The Grind

3 of the Most Helpful Lessons I've Learned as a CEO

3 of the Most Helpful Lessons I've Learned as a CEO
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I wish being a leader was straightforward. It’d be so much easier if there were a manual for how to handle every situation. Unfortunately, it doesn't exist. We as leaders face all types of situations that are unique and in some instances, it becomes difficult to make the right decision.

Through trial and error, I’ve found three helpful points that have made me a much better leader. While these tips won’t solve all your problems, they will help prevent many obstacles.

1. Write your rules down.

At Alumnify, an alumni-engagement platform, we begin every day with a daily stand up – meeting where chairs are not an option. As opposed to many other companies, we start our stand up at 10 a.m. not 9 a.m.

Related: 10 Communication Secrets of Great Leaders

When we started these meetings, I told everyone they had to be in by 10 sharp or they had to buy breakfast for the entire team. Everything worked great for a couple of weeks, until someone came in at 10:02. The elevator was broken, so they were late a couple of minutes. Trying to be a nice guy, I told him it was OK. That’s when all hell broke loose.

Pretty soon, everyone was coming in at 10:03, 10:05 and then 10:07. Every time I tried to get the person who was late to buy breakfast, that person would bring up the exceptions I had made. Being lenient ended up destroying the system down the line.

When things got out of hand, I sent an email to the entire team that there would be no exceptions in the future. You had to be in the office by 10 or you were late. When I did this something remarkable happened. One of our team members came in a few days later at again 10:02. As soon as she tried to defend why she shouldn’t have to buy breakfast, another team member pulled up my email and showed it to her. I didn’t have to say a word.  Now, everyone understands the rule and there is written evidence of the rule in place. Once it’s in writing, it stays.

Related: Reality Check: 5 Things You Need to Realize About Your Employees

2. Don’t try to make people busier than necessary.

In startups, there are always a million things to do. With that said, there are certain times some departments are more important than others. If you’re getting ready for launch, your product team is probably working long hours. When you launch, your customer-service team will be quickly overworked. While everyone will be doing something, not everyone will need to work 15-hour days. It just depends what state the company is at.

Because of this, you need to be OK with people not having a ton of work to do every day. In times like this, focus more on having those team members learn or help with other departments. It might be a good time to give them a light workweek to recharge. Just because people aren’t being overworked, doesn’t mean your team isn’t being productive. A well-rested team will be able to dive into long workdays when they are needed.

3. Be OK with being kicked out of departments.

I have a passion for designing products. I love it. Nothing sounds better than a few beers and designing on a Friday night. Recently, I was given the opportunity to lead the design team. It was a complete blast. I would do my CEO job during the day, then design with the other designers at night. 

After a few weeks, the design team told me they no longer needed my help. I had helped them fix the process, and now they had it under control. At first, I was extremely upset, but then I realized that it was actually a good thing. Being kicked out of departments isn’t a bad thing. It’s a compliment for a job well done.

Related: 4 Ways to Create a Culture of Daily Mentorship