The best businesses scale faster than their people. Learning to be a better CEO is crucial for entrepreneurs who don't set out to be managers, they just fall into it by virtue of their creation. Below are my Top 20 tips from my experience at PeoplePerHour.
1. Be fair
Fairness comes first. You can be tough and even brutal at times but be fair in your judgment, give credit where credit is due. No one wants to work for someone who is unfair. When you are let down, hold people accountable for it, but when push comes to shove swallow your pride. Be the bigger man, after all you are CEO.
2. Show empathy
Show empathy not sympathy. Sympathy is letting emotions rule you. It's feeling sorry for people. Empathy is getting under other people's skin to understand them. As a CEO its your job to get under the skin of your customers, your staff, your stakeholders and figure out what makes them tick. Keep it human. Don't let your success go to your head. Emotional intelligence is as important (if not more) than analytical intelligence in running a business.
3. Be the benevolent dictator
True democracy does not work in business (if anywhere). Drop the 'decisions by committee', and the never ending conversations. It will slow you down, create bureaucracy, indecisiveness, and will eventually kill you. Listen to everyone's opinion, create healthy debate but then take a firm and binding decision. Show decisiveness and conviction. Align everyone to your decision and march forward relentlessly. It matters less to be right all the time. You never will be. You will be wrong some times. Its OK- learn to fail fast and realign. The benevolent dictator is the one who is decisive, taking action with the best intent at heart.
4. Give clear direction
Give people clear goals and targets. Start with your grand vision and work backwards breaking it into milestones and goals in order to get there. People get lost if you leave them with the big picture: remember not everyone is an entrepreneur. They may not see the macro view that you do
5. Hire people who are better than you
Hire people who can do their job much better than you ever could. If you are not learning from them it's a bad sign. Your instinct as a founder is one of the most important assets of the business, but you need to complement it with expert knowledge in the different functional areas of your business.
6. Delegate and hold people accountable
How much or how little to delegate is one of the trickiest bits in managing your team. Delegate too little and you are micromanaging. Delegate too much and you get detached, details get missed and things start going wrong. Learn to differentiate between details that don't really matter, things you can leave to others, and details that do. Doing a deep dive in the details that do is super important, even if you have an expert in that domain. Figure out the ones that matter and keep close to them, set targets and hold people accountable to what they say they will do. There is no room for complacency in a startup, if you don't hold people accountable they will very soon walk all over you and nothing will get done.
7. Lead by example
As the CEO of your business you should be working harder, longer and care more than anyone else about your business. People need to see that commitment from you. As the leader of your business a lot of the behavior in your organization will be shaped directly by your behavior. If you don't care about customers, your team wont either. If you don't care about quality your team wont either. If you're not super responsive they wont be either. The best way to shape your culture is to set the example yourself, set the standard of quality, what's acceptable and what's not. People will then follow
8. Don't manage, lead
Managing and leading are two very different things. And in most cases people are good at either one or the other. Managers know how to coordinate their team day in day out to reach targets. They are better than you at keeping tab with all the moving parts and nurturing, sometimes hand-holding people to get there step by step. Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing. Your job as a CEO is not to manage people. You job is to figure out what's the next thing your business needs to go forward. To do that you need to free yourself from day to day management. If you try to do both chances are one or the other (or both) will suffer.
9. Keep talking to your customers
No matter how big or busy you get its super important you personally talk to your customers on a regular basis. At PeoplePerHour even though I'm getting busier every day I'm digging in deeper and finding time to communicate with at least 20 - 30 customers a day. I email them directly, often to find they are shocked to get an email from the CEO. They think its spam sometimes, which makes me laugh. Remember: you're not the customer. You're just the CEO. Dont assume you know the customer better than you really do. But equally learn to filter out the noise from the substance. Not all customers can articulate or put their finger to what they really want. That's your job to figure it out.
10. Strategize or die
Sun Tzu said: "strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory; but tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat". Entrepreneurs are by nature scrappy, often master tacticians. That's why they manage to get something created out of nothing. But as you grow you need to differentiate tactics from strategy. Tactics are the tweaks and constant optimisations you can make to lead to incremental improvement. Continuous improvement or Kaizen as the Japanese call it is super important. But it wont get you all the way. At best you will have a super optimized efficient machine. It doesn't change the world. Strategy is what will drive step change and set you apart. Great tactics make you better than your competitors. But a great strategy will make your competitors irrelevant.
11. Learn to ask: what's important today ?
If you have more than three priorities you have none. Learn to have 3 major priorities at any one time. Sure you will have a backlog of little things as well. Don't become a victim of it, if you walk in every morning and work off your backlog you are living in the past and playing catch up all the time. You are in fire-fighting mode constantly. Develop daily amnesia, walk in and ask yourself every day "what's important today". You don't need to take 50 decisions every day. You just need to take 1 - the right one.
12. Focus on stakeholder value
Its easy to get too absorbed in your deep passion for what you do and lose sight of what you are there to do as CEO: drive stakeholder value. Value for your customers, value for your team and value for your shareholders.
13. Tell stories
The best way to get your message across is through story telling, metaphors and analogies. Don't do buzzwords, geek talk and heavy corporate language. Keep it human, light, humorous. You need to charm your team, your customers, your shareholders. People relate to stories not buzzwords
14. Have a deep sense of purpose
Ask yourself: if your business disappeared tomorrow, would it really matter? To whom? and why? Aside of shareholder losing their money. You need a grander purpose to just making money. You need to be serving a need that makes a difference to the world. At PeoplePerHour what gets us out of bed every morning is that sense of purpose we serve: allowing people to live their dream of becoming their own boss, building their business from the ground up.
15. Be the gatekeeper
Don't confuse delegation with gatekeeping. You need to be the ultimate gatekeeper in your company, you are the one defining and setting the standard. Define what's permissible quality for your company, from your customer communications, to design and product development, to how people get managed. People will push you to compromise that standard, for the sake of moving faster, old habits they bring from their past, or for giving more freedom. Freedom is fine as long as it adheres to that standard, consistently. And you are the gatekeeper of that. Do not compromise it.
16. Set high goals. Don't start small
Your team members will often tell you lets 'start small'. If you start small you stay small. Start big, set big bold goals, seemingly unreachable at first. If you set the goalpost low you will at best be good. And good is the enemy of great. Reaching greatness starts with setting very high goals and pushing people to reach them. Stretch them beyond their limits: they may winge, complain that you are a tyrant or expect too much. But in the end they will thank you for it. There is no greater reward to your employees to making them better, making them achieve what they thought was unachievable.
18. Self reflect and step the hell up
Don't confuse confidence with self-reflection. Great CEOs are very self-reflective and demanding of themselves. They come across as super confident and sure of themselves on the outside. But they self reflect, they are more critical of themselves than of others, they beat themselves up constantly for their shortcomings - just not in public. Don't doubt yourself in front of your team. But sure as hell doubt yourself when you go home and look yourself in the mirror. Figure out what your team needs more from you, how to become better, and step the hell up. Every day. If you're not stepping up every day you will remain stagnant.
19. Serve, not served
Your job as a CEO is to serve others more than they serve you. Stop thinking what you need from people for a minute and ask 'what do they need from me to do a better job'. Figure out what your customers need, what your team needs, what your shareholders need and serve them. The title of boss is vanity. The reality is that you are their to serve people much more than anyone else in your organisation.
20. Develop a thick skin
Being CEO of a business - especially if you are the founder - is an emotional rollercoaster. You will have some very low moments, when you are alone, with nobody to turn to. As an employee you can turn to your boss. As CEO you can turn to no one. The buck stops with you. Learn to deal with it, don't let the emotional pressure break you. Be upbeat and exude confidence even in your lowest of low moments. People will read you better than you think. If they smell vulnerability and weakness you are over.