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Want to be a leader? Wash the Dishes When Nobody Else Will. (thesash.me)
298 points by thesash 2449 days ago | hide | past | web | 150 comments | favorite



Want to be a great leader? Work hard to develop extraordinary skills. Become an independent thinker and have the courage to follow your ideas. Show respect to others and never think more highly of yourself than you ought. Avoid bad habits of sloth, dissipation, dishonesty, and other qualities that would cause others to lose respect for you. Set goals that challenge you to do your best and follow diligently after them. Apply all this consistently to every part of your life, always striving to better yourself in even the smallest ways while maintaining integrity.

In my student days, I worked in restaurants. I worked with a guy who was a Mexican immigrant, who washed dishes with me for several years in a busy restaurant. He worked hard. He was always upbeat. He never complained. And he radiated a sense of joy all about him. Why? Because he was content with what he was doing while obviously striving to improve himself at the same time. He would often sing while he worked. And that was inspiring. That man might never make a mark in the broader society but I could see he would be a fine leader wherever his life circumstances took him.

These same qualities can be found in the startup world, as nicely reflected in this piece. But they are by no means limited to those who seek success in business. They are life qualities. It profits us all to follow them.


"That man might never make a mark in the broader society but I could see he would be a fine leader wherever his life circumstances took him."

Ah the leadership question...

Being a few years past high school, it's interesting to look at many people who seemed like leaders but never made it.

Some times it was life-circumstances. But I think think there is also a too-great a willingness to merely work hard at what presented itself.

There much that has been said on this but it's worth mentioning that to reach a certain level of leadership, while you can continue leading a bit by example, you have to be mainly willing to delegate a lot of the actual work. Essentially, you have to be able to use people. It's more than positive vibes.

In software, in particular, inspiration has never been part of the equation for any good manager manager I've had. Instead, saying what mattered and getting out of the way has always been key. Don't lead technical people by example. Don't clean our bathrooms or our code. "Mr. Energy" would not be welcome here. And I've had too many managers who were bad because they never learned the lesson that their job was no longer coding or even "inspiring" but organizing and bureaucracy-hacking.


Not all leaders are managers. Some leaders lead quietly from behind their desks while their managers stay out of the way.


"willing to delegate"

There is so much to be said here. When I first had the idea for the project i'm on now I decided to find someone to help me with the business tasks, and I found another person who knew the domain better then me. It took a few months, but eventually I found them. Then something weird happened. We were all in the same room, I had brought them both there because I knew they were the best! however I somehow couldn't allow myself to let them do the things they needed to do. For some reason, I still knew more than my domain expert, I was going to make better business decisions than my business guy. The meeting was great for meeting everyone, but in terms of progress none was made.

Then they found my weak spot. We went out for lunch at a bar, and for some reason never left the bar. After many beers, I had this drunken vision that I was doing things wrong! So I went home, and said to myself hey i'm the tech guy, i'm just going to worry about the tech, and let these guys do the things they need to do. Thats when the progress ball rolled down the hill.


I'm with you on most of that, but I think this point is a little dangerous:

> Avoid bad habits of sloth,

Willingness to pitch in when hard work really is called for is a necessary and valuable trait, of course. However, working hard when you don't have to is wasteful, and too many people confuse the two.

Sometimes, a natural inclination to be "lazy" is a lot like trying to avoid unnecessary work by being smart. I would rather work for the boss who identified the problem and bought a dishwasher.


Being seen doing the dishes obviously made an impression on at least one employee. Maybe time optimization isn't the only factor?


> Maybe time optimization isn't the only factor?

Sure, that's possible, but could the CEO have been doing something else during the same time that would have made an even better impression, or that would have positively influenced more than "at least one" employee?


I think the uses of "sloth" and "lazy" here are quite importantly different. The idea of working smart by being lazy, really means (at least to me) coming up with a better solution than the obvious hard work, time consuming approach, then going off and doing something better with the time that you have saved. Sloth implies to me sitting around doing nothing.

So: general sloth=bad;lazy approach to some tasks=good when it frees your time to do more important stuff.


Like most things, there's "good lazy" and "bad lazy" , and "good sloth" and "bad sloth".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Wall#Virtues_of_a_program...

In my experience, sometimes when I'm being "bad lazy", the "good lazy" outcomes happen anyway, but it's certainly not a recommended path to success...


I agree with your main point - that being a great leader is more caused by other things and not at all by washing dishes.

It's funny that you thought of a story about dishwashing in response to the dishwashing story :)

The headline intentionally gets causality wrong in order to attract attention. Misleading sensationalism is pollution.


All these "now you're the dishwasher, gg idiot" comments I think are taking this too literally.

We've all probably been "the nice guy" in some situation that did some mundane/tedious task, ended up being that guy forever, and ended up resentful and vowed never to do it again. I don't think this is the point here though.

In my opinion, the easiest way to command respect is to not think about commanding respect. If there's a problem, just solve it, and your peers and subordinates will respect you an order of magnitude more than if you just tried to motivate them with some "problem-solving" Power Point slides.

One of my favorite examples I've seen of "washing the dishes:"

- At a startup myself and four other engineers wanted attend a conference across town. Our cab was running late and we were in danger of missing the first sessions. The CEO chucked his keys at us (he drove a minivan) and his credit card and said, "take my car, it needs gas though so fill it up with my card on the way back."

Did we expect we now had unlimited use of this guy's car forever and abuse it? Of course not. Did we totally respect him for trusting five guys to drive his car and made sure we had enough gas? Yes. Did we notice that he didn't even use the corporate credit card because only about 10% of that full tank of gas would be used for work purposes? Yes.


"In my opinion, the easiest way to command respect is to not think about commanding respect. If there's a problem, just solve it, and your peers and subordinates will respect you an order of magnitude more than if you just tried to motivate them with some "problem-solving" Power Point slides."

It depends on the size of the organization you're in. Sad and irrational as it may seem, people are basically just monkeys, and we react most strongly to shiny, noisy things (which is part of the reason our society seems to tolerate 'social media experts' and celebrate certain bloggers...but I digress.) If there's too much background noise, it's hard to earn respect if you're quiet and industrious. Take a close look at any big company (including "engineering driven" companies), and you'll find that the upper echelons of the organization are dominated by people who ruthlessly self-promote. Don't misunderstand: at the good companies, those folks also "do the dishes" -- they're just very strategic about the timing and promotion of their dish-washing initiatives.

The problem with being the Guy Who Quietly Gets Things Done is that if you do your job too well, you don't get noticed. If you don't get noticed, you don't get rewarded, even if you're doing a kick-ass job. It's usually easier to get noticed for being quiet and reliable in a small group of people, but once you've got more than a few monkeys in the cage, it gets very noisy and it's hard to stand out, even amongst your small group of peers.


I suppose that we'll have a revival in the way we measure employees. Not everything can be put into neat metrics but there are probably lot of factors and outputs we haven't even begun to put together in a systematic way.

Knowing who your "Guys Who Quietly Gets Things Done" are would be invaluable for any enterprise. Would they pay for a tool to help them identify and retain these quiet superstars? I think so.


"I suppose that we'll have a revival in the way we measure employees....would [people] pay for a tool to help them identify and retain these quiet superstars?"

Perhaps, but I don't think it would help. The way things are isn't necessarily bad...it's just human nature. Give a cage full of monkeys a new incentive system, and the monkeys will learn to game the system in order to get more bananas. Give them a tool that lets the quiet monkeys make more noise, and the loud monkeys will use it to make themselves even louder.

Generally speaking, hyper-rational people (like most geeks) try to fight this trend at first, but they eventually come to the conclusion that it's easier and better to just play the game.


This is rather along the lines of the idea of servant leadership that I've heard of, or some may call it "stepping up to the plate"

Just like startups have the myth of the sole person having the million dollar idea in the basement, leadership has the myth of all glamour and charisma.

In my first job, I had a boss named Lex. We were out doing a field test in Germany at an airfield. Of course, most of us were pretty busy doing this or that. Lex was overseeing things, but when he had nothing to do, he looked around for something to do, and was often seen with a broom cleaning up after us in the hanger.

The idea is that shit needed to get done, and if the rest of us were busy getting shit done, he would do support work to make sure the rest of us would be able to do our jobs, even if that support work wasn't glamourous.

In the end, I know he has the group's goals in mind as his intentions indicated through his actions of doing support work--anything to get things done--rather than for his own personal gain or ego. With that in mind, I'm more willing to follow with him at the helm.


Funny, I had the exact same thing happen at a startup in the 90s - we had to pick someone up from the airport, we were late, so the CEO gave a couple of 22-year-olds the keys to her car to solve the problem.

If a CEO won't step up in that way to get the ball moving forward in a company, why should they expect their salaried employees to?


Reminds me about the story of Netflix CEO. From http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/entertainmentnewsbuzz/2011/0...

[... Huffington coaxed Hastings to talk about leadership -- and one early experience that informed his leadership style.

Hastings recalled how, as a 25-year-old software programmer, he would stay up all night, propelled by coffee. He'd leave an array of mugs on his desk. Once a week, he would discover the cups cleaned. One day, he arrived at work at 4 a.m. and walked into the bathroom to discover the company's CEO, sleeves rolled up, washing the collection of nasty cups.

"That whole time, I thought it was the janitor," said Hastings, who said this had been occurring for a year. He asked his boss why. "He said, 'You do so much for this company, this is the only thing I can do for you.' ]


'You do so much for this company, this is the only thing I can do for you.'

Typical lie of a boss. He could have given him more options or a promotion for example.


I think it's a bit of a misquote. I've heard it as the CEO saying something like "since you're under a lot of time press to get the stuff out the door in a week, and I don't know how to code, this is the only thing I can do for you right now"


The real question is how much is the CEO getting paid to wash dishes?

It would make more sense to hire someone for minimum wage to clean the bathrooms, empty trash and wash dishes, and free up time for the CEO to do other things.


Thanks for the nice post. as an aspiring startup guy, will definitely inculcate this attitude.


This reminds me of the litmus test my father had in his small business years ago. Every new employee, no matter where they worked, had the same first task: clean the bathroom. Lots of people never made it through the first day.

I guess he figured that the best way to have employees who would "wash the dishes when nobody else will" is to only hire those who would.


I washed dishes at a restaurant during high school.

One day, someone defecated in the employee restroom and missed, leaving their waste on the floor behind them.

The first waitress to enter the room thereafter shrieked, then began laughing, and called the rest of us in to go look at it. I assume she used the customer restroom.

We all looked at the offending object in question, and laughed among ourselves. I grabbed a few paper towels, and went to go deal with the situation prejudicially.

After depositing the doodoo in the dumpster out back - you can't flush paper towels - I came back in, washed my hands, and resumed my proper duties as dishwasher.

Minutes later, the boss came into the kitchen, beaming contentedly. He made his way to the employee restroom, opened the door, and asked "Uh, where's the turd?"

As it turned out, the previously mentioned poop had been plastic, and I'd just discarded a five-dollar novelty gag. Laughs were had once again.

One of the waitresses and the boss both mentioned to me that I was "like, the best employee ever" because I was willing to take the initiative to deal with a nasty situation. I'd like to say that this has been borne out by my professional performance since then, particularly as it stands relative to that of my coworkers from that period.

The best part was that the boss had borrowed the plastic fecal matter from a friend of his and had to go fish it out of the dumpster to avoid buying a new one.


You couldn't tell it was plastic? Must have been really good quality.

I've known quite a few people who worked in gas stations and other places where they had to clean the rest rooms. If there was shit, it was generally either sprayed everywhere or rubbed on the walls. I'm pretty sure they'd appreciate the politeness of a single fecal clump. As this was after the advent of cell phone cameras, I've seen the evidence. One single-person bathroom's floor was almost half-covered in feces.


One treats shit rather gingerly when one holds it through paper towels, I daresay. Its appearance was in line with my expectations of that category of objects.

I do not debate the nastiness of a shit-encrusted public bathroom stall.


No smell, though? I once lived in a tenement block where somebody emptied their bowels in the stairwell and I didn't have to go near it to know that it was the genuine article.


Awesome story - well played! :)


Maybe it's just my millenial entitlement, but that strikes me as a bad strategy. Unless the business was a cleaning or maintenance company, cleaning the bathroom seems far removed from anything relevant to my work and is in essence busywork. Questions that immediately spring into mind: is this some weird attempt at saving money by having employees do both their job and cleaning? Is this supposed to be some hazing ritual? Will this be representative of my time at the company?

Pitching in when it needs to be cleaned? Sure. Boss paying attention to who voluntarily cleans it? Sure. Making employees clean it on their first day? Not so much.

- millenial who cleans up after himself in the company kitchen


Did you understand the grandparent?

This had nothing to do with relevance, busywork, hazing, saving money, or evaluating talent.

It had a single purpose: to determine willingness to do an undesirable job. That's it. Which, interestingly, is just as important in a software start-up as it was in my father's business so many years ago.


In this case the cleaning is clearly an initiation ritual/test.

The psychological traits needed to submit to arbitrary unnecessary labour (brownnosers good, independent thinkers bad) are entirely different from the psychological traits needed to spot problem areas and deviate from assigned tasks to fix them (independent thinkers good, bronnosers bad).

I hate litmus tests with a passion.


I think the purpose of these kinds of litmus tests (to find people who are willing to get the job done, even if it looks stupid, boring, or detestable) is more important than filtering for independent thinkers.

Quite frankly, a good manager would be able to determine whether someone's a brownnoser or an independent thinker through other means. Heck, just talking with people will be sufficient for managers who are experienced and talented. But a litmus test like this reveals a lot about the nature of a person that can't come out in a conversation. You see them talk the talk, now see them walk the walk; not in terms of their professional skills, but in terms of their human nature/personality/potential for leadership.

Because the thing is, this kind of litmus test has one other very positive goal. See how someone responds to stupid orders. It's a huge sign for how well they'd be able to handle conflict and politics, which exist in any organization, even startups. It's the unfortunate nature of the beast, but good conflict management also does much to foster amazing outcomes, productivity, and creativity.

You want that kind of independent thinker over a guy who's a prima donna, even if he is an undisputed talent. To think that litmus tests cause organizations to hire only brownnosers would say more about the quality of the managers than litmus tests themselves.

Don't hate the litmus test, hate the managers who don't have higher purposes. We shouldn't be petty about that kind of stuff, it says a lot about our ability (or lack thereof) to handle human interaction well.


I'm much more willing to do an undesirable job related to my position than cleaning.

If you make it clear during interviewing that it's a small company and the employee will be expected to help with cleaning, then there's no problem.

(For the sake of argument; I actually don't mind cleaning all that much but nevertheless it's not high on my list of things to do at work. I'd prefer fixing hairy old VBScript code.)


Relevance is besides the point, you're paid to work. Your job title isn't some kind of license to refuse work you don't want to do.

You keep trying to frame this as being an issue of relevancy when really it's that you're simply not eager enough to get dirty like edw's father wanted out of his people.

You tell me to clean the bathroom on my first day, I'll ask where the scrub and bottle of 409 are.

Now if we're talking months down the line, the dishes need done, and you want me to do them, I'll wonder how my value diminished enough that it wouldn't be more cost effective to hire a cleaner.


I am not eager to clean bathrooms on my first day as a software developer. Relevance to my job title, which is important to me for both self-fulfillment and career management reasons, is a big part of why. I am eager to create software, and I understand this includes the mentally dirty parts. If I was eager to get physically dirty I'd go and make more money for an easier job at the tar sands.

You want someone who will do whatever you pay them to do, hire a cocker spaniel. [1]

[1] http://www.google.com/search?q=%22hire+a+cocker+spaniel%22


It's Friday evening. You and your team will be at the office through the weekend to finish a release. The toilet backed up, spilling onto the bathroom floor. The building's cleaning staff will not be around until Monday, and there is no protocol for emergencies. Will you clean the bathroom?

What I have done is contrive a plausible scenario where cleaning the bathroom is something that just has to get done in order for you to fulfill your stated role as a software developer. I agree with edw519's point and that of the article author's: leaders get done what has to get done regardless of what it is. Sometimes that means crawling around on your hands and knees stringing along ethernet cords. Sometimes that means implementing boring but necessary infrastructure code. Sometimes that means cleaning the bathroom.


> Will you clean the bathroom?

Yes. (Though I better be getting paid overtime for that weekend work if the schedule slip isn't the dev team's fault.)

There is a large difference between cleaning a bathroom in an emergency on a Friday evening and cleaning a bathroom because the boss wants to test you on a Monday morning.

Are you assuming that just because someone cleaned it when their boss forced them to as condition of continued employment, they will step up and volunteer to do it in the future rather than try to pawn it off on someone else? Are you assuming the inverse is also true?

This has very little to do with leadership, by the way.

--

edit: If I come in for my first day on a Monday morning and the boss tells me that the team is scrambling to finish up a release, the toilet is backed up, and the cleaning staff won't be here until the evening, I'll look at him weird and maybe not think highly of his organizational skills, but I'd be much more likely to help than in the case of being asked to clean just to see if I am willing to put up with shit.


> Yes.

Honestly, I'm sure you'd be able to find an excuse why it would be better to leave it until Monday fore someone else to do.


>(Though I better be getting paid overtime for that weekend work if the schedule slip isn't the dev team's fault.)

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaahahahahaha...

catches breath

...hahahahahahahahahahahahahaahha

Not worked long in software eh?


Long enough to learn to say "no."


In my country, programmers work salary unless they're contractors and don't have any conception of overtime in their contracts.

Maybe things are different where you are.


I'm paid salary and I'm under the impression that's the norm. Nevertheless there is a fairly standard work week and more than one way of compensation for exceeding that.


>there is a fairly standard work week and more than one way of compensation for exceeding that.

I call it a raise or a promotion.

Or keeping your job for doing it. You're salaried at a particular rate under the assumption that step up to the plate in case of emergency/deadline, otherwise they'd pay you less or pay you hourly.

Which kind goes back to edw's anecdote about his dad.

Rising to the occasion.


At my workplace we've been offered incentive bonuses or additional paid vacation time in addition to standard raises/promotions, but hey, whatever works for you and your employer.

I doubt accepting unnecessary unrelated busywork is very strongly correlated with "rising to the occasion," unless the occasions are death marches.


Crossing your wires chief. Unrelated busywork isn't what I was talking about, anymore.


Respectfully, you are kind of acting like a dick.

If one weekend, the toilets back up and he has to clean up the mess and deliver a milestone, he deserves a raise or rises to sr. dev?

So he gets a raise, and now he has no reason to complain if the toilet backs up once a month while he is working that weekend?


This whole thread strongly convinces me that this approach was an excellent one. I'm sorry, Jarek: you may be an excellent software developer, but I'd rather hire someone else. Because in my OWN years as a software developer I have found that my willingness to do whatever needed doing has made as much difference as my skill at writing and maintaining difficult programs. Sure, most other people didn't have the skills to do the latter. But most people didn't have the WILL to do the former, and both have made a huge difference for one reason or another.


That's fair enough. That's your decision. I would rather work for someone else. The original test is a false indicator with only mild correlation to any characteristic useful in a professional work setting and plenty of room for false positives.


Yea seriously, maybe if I was right out of college I would consider it but I seriously doubt that. My talents are better utilized doing other things and unless you are paying me a considerable amount of money you can clean the bathroom yourself. I happen to work for a company in the top 10 best places to work for in IT and something like that would never ever be expected or asked period, not even on a principle base.


> Your job title isn't some kind of license to refuse work you don't want to do.

Why, yes it is. If you're a janitor you're not expected to code.

In some places a job title and job description are even mandatory and they are used in case of a labour dispute. Whether this is a good for companies and employees is a separate question, but it's a big stretch to say that job titles aren't relevant.


At a startup you should expect to do anything.


Sure. The claim I was referring to didn't specify startups, though.


How do you feel about being required to work 80 hours each week, being paid only for 40, and then being required to work an additional 10 hours on top of that cleaning the bathrooms and kitchen because since you're on salary, your time is free?


The problem is I would both clean the bathroom and continue looking for a job. Smile, pitch in, and quietly get the fuck out of there. Net cost me not much. Net cost to the company 10-30+k depending on how long I stay.

PS: Turnover at the 3-6 month period is the most expensive for a SW company. You just lost all that hiring momentum, wasted all that time getting someone up to speed, damage moral, and they leave before you get any real work out of them all at the same time.


You would screw over a company just because they made you do an undesirable job for exactly one day? Obviously the test works.


That's a bit of a catch-22, isn't it? "Wow, you hate our company. I'm glad we made you hate us so we could find out." Note: an unnecessary undesirable job.

Not to mention he's not screwing a company, he's leaving a contract under established terms after discovering an incompatibility. When you screw up and get fired, you don't really get to say "I'm glad I screwed up before you had the chance to fire me."


The company with such "tests" deserves it. I'd say it must be more of some creepy pleasure for the boss to ask that more than any test.


I don't want any employees doing jobs they find undesirable. I want employees that enjoy their work. And if they ever find that they don't I want employees that ask for a different internal job, or quite to find a new external job.


It had a single purpose: to determine willingness to do an undesirable job.

Yes but consider that the undesirable job in your example is assigned arbitrarily by the boss. This might conceivably test a person's willingness to "do what's necessary" - to keep going when the going gets rough. But it just as well might test a willingness to mindlessly labor through whatever BS the boss throws at them. If someone aims to hire people with latter attitude, that someone shouldn't be surprised if those people display a lack of initiative.


@edw519, Joel talks about "willingness" in a similar example, this time reversed ~ http://www.inc.com/magazine/20081201/how-hard-could-it-be-my...


> Maybe it's just my millenial entitlement, but that strikes me as a bad strategy.

I don't know if has anything to do with your "millenial" (seriously, you use this word to describe yourself?) entitlement, but it's not a bad strategy for both you or the company. You don't want to work for a company like that, and they don't want employees like you.

Extrapolate that into numerous other "First Day/First Week/First Month" tasks other companies use, and it serves it's purpose.

Do not for a moment confuse cleaning the bathroom as the strategy. It's not. The strategy is sound. Your comment, if anything, is proof of this. Which again, is a good thing. =)


> seriously, you use this word to describe yourself?

No. That was tongue in cheek. Does anyone refer to their entitlement seriously?


I was referring your use of the word 'millenial', not the entitlement part. As for anyone referring to their entitlement seriously: yes. I see it happen all the time. I guess, however, they just don't realize it's their 'entitlement' they are talking about.


The entire "maybe it's just my millenial entitlement" was tongue in cheek. I've never seen anyone seriously refer to their own entitlement using the word "entitlement" in a positive content.


Strategy is sound in what? In hiring people willing to clean bathrooms?


Zappos employs the same strategy by offering up money for someone to leave. People who take the money aren't the type of person they want at Zappos. They won't fit in.

The military does this as well. Basic training is more than just training. If you can't get through basic training, you aren't the type of person that will work out in the military.

As for cleaning the bathroom: It's not cleaning the bathroom. It's shared ownership in the upkeep, presentation, and workings of the company. It's a small company, so everyone knows everyone I imagine. Someone not willing to clean the bathroom would probably not fit into the company.

You seem stuck on the fact that it's cleaning a bathroom.

What about committing code the first day you're on the job? Being forced to take ownership. What about being handed a computer and being told to put it together?

Lots of companies have rituals their first day. Things the new guy does that essentially boils down to the final test to see if they'll belong. If they'll fit in.

Don't make the assumption that the strategy is only cleaning a bathroom. Don't assume you have to clean a bathroom.


> What about committing code the first day you're on the job?

Wow, talk about another test that would be super successful. I'm not sure I want to work at any place where any first-dayer is made to break the build in the name of shared ownership by checking in code to a codebase he couldn't have possibly had enough time to understand to a necessary level. I suppose he will be fixing it later that evening, in the name of shared upkeep.

Responsibility and desire to belong will naturally drive the new guy (it's not like it'd be a woman, is it?) to commit something small, simple, and in the big picture totally irrelevant. As with all of these tests, what you actually get is a token activity that will tell you nothing useful and that will fail to screen out anyone who doesn't want to be screened out, company fit or otherwise.

The military is the only setting in which these tests will be useful, because there being masculine and doing whatever the boss says the company needs doing with no questions asked is the entirety of the job description.


> Wow, talk about another test that would be super successful. I'm not sure I want to work at any place where any first-dayer is made to break the build in the name of shared ownership by checking in code to a codebase he couldn't have possibly had enough time to understand to a necessary level. I suppose he will be fixing it later that evening, in the name of shared upkeep.

You make an awful lot of wrong assumptions here. Who said anything about breaking a build? And while they may not be major projects, bug fixes go a long way.

I can only say that if those things are the first things that came to your mind, I'd hate to work at the places you've worked out.

> As with all of these tests, what you actually get is a token activity that will tell you nothing useful and that will fail to screen out anyone who doesn't want to be screened out, company fit or otherwise.

We'll have to disagree then. Granted, with the vast number of successful companies employing these strategies, I feel I'm in good company.


Unless you have a ten-line† program or one hell of a suite of unit tests documenting every single interaction with the world your system ever performs‡, you can never be sure that a first-day employee 'fixing' a bug hasn't introduced a new obscure one somewhere.

It's not like being told to put together your computer or your desk, where the only environment you'd be changing is your own.

> We'll have to disagree then.

About which part? Do you deny that this test is trivial to game for those who want to game it? Or do you claim that just passing this test, at whatever motivation, is a useful signal? If so, what does it signal, other than not being philosophically opposed to meaningless tests?

† hyperbole; ‡ most real world brownfield projects don't


> Unless you have a ten-line† program or one hell of a suite of unit tests documenting every single interaction with the world your system ever performs‡, you can never be sure that a first-day employee 'fixing' a bug hasn't introduced a new obscure one somewhere.

New employee creates test to cover bug. Fixes bug. Runs test suite. Test suite passes. Commits code. All under the watchful eye of another developer.

You keep pushing specific work environments into different situations. Not all tests work for all cases. Stop assuming this. Your entire argument against this strategy is that X doesn't work in Y. You ignore that X works with X.

> Do you deny that this test is trivial to game for those who want to game it?

Yes, if you want to work for a company that does something you don't like, it's easy to game.

> Or do you claim that just passing this test, at whatever motivation, is a useful signal?

If you choose to do the task rather than just game it, it helps in several specific ways. Taking the code committing part, it ensures you have everything set up correct, from development environment, testing suite, VM, connections to dev, intergrated, staging and live, etc. You have your editor setup, connections to source control, understand the ticketing system.

Their is a lot of value knowing that everything is setup. There is also a lot of value with the person knowing they just deployed code.

> other than not being philosophically opposed to meaningless tests?

Just because you assume something is meaningless doesn't mean it is.

> About which part?

About the strategy being useful or not. You think the strategy is useless. I believe it's not, and has proven it's value.

That being said, the only thing you've done is construct hypothetical worst case scenarios and question how it's good, which is next to worthless.

If you have honest questions about the strategy, go ahead and ask. If you just want to play more games with hypothetical situations, let's just end the discussion here.


>> other than not being philosophically opposed to meaningless tests?

> Just because you assume something is meaningless doesn't mean it is.

For the record, I meant philosophically opposed to tests the tested believes to be meaningless - which is the only useful definition.

Your explanations push the hypothetical case far, far away from the test presented initially. It sounds less like the equivalent of cleaning bathrooms and more like actual work. I will end the discussion now.


> For the record, I meant philosophically opposed to tests the tested believes to be meaningless - which is the only useful definition.

Then, for the record, in this case, it helps to highlight people who think they know it all when they really don't.

> Your explanations push the hypothetical case far, far away from the test presented initially. It sounds less like the equivalent of cleaning bathrooms and more like actual work.

Again, confusing execution and strategy.

But then again, you're philosophically opposed to tests the you believe are meaningless.


So, you wouldn't work out at a place like Zappos, where everyone had to hit the phones and do customer support their first two weeks, from application developers to executives.

"Making employees clean it on their first day? Not so much."

What will you do your first day as a business owner (that is, if that's the end goal for you)? That's just one of the many things you'll do yourself for awhile, just FYI.


No, I personally wouldn't work at Zappos. But their reason to hit the phones is to understand the business and its customers. Unless edw519's father's company was in cleaning or maintenance, cleaning bathrooms won't help you understand its business.

While I currently have no concrete plans for my own business, I imagine that on the first day, I will be working from my home, which I currently clean myself. When it gets big enough to need an office, it'll be big enough to pay for cleaning (likely through the facilities' central management).


"But their reason to hit the phones is to understand the business and its customers."

No it's not. If I'm a DB admin, I sure as _hell_ wouldn't be caught dead reading through a sizing chart for some chatty gal in Texas. No way.

At least that's the so-called "millenial" mentality, right?

Cleaning bathrooms is a task. You're hired by your employer to do a job, which involves many tasks I'm sure. You're not just a title holder or a problem domain solver. And, as long as you "have no concrete plans" to be your own boss, you'll _always_ be looked upon as an employee. I think you conflate your titles with "I do no other thing than that with which I am programmed". That's what we layfolk call a machine, not an employee.

But, if you prefer abject reductionism of the employee definition, you're a unit of work. That includes whatever the employer wants. Request in, results out; regardless of what the request is. I don't need you to understand my business; that's _my_ business. I just need you to work for me.


While I appreciate being judged without being known as much as the next guy, no, you're wrong. (How's that for a millenial thing to say!)

I'm not sure where "I won't clean bathrooms on my first day as a software developer" turns into "I do no other thing than that with which I am programmed" (emphasis added). If you were a DB admin, would you think walking the owners' dog is beneficial for your career? Will you do everything an employer asks of you? If not, where do you draw the line, and why?

These actions have results. By making everyone hit the phones, you select against those not comfortable with talking to people they don't know on the phone. (Do I need to point out that you have no idea if they're socially incompetent, spoiled, or they don't like talking on the phone because of a hearing impediment?) By making people clean the bathrooms on their first day, you select against those who aren't interested in proving their willingness to get their hands dirty with busywork absolutely unrelated to their careers. That might be your intended goal. That is fine. Just realize what you're doing. I heard good employees are hard to find these days.

An employer is absolutely free to treat me as a machine to perform units of whatever work happens to be necessary. And I am absolutely free to not work for employers like that.

What I call a machine is someone who does whatever the management asks of them with no personal thoughts, concerns, or plans to speak of. Someone will have to understand your business, and unless you have no concrete plans to grow beyond a five-person shop, that will have to include someone other than the big boss.


Doesn't that just lead to bad, untrained customer support? I'd rather speak to someone who knew how to answer a question.


Also leads to your development team self-selecting for only people of at least average social skill, but whether this is a bad thing depends on your point of view.


Sounds to me like the point is to actually test for "Pitching in when it needs to be cleaned?" rather than taking a brand new employee at their word.


thought this too, when he said the kitchen kept getting messy. why didnt those slobs pick up after themselves? "oh the ceo's got it"..


I think this is a bad example. If a company hires a person to do X (where X is not 'cleaning the bathroom'), than that person should do X. If one does not do what he/she is hired to do than that person just wastes time and is not earning money for the company.

Who would you prefer to hire? Someone that 'cleans the bathroom' when it needs to be cleaned or someone that just ignores this and earns money so you could hire a cleaner?


I'm curious about whether the business owner mentioned this during the hiring process.

I also wonder whether this affected the demographics of the company. If someone were to spring this on me on my first day of work, I'd probably wonder whether this was a hazing ritual or a test (and whether the desired behavior was to clean the bathroom myself or get it clean some other way). If, in addition to that, I happened to be the first female employee or the first employee with an ethnicity different from the owner's, I'd also wonder whether this was really something they did to everyone or whether it was some kind of racist/sexist stunt -- especially since this would be happening on my first day of work, before I had a chance to get to know anyone reasonably well. Regardless of the actual motivation behind the request, I think it might have the effect of disproportionately driving away people who are in a different demographic than the majority of people at the company.


I assume he wasn't hiring software developers...


Early in my career, I asked a co-worker why he didn't complain about doing the shitty maintenance coding which no one wanted. His reply in essence: because someone has to do the crappy stuff.

My respect for him went up that day, but I discovered the leadership aspect of that attitude only years later when I applied it as a manager. Thank you, Paul!


Also, you the Mighty Developer of Mightiness, need to spend some time on the scut work so you can figure how to reduce the need for it.


It's funny, when I went to visit a friend at Etsy after work hours, we were chatting in the kitchen and their CEO, Rob Kalin was washing dishes. My friend said to him, "That's awesome that you're the CEO and you're washing the dishes, Rob." And he replied, "Oh, it's better than when I was cleaning the bathrooms."


The article isn't "Want to be a CEO, Was the Dishes..."

Leadership is facilitation, and being a leader ain't the same as being the boss. If dirty dishes are dragging on the team, taking care of them is just being part of the team. People respect supervisors when they believe the supervisor won't ask anyone to do something they wouldn't do themselves.


Nope, now you're the dishwasher. At least in my experience; if you do something that other people don't want to do, you're now the "that thing" guy for life.


Only if that's the only thing you're known for.

I have a lot of respect for a CEO that runs the entire company and doesn't consider himself too high to do the grunt work too.


> doesn't consider himself too high to do the grunt work too

go read 'Up the Organization' by Robert Towsend (written many years ago when he was the CEO of Avis Rent-a-car). Everyone at Avis (janitor, receptionist, CEO, all the way down the line) was required to work 1 or 2 days a year at the counter, renting cars. Helped everyone what business they were in, and why they had a job.


Or, "this is why I don't know anyone smart that works at Avis".

No offense, but the day I have to work as a bank teller is the day I stop working for a bank.


And that is why Bank Teller software sucks.


No, it sucks because banks will not pay for software for their tellers. You've never been a teller, but you know it sucks. So do the banks. But they don't care, because there is no money to be made in improving it.

(Wait until they realize that there is no money in etrading either. Then there will be a lot of people on the market that know how to micro-optimize memory allocators. But I digress...)


No, bank software "sucks" because it's built on literally decades, plural, of old systems that can not ever be disturbed or lose data.


Did you read the article?

"One day, I walked by the kitchen and noticed it was a huge mess. So I washed the dishes."


That's exactly it. He motivated me to take the initiative, and now, years later, I'm in a position where I can pass that on to my team.


I had literally the same experience a few years ago. I was working at a fine dining restaurant, the dishwasher called out, so the chef happily did both dish and grill. Turned out he was the best dishwasher there. Since then, I've noticed that one invariably cooks as well as they clean.


That is a very odd assertion... if you're a good chef, and have "come up through the ranks", you've probably had to clean up after yourself... but I don't think that means that you can take the dishwasher and make him the head chef. Unless you're watching Ratatouille.


I meant that one can only cook as well as they can clean.


It's interesting to me to see this comment getting up-voted (has 12 points as I'm writing this). It gives me a new perspective on what could a seemingly inconsiderate person be thinking of.


I guess the secret is to be the "X guy who isn't afraid to do the dishes," where X is something other than doing dishes.


What's funny is I actually find this attitude to be why people specifically avoid doing those little things to begin with, and why all those "dishes" pile up.


> if you do something that other people don't want to do, you're now the "that thing" guy for life.

There are ways to manage your career to avoid this. My favorite is to be quite up-front about it: tell my manager that I'll take on the urgent/bugfix team role for a couple of months because it's in terrible shape, but that I really don't want to be there any longer, and I want to train my successor around the time it starts functioning well again.


Puzzling, the underlying arrogance of most people commenting against the article here. They really seem to have such a high view of themselves, their time, their value, the optimal use of all this by their employers, and a very low level of humility.

Sounds like most of them really never had to work (just work, do a job to get money in) hard for food, and are bathed in the comfort of having learned a bit of computer science or something modern that doesn't get you too dirty, being equipped with a well functioning brain, and with all that, theydo really seem to think that it makes them a marvel and a gift to mankind. Wonder how many of them will end up being good leaders.

Somehow they haven't motivated me to work for or with them. Guess that is a first clue.

(and _I_ am the first to know that _I_ don't have leadership quality. But I have had the chance to observe and work for amazing leaders. Humility always was a key point of their personality)


I don't actually see washing the dishes as a "morale boosting" action. It's more about taking initiative. Dirty dishes is one of those public goods problems, where multiple people's dishes build up in the sink and no one washes them. The one who takes initiative and washes the whole sink as opposed to just his own is looked at as a leader, someone responsible and trustworthy, not necessarily a dishes bitch.

Being a real leader is recognizing that there is no glamour in being responsible for the lives and fates of many; that's only a perception that others project onto you. It's a humbling job.


>The one who takes initiative and washes the whole sink as opposed to just his own is looked at as a leader, someone responsible and trustworthy, not necessarily a dishes bitch

A leadership lesson for you :

The one who takes initiative and organizes those multiple people to wash the whole sink is looked at as a leader.


...once. Just show that even you aren't too good to do the hard stuff. Don't waste your time washing dishes when you actually need to be doing other things.


I think the point here isn't just that the CEO was performing a mundane task, but that he was doing work that had to get done, even though it wasn't a desirable task. There was a giant pile of dishes - he cleaned them. The dishes were the thing that needed to get done.

If he does it just once, I question his motives. This repeated behavior shows his true conviction.


CEO's need to lead; exceptional behavior creates a buzz. This is morale building advice, not socialism.

His motive? to show that no one is too good to do the hard stuff. Its a stunt, but its a lesson too. Everybody will get that.


Honest question: Is it still considered a stunt if nobody even knows that he's doing it? From the post, it seemed like he was just taking care of it with no fanfare or mention to the other employees.


Part of being a good boss is removing barriers so your staff can be productive. So I'd say it's not a stunt at all.


Like Macaulay said, "The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out."


For me, CEOs also need to enable their staff to produce their best performance. If the dirty dishes are getting in the way and the staff are honestly pushing to the limit elsewhere, IMHO it's a sensible enabling behaviour for the short term at least, regardless of who sees it.

I know if I have a busy few days and the housework starts piling up my heart sinks a little when I get in and see the task ahead; I'm quite sure it'd be the same in an office if I had that problem. That can just as easily be the point of this sort of action.


I used to run the student advisory board for our college. We had a new dean and we were hosting an event for the first time since he arrived. After the event, many people left including some of our members and we had 2 rooms to clean up. We all went into the first one cleaned it up and came to the second room to find our dean wiping all the tables. We hadn't asked or expected him (He's the fricking DEAN!!) but he took it on himself to help out.

The trust he built in the students carried on and we still have a great relationship. Washing the dishes indeed.


I do believe humility is a seriously underrated trait. You do the thing that needs to be done, no fanfare necessary.


I love to do the dishes. Does this make me a natural born leader?

In seriousness though I feel like the best way to manage in situations of ambiguously shared responsibility is not to be afraid of getting stuck with it because the slackers start to feel embarrassed around you and either pitch in or leave.

There's little more cathartic in life than actual physical toil and while doing the dishes isn't all that rough, it presents an opportunity to occupy the hands and let the mind wander.


I wonder if this would have been perceived differently if the CEO was a woman.


I don't think it would be. That woman is the CEO for a reason.


Most likely there'd be somebody offering to do the dishes instead. Or so I'd hope.


When I am a guest at someone's house I always stay and help clean up, and wash dishes. Love to do my share.

But it is foolish to be doing janitorial duties at work. A situation a few years ago will serve as an example. As an expert, my time was being billed out to clients at $150/hr and I was getting paid $50 of that. The company did not want to hire more engineers so I was working 60-100 billable hours every week, working massive overtime for which I was not paid since developers are "salary". I had not had a Saturday or Sunday off in over a year.

On top of all this, the company decided to save money by firing the janitorial service, which was being paid $15 an hour, and whose workers earned minimum wage. It was announced that engineers would take turns vacuuming, taking out the trash, and cleaning dishes and and even cleaning out the fridge.

I quit over that. Obviously because I wasn't a team player, right?


Wrong. Imagine the economy took a downturn and the company was having trouble finding placements for their consultants. Imagine that they decided to hang onto the employees even though they didn't have billable work for them (try hard: you may sprain your imagination). Imagine that the company's finances were in trouble over this, so they stopped the janitorial service. And then they asked you to take out the trash and clean the fridge.

THAT is when it would be appropriate, and a team player would pitch in. Abusing employees is abuse whether it's excessive billable hours or excessive fridge-cleaning.


I think people are getting too caught up with the dish washing element of the story. The point of the story is about taking ownership and doing whatever it takes to move the company forward.

Early on at Reddit, Alexis Ohanis did all the "bitch" work so that Steve Huffman could focus on coding.

But if we must analyze the dishwashing aspect of the story, I think there's an element of "caring for your coworkers / employees" there. If no one washed the dishes, the company wasn't going to go bankrupt, but it would make other people's lives more miserable.

As I'm working on my own startup, I can relate to that sentiment, because I not only care about growing the company, I also care about my cofounders' well being.


It worked for Jesus...


Do you really wish Jesus's career/fate for yourself or anybody else whom you wish well?


Do you see a causation there?


It sounds like great advice, and it probably is in the right situation. I can tell you that at my current company I behaved in this way for years, and metaphorically, and sometimes literally, washed the dishes and went above and beyond to end up being pushed aside by office politics. When you treat the company as if it were yours or you were its CEO don't forget that it is not yours and you are not the CEO, otherwise you'll be in for a big wake up kick in the butt...


In my first job at a startup, the bathroom was dirty on a rainy day & realised the janitor had not come into office. I knew customers were visiting office in the next hour, so I just cleaned it up and went back to work. Nobody ever knew about it. Similar such events like cleaning up our kitchen sink with lots of coffee cups has happened, but I never realised as if its not my 'job'. It was there to be done & when I realised the person responsible for that was not around I just did it.

But later on when I worked for a bigger organization it hit me, how I felt about the company, as if I was running it and was wondering if I would ever do the same in this 'BIG' organization.


"... Want to be a leader? ..."

Don't do what I say, do as I do ~ http://www.eduqna.com/Quotations/792-quotations-11.html


Great article. In a startup environment, you should always see people taking responsibility whenever there is a crisis. They inspire the people around them to come up with solutions for the pressing issues.

If you see someone who doesn't take responsibility and is always trying to run from it, or is always whining and never a part of the solution. Fire Them. Those who take responsibilities and are atleast willing to be part of the solution have the DNA to be in the startup culture.


I think this sentiment applies to more than just startups, but really any organization where there's a tendency to say "that's not my job" or "oh, if I don't do it someone else will". I think a lot of organizations could be more successful if more of their members -- employees of a startup, volunteers at a nonprofit, members of a club -- were willing to pitch in above (and below!) and beyond their title, experience, or pay.


Right on.

Also, clean up the bathrooms when somebody's coming for an interview. Wipe the floor under the urinals and around the crappers. Why make a potential co-worker wonder whether working with you is worth living in filth?

But, it's also good leadership to put up a note saying "There's a rumor going around that this kitchen (or bathroom) is magic, and cleans itself. It's false! false! Please do your part!"


Slightly off topic. But mundane tasks like dish washing help you unwind. I enjoy dish washing, pressing clothes or cutting vegetables at home because all those activities give me a lot of quite time without needing much effort from brain. The activity becomes even more enjoyable if I am taking a break from a programming task.



My source might stop at "Wash the Dishes" in this age. (Mark 9:35)


such a motto is actually an easy trick that skillfull leaders utilize to make their reports wash the dishes. To maintain its magic, you actually need to promote only one of the 100 dishwashers into a leader once in a 100 years, and fanfare that fact for the rest of the time.


I feel like leadership is a balance between two things:

1. Protecting your subordinates from ugly work (like doing dishes, emptying the garbage, or doing laborious maintenance coding) so they can focus on fulfilling their responsibilities

2. Delegating ugly work so you can focus on fulfilling your responsibilities


I'm the dishwasher...bitch!


Ha ha - compare and contrast with the Gervais Principle!


#cheeseAlert That was a pretty profound lesson I just learned.


The CEO only accomplishes 1 thing by doing the dishes: He shames everyone who sees him doing their job.

He doesn't get my respect for it, especially if he does it more than once. It means he failed as a leader to get people to do their job, or even to have someone to do that job.

Sometimes, it's necessary to roll up your sleeves and get some work done, but if you are doing other peoples' jobs, it means you aren't doing your own.


The point is that nobody has the job of "dishwasher". It's one of those tasks that falls between the cracks of everyone's job description - and if you're a startup those cracks can be pretty damn big.

His CEO is showing by example what he expects of his employees - if you see something needs doing, even if it's not "your job", then roll up your sleeves and get it done.


> It means he failed as a leader to get people to do their job, or even to have someone to do that job.

No, it means he's trying to get people to do their job and take pride. He's not failed, he just hasn't yet succeeded completely.


What if it isn't anyone's job to do the dishes? Early on in a startup there are a million things that don't fit under anyone's job description, but simply have to get done.


Then it's -everyone's- job. And he still failed to get them to do it.


You must have stopped reading.


He's the CEO, he doesn't have _time_ to read :D


But he has time to comment? Sounds like a good plan.


I mostly agree, but not entirely with the last sentence. A CEO's job is to manage the affairs of the company such that it runs well, and if that means doing the dishes multiple times, then that's what that means.

I agree that it's a public shaming if he does it right in front of everyone else, but sometimes you just have to buckle down and do what has to be done, even if the work is perceived to be below your station. Obviously work should be invested in hiring a permanent dishwasher, but it is conceivable that occasionally you may not be able to find one, especially if you're intent on abiding immigration laws.


He's also demonstrating that 'your job' is getting done what needs to get done regardless of 'your title/position'


Now you're the dishwasher. You failed 'wanting to be a leader' when you didn't convince anyone to wash the dishes, which is why now you have to do it.


Bonaparte had to clean artillery pieces in 1793 and 1796 on his way to Emperor.




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