Our company is taking a major next step and as part of that I had to make some significant adjustments to the organization. In my head I had this heroic blog post that would explain why this was such a hard decision and how I, as a CEO, would admit that it was all my fault, just to look really good as that leader who is sensitive to his own shortcomings without appearing weak.
It didn’t feel right and I shared an early draft with my executive team and they set me straight. It was not a hard decision to take the actions we have and there really is nothing heroic about it. The best feedback sometimes hurts. I have a team of such great leaders and that’s why I love working with them. Since I have no heroic post to share I am sharing what I learned during the writing process.
No Hero, No Blame, Just Change
When you’re working in a complex market - and almost every market is complex - you need to keep a clear head about how you approach things. We had a long discussion about applying a leader approach at our last board meeting (which I encourage you to read) and I think it contains one of the most critical pieces of advice I have received in a long time.
“Be a leader, not a victim: Leaders are those who see a complex problem and figure out a way either individually or collectively to solve it. Victims look at problems and instantly blame everyone else when they can’t solve it.”
Blaming others is often an excuse to avoid the inevitable: making a decision. Maybe things will change if I just wait long enough and maybe the good old days will come back? Face it, they’ll never come back. Making drastic changes to an organization is painful. You need to say goodbye to friends; you need to explain things that are hard to explain; and you get blamed for everything that is wrong under the sun. Suck it up and deal with it!
It is also easy to mistake action with leadership. Our decision to prioritize on mobile makes so much sense today as we have a real product for a real and fast growing market. But during the two years leading to this point I blamed Microsoft and SAP more than once for their actions in the market. In situations like that you need people that help you put things in perspective; especially when your business has reached a certain size and you found your personal comfort zone, it is hard to admit that leading means moving on. Fortunately we have those people on our team.
Leading in Reality
When in doubt about a decision I like to meet with our customers. Being in the real world helps me put things in perspective. A couple of weeks ago I was meeting with a long term client in Boston. She had invited a larger group of her co-workers to learn about Sitrion ONE and her opening statement to the group was something like this:
“Sitrion has been our partner for five years. They introduced social to us and made us a better company. Today they are here to share their latest innovation in mobile technology and I want you all to pay close attention to what they have to say.” - Wonderful Champion
I can strongly recommend talking to customers as often as you can. The only reason I was able to receive such great feedback was because leaders before me made good decisions and an amazing team executed on those decisions very well.
Energized by the Path Ahead
I would love to say that I have it all figured out, but the reality is that I am still working on it. In fact, I hope I will continue working on it for my entire life. Leading is not about the decision to start a journey or make a change; it’s about getting to that new place. I found the following comment under a great Fred Wilson blog that says it so well.
“The CEO has to be a leader in the context of leaders being folks who get organizations to places they would never get by themselves.”
I am thrilled about the direction we’re taking the company and energized about making work better in a truly mobile world. Plus, once we achieve our goal, I get to write that heroic post!