Recognizing that You Suck
How often does a CEO write a public blog post admitting that he sucks? That's what Greg Hoy, CEO of Happy Cog, did over on Medium recently. More specifically, he admitted that he had been avoiding his own performance review for some time at his organization, and when he finally did it, he got feedback that was (a) not overwhelmingly positive and (b) a complete surprise to him (and in his defense, he only said that he "kind of" sucks).
And by "not overwhelmingly positive," I mean it said things like he was defensive, too controlling, inconsistent, and actually made employees afraid. His first reaction to this feedback was anger, defensiveness, and excuses. But as he dug into the excuses, he started to see what he was doing that was contributing to this situation. For instance, one of his excuses was the stress of building a new office for the company. But he realized it was his own desire for control that was the problem:
I wanted direct control of as many details as possible. When you start your own company literally out of your house, you have a very specific vision floating in your head of the company you’ll have in 5-10 years, even if you have no real business plan to get you there. For me, that vision had lots more people working in an office in the city with lots of sleek glass, informal and formal meeting spaces, a killer sound system, and all of the comforts of home. And I was convinced that no one else could try to build that for me, only I could. So I owned it, and it killed me. It stole my attention, depleted my energy, and robbed my interaction with my employees.
Another of his excuses was the fact that it was "his" company. As the CEO, he had the right, sometimes, to be capricious and overrule others' decisions. Upon reflection, however, he came to a different conclusion:
That’s bullshit. It’s not my company. It’s our company, whether I am employee one or employee 31. If I was on the other side of the fence, I’d be furious. Leadership requires understanding the landscape that you’re operating in and not steamrollering people or ideas in the process. And yes, sometimes leadership requires making decisions when they’re not being made. In my case, it was too much of my trying to assert myself to maintain control of something that I’ve put smart people in positions to control themselves. I preach about throwing people in the pool, but I wasn’t practicing what I preached.
So here's the important point in this story. It's not actually about whether you "suck" or not. We all do things that have a negative impact on the system. It's part of being human. We should actually be much more compassionate with ourselves than we are. It's okay to not be perfect.
The key here is your awareness of your own impact, particularly when you are the CEO, and even more particularly when you are the founder of the organization. Hoy kicks himself for not subjecting himself to the company's 360-degree performance review process sooner. And whether it's part of a formal process or not, people at the top need to work hard to get feedback and learn about their own impact. The system is set up to prevent that information from reaching you, so you'll have to work at it. If you're the founder, and you're unaware of the negative impact you're having, I guarantee that negativity is going to embed itself into your culture, whether you like it or not. Even (as in Hoy's case) if you preach the opposite. The sooner you can learn to make your impact a "discussable" item in your organization, the sooner you will be able to actually create the culture that you want.