Advice

NYT’s ‘How to be a CEO’ article

This weekend Adam Bryant from the New York Times published an interesting article, ‘How to be a CEO’, which I’d highly recommend reading.

The general gist of the article is that Bryant wanted to chat with CEOs about stuff other than their businesses. And, after 525 Corner Office columns, he wrote his last article summarising what he learnt from all these leaders.

The reason I thought it was poignant and worth writing about today was simply due to the high number of startup founders I meet with who don’t have any idea what it’s like to manage people.

They may be academically smart, or thought of a nifty product. Then pitched to investors or an incubator. And before you know it, they have enough capital to hire a small team of full-time employees. Without any prior management experience.

I always advise these founders to buddy up with someone who is roughly in the same position as them, or slightly ahead of them. If we’re talking about a founder who has just raised a Seed round. They should seek out a founder who is at the Series A / Series B stage and willing to dedicate 1-2 hours per month to giving advice.

Bryant’s interactions, from what I can gather, were more focused on larger company CEOs.

Nonetheless, the advice and the nuggets that I took away are still valuable.

First off, did the CEOs share any common characteristics?

They sure did:

  1. Applied curiosity
  2. They love a challenge
  3. When more junior, they focused on doing whatever job they had well

These are pretty self explanatory so, moving on.

Bryant then touches on ‘the most important thing about leadership’ – not being afraid to admit what you don’t know. This is what I wrote about yesterday!

“Leaders need humility to know what they don’t know, but have the confidence to make a decision amid the ambiguity.”

Next, through his discussions he discerned that trustworthiness was also hugely important.

I’ve witnessed some startup CEOs outright lie to their teams. This will get you into the express lane to Fucked Company.

Startups are small, teams are smart, gossip moves fast. You will be found out.

“If you want to lead others, you’ve got to have their trust, and you can’t have their trust without integrity”

Finally, one last nugget that I enjoyed. It’s toward the end when Bryant summarises the overall best career and life advice that he picked up on throughout the 525 interviews.

My vote for career advice goes to something I heard from Joseph Plumeri, the vice chairman of First Data, a payments-processing company, and former chief executive of Willis Group Holdings. His biggest career inflection points, he told me, came from chance meetings, giving rise to his advice: “Play in traffic.”

“It means that if you go push yourself out there and you see people and do things and participate and get involved, something happens,” he said. “Both of my great occasions in life happened by accident simply because I showed up.”

Please do let me know on Twitter what you’d like to hear me write about, and whether or not you’re enjoying the daily articles. Thanks and have a great evening!