"After the first night of the 2008 SciFoo conference at Google, @gnat Torkington's twitter stream contained a gem: 'At SciFoo opening session. 300 people standing around networking. Meanwhile, Larry Page is quietly unpacking chairs at the back of the room.' (from memory, not exact)"
The CEO (or any leader)'s job is to make sure that whatever needs to be done, gets done. Sometimes, that means unpacking the chairs.
The meat of the post (very similar to this article actually):
One day, I walked by the kitchen and saw Cary washing the
dishes. “Huh” I thought, “The CEO is pitching in. Cool.”
I figured it must have been his turn or something, and
sort of forgot about it.
A week or so passed, and then it happened again. The
kitchen became a ginormous mess, and then one day,
there’s Cary, washing dishes. Then it happened again, and
again. Each time, he’d look up, and nod, then go back to
scrubbing dishes. One day, I walked by the kitchen and
noticed it was a huge mess. So I washed the dishes.
Being the CEO of the company isn’t about power,
authority, or glamour, it’s about washing the dishes when
nobody else will.
Be the CEO of the company. Take responsibility for things
that other people ignore. That’s the definition of
leadership, and if you make a habit of it, pretty soon
you'll be inspiring the people around you to do the same.
The "CEO": This guy had a large stake in the company. It was his baby, and while the "CEO" title (which I think gets way over applied) fits him, his official title is "managing partner". While we were in the process of build->launch, he was heavily involved in literally every single department. Not in a micro-managing way, in an "this needs to be done and here, I am going to help" way.
It would absolutely not have seemed strange to me, or anybody else, to see him out on a scissor lift with a hammer drill and some cables mounting something to the wall, if that's what was needed. When we did launch, some things went...wrong.
The night before we opened, he, as well as some of his friends, not even people employed by us, spent until almost-down doing "grunt" work. Dirty, tedious work moving huge heavy things around, and walking all over the place to get them.
That night he slept here (so did I)
The months leading up until that launch, and the months following it, he was here until well after dark because a lot of the people who had been hired were "green", and had no idea how to do their job yet. We were all figuring it out as we went.
The culture here at that time was addictive (and I wish we could get that feeling back of "making it up as we go". We've got everything pretty well dialed now). People throw the cliche of "we were a family" around pretty liberally, and I'm going to throw it around too.
We were a family.
We ate together, we drank together, and the "core" group always left together, meaning that nobody left until everybody's work was done. (including the managing partner, who absolutely didn't need to be, and was the one setting the example).
This has been an absolutely amazing company to work for. The culture here was, or is amazing.
The sad bit is that a lot of the culture that I fell in love with has faded. Yes, we're growing (rapidly! Awesome!), but we've more-or-less all hit our grooves. I know what I'm doing, the "CEO" does to, and there aren't really any scissors lifts or hammer drills left.
I guess I'll end the story with a question: how do I/we get back to that?
I guess I'll end the story with a question:
how do I/we get back to that?
What about people who have their own family (kids, spouse)? Would you still want to do this (I presume that also means working very long hours) in your 50s and 60s? Would you want to make everyone working there do it?
There are virtues to startup life but I'd get tired living it my entire career.
If I am reading this correctly, you currently have around 200 employees and presumably started with less than that. If that is correct, break it up into two separate groups smaller than 150. Any time any part of the company grows beyond about 150 people, repeat. (Read "The tipping point" for longish explanation why. Short version: The typical human brain is designed for a "tribe" size of about 150.)
As I understand it, Napoleon inspired such loyalty in spite of how he treated his people because he could greet everyone by name and ask how their wife Elaine was doing, etc. It made everyone feel he caredabout them personally. I had similar talents when I was younger but never really knew what to do with it as I was a homemaker, but I am familiar firsthand with the types of emotional responses it inspires from people.
He was a very effective salesman.
(BTW the company still exists, http://cmtengr.com/ is their website. My grandfather was Ray Tilly.)
My friend told me that he could remember faces well, but that more often than not it contributed to awkwardness when he could remember the other person's name, but the other person couldn't remember his.
I have been told that, in a sales context, this actually helps. It fires off some sort of feeling that you need to make up for the social faux pas.
(I am truly awful at remembering faces and names - so have never had the opportunity to find out myself :-)
The awkwardness is easily removed simply by greeting someone by their name and repeating yours without giving them a chance to 'not remember'.
"Greg! Hi! Mike. How's Sarah? Did you find your dog in the end?"
My ex was career military. He relied on nametags. My son has done some reading on faceblindness. Faceblind people often identify people by voice or some other trait instead of by face. Sometimes it goes largely unnoticed because they find another means to recognize most people reasonably quickly.
In general, the sooner I get it out there, the better off the conversation goes. The worst is when I get their name and I still don't remember context. I mean, an ordinary wearable rig with a twiddler and an email lookup would take care of that.
For me, getting to be on the other side of the equation has been a growth experience. People with the kind of innate abilities I had frequently become what I view as con artists and master manipulators. I think they don't necessarily intend for it to be that way. They just don't necessarily understand what it is like to be at the disadvantage. I hope more of my innate abilities return. But I cherish the lessons learned from walking a mile in their shoes. It has made me a better person.
Peace and best of luck.
In between small and huge you get this ackward feeling anonoumity which stresses you, you get shopping malls out of town, something impossible in Manhatten for example since driving hours to do grocery shopping is just inconvinient. And all that is, I think, not natural to us humans. where this limit between big but not big enough lies, i don't know, maybe it depends on culture... but that's something I tend to see all the time i spend time real big cities. But maybe it's just me.
I have looked around and asked around a smidgeon for online resources related to San Diego. I am getting the impression there isn't all that much, at least not anything really good. I wondered if people would be interested in having something better. I am still toying with the idea. At one time, I wanted to go into urban planning or something related. Urban planners tend to be career bureaucrats, many working for government. That is not my comfort zone. Before life interrupted my career plans, I was increasingly wondering what that "something related" part might be. I am wondering if I might be in the process of stumbling into it currently.
There's a long video on Prarie Home Companion (on YouTube or Hulu), following Garrison Keillor around as he does the show, and at home in both Minnesota and Manhattan. As he's going through New York, he observes, as you've noted, that it's really a collection of villages.
I've had very similar experiences myself.
We want to be a part of something special, where everyone is working towards a common goal. We join the circus to be a part of something, not to get something from it.
What's the modern day version of a circus (the old-fashioned type, not the commercialized circus)?
it really piss me off, when we ask an employee who is being paid peanuts to show the same dedication to his work place as the ceo or the owner, and claim this is the ethical thing to do
Not saying what your saying isn't true, but you might have misunderstood the message, nobody mentioned employees or how they should behave.
I'm not sure where this whole nonsense of "people who lead can't get dirty or do menial work" comes from. If I had something more important to do for sure I would have delegated, but seeing that I didn't, ask why is this particular thing important or, at most, offer help. Don't tell me I shouldn't be doing this!
Context: I lead a team of 4. And by 'dirty work' I mean plugging up servers, doing maintenance on them, physical networking stuff, cleaning up debris after an installation, etc.
I don't do things because my boss is a vp and is above the work. I do things because I fully own my job and gobble up as much responsibility as I can get.
"Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, 'By jove! I'm being humble', and almost immediately pride--pride at his own humility--will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt-- and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don't try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humour and proportion in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed."
"Screwtape Letters", C.S. Lewis
Pride is actually a good thing in many situations. It's good when father is proud of his children and almost always when someone has pride of someone else. It's good when employee takes pride in his/her work, as it's kind of proof of motivation. Could Olympic athlete enjoy victory fully without feeling little proud? I bet it's then mostly "I did it!" not "others suck!".
I think there is a basic feeling that can surface as pride or arrogance. Pride is the positive side of this. Usually no feeling is bad, it's what you make of it that can be bad.
"Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.
Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.
If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all."
This particular quote of Lewis'(in face the entire chapter on Pride from this book) has always stuck with me. I am always amazed on how right Lewis can be on things regarding human nature. When I first read this passage I immediately realized that I had met such people. And I had liked them a lot and enjoyed their presence and conversation greatly. I never understood why I found spending time with them so uplifting until I read this, and then I got it.
". . . . a man is not usually called upon to have an opinion of his own talents at all, since he can very well go on improving them to the best of his ability without deciding his own precise niche in the temple of Fame."
By the way: writing words in ALL CAPS, italicizing lots of things, and saying 'fucking' a lot made it painful to read that blog entry.
I typically italicize and bold things in an effort to break up the black/white monotony of my site but I'll keep the advice in mind and maybe go back and make some edits.
As for the 'fucking' I agree, it was actually pretty hard to write too. I grew up in a middle class family in the South most of whom would be appalled by the way this post was written(the language) but I thought it put some fire to the post, and the title as well.
The post is about how being CEO isn't all glamor, and includes doing dirty work as well. And you make clear that you feel the janitor, unlike a figurehead who merely signs documents, contributes something useful and necessary to the enterprise.
Unfortunately, denigrating the janitor by tagging the role as "fucking" just buys into the CEO-as-glamorous-leader mindset that the post argues against. It transforms the title from a correction ("You think you are the CEO, but in reality you are in charge of the dirty work") into a put-down ("You think you are the CEO, but in reality you are the lowest of the low.")
Yes, it sounds stronger-- but, in my mind, it shades your meaning in ways you probably don't intend.
What is up with this opinion? Fuck means sex. Why do we call these words obscene? Do you honestly think those words entered daily use? "Grab the fucking milk" said without any emotional meaning. People would actually reason more.
It's a prohibition on words, that makes them mean more artificially while contributing no logic to the discussion.
How dare ye try to elate an emotion in me! How dare ye!
Edit:I'm an idiot and wrote an argument to something you didn't say, but I'll leave it here cause it took me 5 minutes to write on the phone keyboard.
EDIT: In other words, it's even more idiotic to leave it here after you've determined it was a mu post.
I completely share your view on this one. I'm not a CEO (CTO, heh) but leaders do what it takes. While ego can have its place in business, being the CEO of a shitty little startup is nothing to brag about. Once you're making millions a year in profit, then I think you're allowed to let it get to your head (although the best ones don't).
I think the best leaders in the world recognize that being a leader is just another job. It doesn't make you better than anybody else, and it's not an excuse to look down on people, whether they're willing to learn from you or not.
*(In this context of course. Swearing in the title isn't enough to get me to click; but that message sure as heck is.)
They had to be reminded that "you aren't really a sysadmin until you have some users". It seems the same would apply here.
I go by 'Chief Nerd Wrangler' nonetheless, as it's more appropriate of a job description. It still doesn't make it any less of a janitorial position.
> I want you to think about this, how many interns get to go sit down and talk to the FOUNDER of a company about its inter-workings every day? it just does not make sense”
She deserves every penny of her wealth.
Steve Jobs: (what the CEO does) I don't know. Head janitor?
In my day job I'm the technical director at Mandalorian. It's a cool job, but I'm generally pretty overloaded and usually underpaid. I don't do it for the cash or free time, that's for sure, but I do love making a difference for our customers. In a strange way I took this approach to 44Con. Everything I do at 44Con is about making sure the delegates have a good time and learn something. If we need to put leaflets on seats, I'm out there. If a delegate has a problem, I want to know so I can fix it.
A large part of startup success seems to be sales, but we shouldn't undersell the delivery and relationship aspects. If your customer is struggling to deal with you, then you're doing it wrong. If your customer has problems that you just can't fix, you're doing it wrong.
I'll be the first to admit I've failed on both parts on occasion, sometimes simultaneously, but it's our ability to learn from these things that sets the smaller guys apart from the bigger.
I'm the equivalent of a CEO at Mandalorian, but I'll proudly clean toilets if it makes for a better experience.
The CEO attempted to remove himself from the washing up rota in the kitchen when a new employee came on board.
At this point I knew the company was doomed :-)
Occassionally the flat sewerage backs up and effluent pours into the cafe basement.
My Wife as the owner is the one there ungumming the pipes until a plumber can be hailed.
In my day job I'm the technical director at Mandalorian. It's a cool job, but I'm generally pretty overloaded and usually underpaid. I don't do it for the cash or free time that's for sure, but I do love making a difference for our customers. In a strange way I took this approach to my other thing, 44Con. Everything I do at 44Con is about making sure the delegates have a good time and learn something. If we need to put leaflets on seats, I'm out there. If a delegate has a problem, I want to know so I can fix it.
A large part of startup success seems to be sales, but we shouldn't undersell the delivery and relationship aspects. If your customer is struggling to deal with you, then you're doing it wrong. If your customer has problems that you just can't fix, you're doing it wrong. If you're sat in an ivory tower and refuse to get out and fix it when these things happen then you're doing it wrong.
I'll be the first to admit I've failed on all parts on occasion, sometimes simultaneously, but it's our ability to learn from these things that sets the smaller guys apart from the bigger ones. Startups can make small mistakes, the established companies make far bigger ones without noticing.
I'm the equivalent of a CEO at Mandalorian, but I'll proudly clean toilets if it makes for a better experience for our customers. Hoops? I live to jump through them, and I expect that from everyone I work with.
Being a startup CEO is glamorous only in the movies or in overly hyped bits and pieces. It doesn't completely suck, it's awesome at times and on average is more interesting than anything else I've done. But worthy of sharing intimate details as if I'm some amazingly interesting creature to be worshiped and followed? Please.
Customers make a successful company, not CEOs.
Fuck is a useful word.
However, if you spend a huge chunk of your time as a CEO (or founder/owner/whatever) performing a single task (or multiple rudimentary tasks) that could be performed better and more efficiently by a hired employee instead of using your experience to grow and propel the company, then you're doing something wrong.
At my last job I took out the trash when it needed to be taken out and I was a software engineer, that's just common courtesy.
Being a CEO would be an upgrade for me in every way no matter how many articles swear that it's the worst thing in the world.
I'd take someone seriously as a CEO if they behaved like one and that includes involving your colleagues in what you do, be they the board of a fortune 500 company or a few interns for a bootstrapping startup. The arrogance that you are the only person who has good ideas is what kills companies and that goes double for startups of any ilk.
Walked into the bathroom and the CEO was in action with a mop in his hand. He looked up and said "Oh hey I'll be out of the way in a few seconds, sometimes the toilet in here leaks."
Some of it is inevitable because if we saw what being a CEO really is then less people would try it. Being a CEO is always hands on. You can't just manage from behind with a small team. Dave McClure recently said something like, "if you're the CEO and can't code, market, sell, or design then fire yourself now or we will."
Did not really expect the post to trend up HN so fast, but thanks for reading and for the feedback!
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If you really want to succeed you really need to do anything, once your company grows, you will have other people doing those tasks for you. Not because it is not good for you to do them, simply because you will have no time anymore.
As an engineer, I still miss installing what we sell now a days.
I'll do the dishes if it leads indirectly to a $1.2bn exit. I'd do them twice.
So maybe I'm not DHH but I am certainly not just some guy with a big mouth and no track record
37Signals is just a metaphor for any established company. Since you clearly know of them, you also know they take a lot of shit for claims they make. The only reason I would so much as give them a second thought is because of their track record, which, as you noted, isn't yours. In retrospect DHH is far from the idealistic person to ask this which by pure luck, supports my argument even better. Don't take it personally as some sort of attack: I'm just making the observation that there are people who fly around in jets and you are not one of them. Quite simply, this means your really not in the position to make assertations about them.
You're giving marriage advice without ever being married. Any ideal is meaningless until it is thoroughly tested. Your post seems as childish as when people claim: "I will never steal". I call bullshit. Morality is nice and all but until you hold it up when you're fucking starving and have reason to steal, everything you said before is just words on a page.
I think it is all in the mindset. I've met CEO's that think they can walk on water "Oh, Calgon - take it away..." And I've met CEO's who actually still do the grunt work. I prefer the latter because you should never forget where you began...