Oh those superhuman CEOs who get up at 4am for that killer start to the day! Aren’t they just amazing? Such sacrifice, such grit, such tenacity.
Such fucking bullshit.
If you’re the CEO, and you can’t get work done at work, you only have one person to blame for it: Yourself. There’s no law of nature that dictates that it should be impossible to get deep work done at 11am or 2pm, just habits, values, and policies.
It’s your job to fix the damn workplace, not run away from it. Stop playing calendar Tetris with a whole organization. Stop loading up on meetings. Stop demanding endless status reports. Stop interrupting everyone all the time with shit that can wait.
Organizational dysfunction, such as the inability to get work done at work during regular work hours, is a reflection of executive habits and beliefs. Work isn’t crazy because of the nature of its being. Work is crazy because you’re making it crazy!
But it’s hard to fix that which you don’t know is broken. So let me spell it out: Having to get up at 4am to get real work done is broken. Busted. Kaput.
And it isn’t any less broken because a fawning business media keeps exalting the virtues of your morning routine or strict regiment. Quite contraire.
You know what’s cool? Getting to work at 9, putting in eight solid hours, and then being done by 5. There’s nothing stodgy or uncool about having reasonable work day that allows for a workout at 7:30am or playing with your kids at 5:30pm.
There’s no prize for being the first to rise. You’re not a fucking bird and there ain’t no fucking worm. So chill. Set a good example for your organization. Make calm a mission. Start getting work done at work again.
If you’re looking to leave your company to work for another, you’ll want to consider this.
A few months ago, someone asked me for advice about potentially leaving one company to go work for another. He was curious what factors he should consider before making the decision.
He’d already vetted the role, the company, and the offer itself — all important aspects to consider. But I told him, in my opinion, the most crucial thing to vet is the CEO.
If you’re about to join a new company, you must figure out:
“Do I believe in the CEO?”
No company is successful with a CEO who can’t communicate, who can’t get everyone on the same page, who can’t hire well, and who can’t chart out a vision.
Personally, I remember interviewing at one of my first job out of college, and I remember it being really hard to tell if a CEO is “good” or not.
Plenty of CEOs sound like they’d be a good CEO. They’re charismatic, they’re articulate — but does sounding like a good CEO really make it true?
After almost four years of researching and observing hundreds of CEOs, I’ve learned to ask these four questions to discern whether or not a CEO is a good CEO:
#1: “When have you had to sugar-coat the truth — or avoid telling the truth — to your team?”
How a CEO answers this question reveals her barometer for integrity. Your CEO might laugh and say, “Oh, all the time,” a little too flippantly — signaling that she intentionally misguides employees habitually. On the other hand, if a CEO is too hesitant to admit anything substantial, that’s a red flag as well. It’s likely she’s holding something back. Ideally you’re looking for a CEO to level with you and admit in a nuanced, considerate way when she’s chosen to not be transparent with the team, and why.
#2: “What do you think is your own greatest leadership blindspot?”
This is a take on the classic, “What do you think your greatest weakness is” question — but with a twist. The word “blindspot” implies that the CEO has a weakness she might often overlook. So her answer to this will reveal her self-awareness. Does she have a hard time giving you a straight answer? Or is it clear that this is something that she’s thought a lot about, self-reflected upon, and perhaps even talked about with peers or an executive coach. If it’s the latter, it signifies that this leader has the humility and self-perceptiveness you’re looking for.
#3: “What does ‘success’ for the company look like to you?”
This may seem like an unassuming question to ask — perhaps it’s one you’ve asked the CEO already. However, we often don’t listen closely enough to the answer. If all the CEO is focused on is “winning” and “making money” and “dominating the competition” in her answer, I can guarantee that’s 100% what the work environment is going to revolve around. On the contrary, if she also talks about creating a sustainable, healthy culture, and making sure people feel fulfilled, challenged and supported in their jobs — you can bet that the work environment is going to reflect that. The answer to this question makes is crystal clear what a CEO’s priorities are.
#4: “What would an employee who’s left the company say it’s like to work for you?”
This may feel like a tough question to ask you prospective CEO — especially if they haven’t hired you yet. But it potentially is the most important question. The answer to it demonstrates how cognizant the CEO is of how they’ve treated employees in the past, and how willing they are to admit if they’d haven’t been the ideal leader. Be wary of CEOs who say only positive things, as it shows their refusal to recognize their shortcomings, or failure to understand how their own leadership behavior may have driven the other person away.
If you’re worried that asking these questions — particularly the last one — might offend your prospective CEO, that in itself is a sign that the CEO might not be who you’d hope for. The best leaders welcome tough questions, and will be impressed by your desire to better understand how they lead.
If anything, asking these questions will make you look better in their eyes. And, it gives you all the information you need to decide if they’re a CEO worth working for.
Claire is the CEO of Know Your Team – software that helps you become a better manager. Her company was spun-out of Basecamp back in 2014. If you were interested, you can read more of Claire’s writing on leadership on the Know Your Team blog.
This article was originally published for Inc.com where I write a column on leadership.
Every six weeks we start working on a new set of improvements and enhancements for Basecamp 3. A new 6-week cycle just began last week so our designers and developers have been collaborating closely. The early days of any initiative are an exciting time. There are lots of concepts, designs, and code being tried out, tossed out, kept in play, and so on. I’m a hands-on guy, so I relish times like these. The further away I am from the product, I’ve found, the less I enjoy my job.
But the process has also highlighted a problem I’ve struggled with for a long time: As the CEO and majority owner of my company, I ultimately have the last word. But because of this, sometimes any word, suggestion, or recommendation is taken as final even when it wasn’t meant to be. I’ve mentioned this to several other CEO-owners lately, and I’ve come to realize it’s a situation many of them face as well.
The way I see it, the last word should always be the last resort, reserved for the most delicate and important issues, ones that can’t be resolved without my input and that affect every one of my employees. Otherwise, I’d much prefer that other people make decisions. If people are waiting around for me to tell them what to do next, then I’m not doing my job well, and I haven’t created an environment where they can do their job well either.
The root of the challenge is that the people I work with closely hear from me quite a bit. I tend to offer up a number of ideas, a lot of suggestions, and plenty of feedback about the work we’re all doing together. Ninety-nine percent of the time, a suggestion from me is just that — one of many ideas on the table. But power dynamics being what they are, no matter how carefully I phrase them, my suggestions are often considered more seriously than those offered up by others. I don’t like that.
I’ve been trying a variety of approaches to see whether I can change this dynamic. I’ve tried stepping back a bit, forcing myself to be less involved day to day in the actual work — but that ultimately results in the opposite of what I want. People tend to notice when someone who doesn’t speak up a lot suddenly chimes in, and I want my words to carry less weight, not more. I’ve tried wrapping my suggestions in friendly disclaimers — “Hey, this is just a thought” or “Hey, just a small suggestion” — but it doesn’t feel right to be stepping so gingerly when the point is to have a free exchange of ideas. I want to be a natural part of the conversation.
I’ve also tried offering my thoughts directly to the people on the team, one on one. I’ve made some progress this way, because it prevents group acquiescence to what I say. But it’s inefficient and still defines my ideas as somehow separate from the wider process.
As it turns out, the tactic I’ve had the most success with is to come full circle and speak up even more in group settings. The more I join the discussion and throw ideas into the mix, the more I diminish the value of each individual piece of my input. But there’s an important additional reason I like this direction: The deeper involved I am, the more chances I have to highlight ideas that are better than mine. And the more I do that, the more I can begin to demonstrate that my suggestions can be easily tossed aside. Which is exactly what I want. I want the best ideas to emerge, not my ideas.
Then, when I really do need to make a last-word decision, I can be very clear about that. I can be definitive. I can announce that this decision is the decision, and here’s why.
A version of this article was originally published in the April 2015 issue of Inc. magazine.