7 Management Lessons From a 7-Time CEO
A Note From The Editor
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The way I manage companies has always deviated philosophically from standard textbook practices.
Yet, as CEO of my now-seventh company, I can cite many, many practical tips I wish first-time CEO Jack Sweeney -- circa 1993 -- had known in order to make better management decisions.
Looking back at my 22 years of setting management direction, building teams and analyzing markets, I’ve come to a rather obvious conclusion: The world has changed a heck of a lot since my first job as CEO, and so has my management style.
Early on, I made decisions by the seat of my pants and was micromanaging my staff. Today, I make choices using quantitative support, and let my team -- the true experts -- do their jobs. Because the reality is, my own success has always been a result of my team’s success.
The bottom line is this: As the world changes, so should your management style. That goes for whether you’re managing a team of ten, or ten thousand.
To help you effectively manage your own team and guide your company to greatness, I recently tapped into my own Top 7 Management Lessons. If anything, read them on behalf of first-time CEO Jack Sweeney -- he highly recommends you take a look:
1. Trust your team and get out of the way.
When I was a first-time CEO, I had difficulties trusting anybody. I worked hard on tasks I’d “delegated” to others, and wouldn’t let them fully execute without my input. Now, I stay out of my team’s way and let them do their jobs, advising them before and after they’ve worked at accomplishing a task, versus throughout the entire process.
You can get much more from team members by assigning them tasks and critiquing them afterward. This time frame gives them a chance to grow and fosters better communication. In the early days, I barely had an opportunity to critique since I was so involved in the process myself.
2. Use quantitative support to make decisions.
As I mentioned, I based a lot of my decisions as a first-time CEO on subjective information. It wasn’t all on the fly, but we certainly didn’t have the quantitative support or technology we use today. These days, I’m using measurable data as much as possible, drawn from dozens of systems I use to guide my latest company, SevOne. There are a lot of productivity tools to help management leaders accomplish their goals, whatever their line of business, and it’s important to identify and arm every business unit -- not just sales and finance -- with what they need to operate at their best.
3. Learn how to manage a mobile workforce.
There’s no doubt the workplace has changed. I rarely need a private office or even a computer (I have one in my back pocket). Nor are the goings-on of the company central to where I’m sitting. These changes have caused a lot of business leaders to struggle with managing an increasingly mobile and global workforce.
So, you must adapt yourself and your company to meet the needs of today’s employees. Now that I look back, I see today's ability to work anywhere as amazing. My dad, God bless him, wasn’t able to make it to any of my basketball games because he was too busy making a living.
I’m proud to say I’ve never missed one of my son’s basketball games because I've got tools that allow me to be wherever I want to be and still get my job done. Either embrace the trend, or be left behind, because tomorrow’s best talent doesn’t want to work in yesterday’s office.
4. New to the company? Don’t be overly helpful.
It takes a long time to understand what people have done to make their companies successful. Accordingly, as a CEO, I’ve disciplined myself to not fully insert myself into too many areas of the company for the first two to six months, unless there’s a crisis.
If you’re the new leader at a company, treat it as if you were going onto a busy highway: Be careful merging into traffic and get up to speed before switching lanes. Take time to figure out what’s going on and then start changing directions without slowing down. When it comes to management, I truly believe that if you move too fast, you often make mistakes. Again, the only caveat is: as long as there isn’t a crisis.
5. When things get complicated, go back to basics.
People have a tendency to overcomplicate management when technology is involved, but sometimes your style and mindset just need to go back to basics. Having a company "elevator pitch" and clearly communicating it to your team, for example, is important because it conveys exactly what you do in a digestible way that your team can use next time it answers that question at a networking event.
Additionally, using an analogy from the past to explain your business is helpful. Things change but are often similar to what’s happened in the past. If you can find an easy way to tell customers and investors how your product or service emulates something they already know, you'll find it easier to communicate.
Google, for example, uses electricity to explain how the internet is going to be everywhere. Going back to the basics is a lesson I would have shared with my first-time CEO-self.
6. Your feelings are going to get hurt.
Recognizing that your feelings will occasionally be hurt comes with the territory when you're a CEO or other business leader. But if you’re not willing to listen because you’re afraid to hear bad news or constructive feedback, you’re going to miss the opportunity to learn about the real issues and what you could be focusing on.
I always tell people: I love bad news. In fact, I always want the bad news first. The reason is, I want to be informed, feel more in control and be in a better position to resolve issues and manage them appropriately. Plus, if you’re a leader who's not open to bad news, and your team knows it, it’s impossible to build trust.
7. Hire someone you’d be happy to see in the hallway.
Maintaining a culture and motivating people, while building a company at the same time, can be challenging. I personally admire people like Joe Tucci at EMC and John Chambers at Cisco, for both having accomplished that. Since my first job, I’ve learned that hiring people who are perfect in the interview and on paper is good. But hiring people you look forward to seeing in the hallway -- people who are capable but also nice -- is equally important.
Additionally, always admit when you’ve made a hiring mistake, because you’re not going to be perfect. When you make a bad hire, it’s probably not the best fit for the person you hired, either, so own up to it.
Finally, I recommend staying away from suck-ups. I grew up in a family of 12 and I can smell a suck-up a mile away. Now, that's something my first-time CEO-self should have known.