“When’s Jack coming in today?” I asked his co-founder, Bob. I had joined the startup about two months prior as the VP Marketing.
It was 10:30AM on a Friday morning. I needed Jack’s approval on an offer I was about to make to a candidate. Jack, the CEO, was nowhere to be found.
“I don’t know,” Bob answered.
I decided to call Jack on his mobile. Jack didn’t pick up so I left him a message.
Where in the world was Jack?
The clock kept rolling on.
11:30AM: No sign of Jack.
12:30PM: No sign of Jack.
1:30PM: No sign of Jack.
What was up with Jack?
This wasn’t the first time Jack was a no show in my two months on the job. In fact, Jack didn’t seem as engaged as I expected when he was recruiting me.
2:30PM: No sign of Jack.
“This is getting ridiculous,” I thought to myself. We were going to lose the candidate if we didn’t move.
I decided to call Jack again. Voicemail. Shit.
3:30PM: No sign of Jack.
4:30PM: No sign of Jack.
5:30PM: No sign of Jack.
I called one more time. Again I got voicemail.
I wondered, somewhat seriously, if Jack was dead. I also wondered if I was going to hurt people by bringing them into the startup if the CEO wasn’t engaged.
It was a Catch-22.
I needed good people if I was going to help the startup win. But I didn’t like the idea of bringing really good people into this type of environment.
I decided I would wait to hear from Jack over the weekend before I extended the offer. You can guess what happened next. I didn’t hear from Jack over the weekend.
Monday morning comes up. I got in at 8AM. Jack’s not there yet.
9:00AM: No sign of Jack.
At 9:45AM, Jack pulls into the parking lot. I make a B line to Jack’s office.
“Did you get my messages?” I asked.
“Yes, I did,” Jack said, smiling. Then he continued. “I was at my house in Capitola. When I get over the hill on 17 (California highway 17), it feels like I’ve left all my troubles behind me.
“That’s why I didn’t call you back.” Then he signed the offer.
It was too late. The hiring market was hot, and the candidate had taken another offer instead of ours.
Every action you take as CEO, right or wrong, is given the once over by your team.
I realized I had made a huge mistake joining the company. Jack’s heart wasn’t in being the CEO anymore.
Then, the next month, Jack was fired.
So you tell me, do you think being late to the office negatively influences your team? You bet it does.
Here’s the thing. You become an actor when you become CEO. Your stage is the office.
If you usually come in at 9AM, and you start coming into the office at 10:30AM, then your team is going to wonder why?
If you usually come in at 10:30AM, and you start coming into the office at 8AM, then your team is going to wonder why.
All of your actions will be put under the microscope by your team. They will be looking for meaning where there is none.
I’ve told this story before, but I’ll tell it again. Jeroen, the VP Engineering, came into my office one Friday afternoon. We had a company meeting earlier in the day.
Jeroen said that one of the engineers on his team was worried because I frowned when I answered a question about the company’s revenue.
“I frowned?” I said. “I don’t remember frowning.”
“Yes, he thought you frowned. And so he thought things were really bad.”
I was laughing at this point.
But this anecdote just shows you how everything you say, everything you do, every gesture you make, every email you send, all of it will scrutinized over and over by your team.
You’re never going to be perfect. That’s a given. However, if you exhibit the company’s core values every day in everything you do, then your team will find LESS meaning when you come in late one day.
You have to walk the walk and talk the talk as CEO.
Here's the reality. If you don't care about your company every week, every day, every hour, and every second then how can you expect your team to care?
The answer is you will not have your team's loyalty UNLESS you show them a reason to be loyal. Having good character isn't something you can turn on when you want to turn it on.
Character doesn't work that way. You have to exhibit your good character every day, every hour, every minute, and every second if you expect your team to follow you.