Nothing could prepare me for my latest leadership challenge, not even a decade-plus of C-suite experience at multi-billion-dollar companies. The challenge? Become CEO of a new company less than one year after its carve-out from one of the U.S.’s largest firms and build an all-new infrastructure, culture, and brand.
Adding complexity is the fact that our company already had more than 800 employees and 3,500 customers. And to top it all off, I became CEO amid a global pandemic.
But I get by with a little help — not from my friends, but from my employees.
On my first day as CEO, during an all-staff meeting, I encouraged every single employee to send me an email to introduce themselves and share their advice for what they would do if they were in my shoes. I received hundreds of responses, which are helping me chart a course for our company that is informed by the experiences and advice of employees.
As a CEO, I believe it’s critical to seek leadership advice from employees, and I highly recommend other leaders follow suit. Here’s why.
3 Reasons CEOs Should Ask Employees for Leadership Advice
- CEOs don't have all the answers.
- CEOs should be leaders, not managers.
- CEOs should set goals collaboratively.
CEO’s Don’t Have All the Answers
Although I have leadership experience, I’ve never believed I have all the answers. Rather, I’m a proponent of the “wisdom of crowds,” the notion James Surowiecki popularized in his book aptly named The Wisdom of Crowds. The idea is that large groups of people can be collectively smarter and better than individual experts at problem-solving and decision-making under the right circumstances.
As the new CEO, I knew I was joining a company whose employees have much more experience with, and expertise about, who we are than I do. They know our business inside and out, and they’re passionate about growing it. That’s why I followed up directly with the employees who emailed me, scheduling one-on-one meetings so we could discuss their ideas for how we can continue to build the best company possible.
In these meetings, we talked about everything from product roadmap; to diversity, equity, and inclusion; to career frameworks and compensation — no topic was off limits.
None of us operate in a bubble, so tapping into the collective wisdom of the people you work with can greatly benefit your company as well as your leadership abilities.
CEOs Should Be Leaders, Not Managers
My leadership style is rooted in the optimistic belief that in moving a company forward, point B is an inherently better place than point A. Getting there requires pressing for change, pushing the company to be better every single day. That’s the role of a CEO, and it’s the reason why CEOs must be leaders, not managers.
These two words are often used interchangeably, but it’s important to remember how they differ. A leader is like a lighthouse — a beacon that illuminates the path towards an endpoint or goal — while a manager plays an active role in getting you there. Leaders shed light on the important issues, helping their teams to see more clearly. Leaders press an agenda of change, while managers press an agenda of control. Leaders challenge the status quo, while managers maintain it.
But as a leader, you can’t challenge the status quo unless you understand it just as deeply as your employees, which is why you should seek their advice regularly.
CEOs Should Set Goals Collaboratively
I spent many years living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area and have become an advocate for objectives and key results (OKRs), a collaborative goal-setting framework with deep roots in Silicon Valley. OKRs are designed to achieve clear-cut objectives through a shortlist of specific and measurable actions.
CEOs are tasked with setting goals for their firms, but we cannot and should not do that alone. In our company, we have set OKRs that are framed around the clear feedback I received from my employees about how we can improve with respect to talent management; rewards and recognition; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and more.
Employees are where the rubber meets the road, so they should have a say in how to draw the roadmap for their company’s future.