them great, so that others around the world can see and follow their example.

I’ve also co-founded Daily Dot and Totem, both of which are both still kicking butt and taking names. I’m super proud of these two companies. The Dot is one of the fastest-growing media ventures around, and a perennial candidate for Digiday’s Publisher of the Year. Totem is a PR tools software that is helps companies treat journalists right.

I’ve told everyone I know that I’m done starting new ventures, but I continue to sense marked skepticism in return. I can’t imagine why.

Outside of my professional career, I’m driven to give back to the same systems, people, and organizations that made my own success possible in the first place. I’m only here because others did the same for me.

I’m on the Board of Trustees at McDonogh School. McDonogh gave me a full ride when it mattered more than you can imagine. They changed my world forever. Since 1873, we have worked tirelessly to deliver on our founder John McDonogh’s original promise to equip each student to face the future and “do the greatest possible amount of good” in the City of Baltimore and beyond.

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to teach in the Acton School of Business’ MBA program in Entrepreneurship. I’m at the very beginning of a decades-long journey, learning the art and science of asking questions and teaching by not talking, from some of the principled entrepreneurs in the world. We use the Socratic method to give students a first-person experience of what it means to be an entrepreneur.

I’m also on the Boards of the Entrepreneurs Foundation, SAFE, DivInc, Folio Collaborative, and the Arch Mission Foundation.

The Entrepreneurs Foundation is the parent organization of Culturati. We were founded by entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and friends to promote philanthropy and community engagement. Today we also help entrepreneurs build corporate cultures and employee engagement that contribute to success and the communities where they operate.

SAFE is the umbrella organization comprising both Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace, which provides housing, healing, and support for individuals and families affected by domestic violence and sexual assault.

Divinc is a non-profit accelerator that champions diversity in the tech ecosystem, focusing on women and people of color. By building successful high-growth companies, we cknow we can disproportionately influence the economic, political and social development of diverse communities nationwide.

The Arch Mission Foundation is permanently archiving all of human knowledge in space. Folio is a startup founded at McDonogh that provides a professional development platform for teachers at 150 private independent schools around the country, and growing.

Finally, I’m an “kitchen cabinet” advisor to Mayor Adler in Austin, an Advisor to the Austin Tech Alliance, a Venture Partner at NextGen and a Mentor to Techstars Austin, Techstars Impact, and Pipeline Entrepreneur companies.

I did my undergraduate work at Haverford College, earning degrees in both Philosophy and English. I’ll talk anyone’s ear off about issues of mind and world. I love Hegel and John McDowell.

After Haverford I went to NYU film school, but never graduated. I left with a Certificate in Directing, though I wanted to be a Producer. In 2002, I co-founded Eighty-Watt Cinema, a New-York based production company, and my first venture. Despite some initial success, my co-founder Nick White and I ultimately concluded two things. One, we’d ruined a perfectly legitimate hobby. Two, the world doesn’t need more films; there are plenty of awesome ones already out there. The problem is that good works don’t get seen often enough or by as many people as they should.

I live in beautiful Austin, Texas with my rockstar wife Liz and two daughters, Claudia and Quincy. Liz and I work alongside each other everyday at JDI; it’s not for everyone, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. None of this would be possible without Liz, who is my co-founder in everything, and the best operator I know.

Our girls are precocious to say the least. They ask all the questions and do all the things long before we’re ready. That’s my biggest lesson as a Dad so far; your children are always more ready than you. I’m incredibly grateful for the diverse, creative community that Claudia and Quincy are growing up in. All of your influence matters, and shows.

Find my personal blog at josh.jones-dilworth.com. Find me on LinkedIn here.