“Brett, you should fly to the UK in Business Class,” Tina, our Controller, urged me. “You need to be fresh when you get there.”
“Man, it’s tempting, but that’s not something I think I should do…”
“Brett, you’re the CEO,” Tina said. “Everyone will understand.”
You should never ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.
“That may be,” I said. “And I really hate flying coach on an overseas flight. It’s not something I’m even remotely looking forward to. However, how can I look Adolfo, John, or anyone else in the eye if I don’t do what I would expect them to do?”
“I understand,” Tina said.
Maybe I could have gotten away with it. Maybe no one would have ever known except for Tina, but I felt otherwise. Somehow word would get out that I was flying business class and expecting everyone else to fly coach.
And that, in my opinion, would not be a good look for me. More importantly, I knew that if there were different rules for me than for the team, it would hurt the company.
I learned that years ago when I worked for "Bob." Bob was a CEO that thought the rules were different for him.
I saw Bob, time and time again, put himself above the company. Be it the four day workweeks Bob regularly took, or, yes, flying first class and forcing everyone else to fly coach, it was clear that Bob was for Bob, not the company.
Everything you do as CEO sets the culture for your company.
I was determined not to repeat Bob's mistakes when I started my company. One of the things I learned early on about being a CEO is that you should view yourself as an actor. In other words, there’s always an audience (your customers, your team, or your investors) watching what you do.
And your audience, especially your team, is looking at you for guidance all the time:
- Your team is wondering why you left the office at 3:30PM today, and…
- Your team is wondering why you stayed late last night, and…
- Your team is wondering why you had your door closed when you were talking to Jim.
In other words, your team is always looking at you and wondering, “Why?”
You need to fill in the blanks about what you’re doing.
Nothing drove this point home more to me than after I updated the team on our progress during a Friday lunch meeting. I thought the update went well, but I soon learned otherwise.
Jeroen, our VP Engineering walked into my office. He said, “One of my guys was worried because you frowned when you answered the question about 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.
In hindsight, I probably didn’t do a good enough job filling in the blanks about what was really going on with the revenue. I needed to give more detail than I did.
Instead someone was relying on my facial expression for guidance. That’s why you can’t ever ask someone do something you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself.
For more, read: What Are The 17 Biggest Surprises When You Founded Your Company?