A lot of people write books to burnish—or build—reputations, often with one eye on post-C-suite careers, whether as consultants, motivational speakers, authors, or all of these. While I may now be one of those ‘published authors,’ I can’t say I was entirely open to the idea at first. It may sound a bit counterintuitive but I have never wanted my position as CEO to be about ‘me’ so much as I wanted it to be about using my position to lead by example. I had the belief and hope that we could create a very successful company where people genuinely enjoyed working with great colleagues every single day.
That said, I don’t see myself as a business ‘celebrity’ (unlike some CEOs I’ve seen in the news over the years), nor will I ever see myself that way. And I certainly don’t lead from a position of “star power” (whatever the heck that is). While being a CEO comes with a great deal of responsibility (and yes, power), the impact and influence you can have on people when the role is done well is priceless. For me, that impact trumps any sort of ‘status’ I could garner as CEO. And one of the biggest areas of impact and influence I can have is helping others make good decisions about where to spend their time and energy.
As CEO, you’ll have a million fires to put out day-to-day, which means a heavy focus on prioritization. Getting priorities right is such a big factor in every venture’s success that it’s impossible to overstate. I’ve mentored enough leaders of young companies (and would-be companies) to know this much at least: the correlation between having your priorities right and the chances of success isn’t merely striking. It is absolute. To be frank, if you’re too busy focusing on your CEO ‘celebrity,’ you’re sure to waste invaluable time that could be better applied to the priority areas of your business, namely your people and your company culture.
Staying true to what matters to you as a leader is the only way to create a leadership team and company culture that aligns with your own set of values. I see so many companies that try to create a culture first in the hopes that it produces the right values. That’s backwards. You have to create and prioritize your values first and then your culture will follow.
This topic could not be more fitting given the current situation we’re facing as a nation and a world. The pandemic has become quite a stress test for CEOs all over the world who are faced with massive re-prioritization challenges while balancing the need to drive their company forward, keeping their people happy and productive, no matter what outside forces are threatening. The companies with a leader who makes a concerted effort to stay close to his or her team during this stressful time, even if that means endless Zoom video chats, Slack exchanges and far more ‘screen time’ than ever, are the ones who rise to the top in times like these. And it’s because they have made the right choice to prioritize their people and their values first, taking the opportunity to lead by example. This has become the CEO rallying cry for so many today, while we fight to maintain some semblance of normalcy in these continued ‘unprecedented’ times.
So, am I willing to use my CEO ‘status’ to push my own agenda? Sure—but that agenda is all about a people-first culture, and I’m not willing to compromise that value for anything.