The best advice I can offer a first-time CEO is this: Surround yourself with the right people. People who are enthusiastic and energetic. People who will buy in, but also think outside the box. People who will respect you, but also challenge you.
When I entered the business world (pre-Allure Group) in the early 2000s, I made the mistake of hiring friends and family members, having failed to realize that because I knew more than them, they weren’t equipped to give me the sort of feedback and advice that will help grow the business. The end result was that I felt like I had to do everything myself.
Granted, the buck always stops with the CEO. The person at the top of the food chain has the last word on every decision. At the same time he or she needs to find employees who can aid in ideation — who can support the CEO where he might be weak, who can fill in blind spots. And along with that, the CEO must establish a culture in which ideas can be freely exchanged; openness and transparency are essential.
Keeping an Open Mind, and Ear
Black Box CEO Joel Trammell, writing for Entrepreneur.com, agrees that it’s all about the people, and a business leader’s ability to communicate with them, while having the humility to accept their advice. Trammell also solicited input from EverQuote CEO/co-founder Seth Birnbaum, who said:
“It took me awhile to get comfortable with the notion that you can reach out to the cast of people around you and work with them to learn to be a better CEO and manager. There are a lot of people around you who want you to succeed. If you reach out to them for help versus approaching them like ‘I know what I’m doing,’ they’ll give you more help than you have any right to expect.”
Ashley Morris, CEO of Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, took it a step further in another Entrepreneur piece, writing that he always strives to be “the dumbest person in the room.” That’s how he learns. That’s how he and his company grow. And that’s how he earns the trust of those around him.
The example he offered was of a marketing plan he devised that would cost his company over $100,000. His underlings opposed it, and were comfortable telling him so. (Again, a tribute to culture.) As a result he came up with an alternate plan — try out the strategy at a single store, at a cost of $10,000. It failed, and he expressed relief not only at the fact that he saved a boatload of cash but that his employees freely shared their opinions.
Again, it’s always about the people — finding the right ones, giving them the freedom to do their jobs and respecting what they have to offer.