The Toughest Lessons I’ve Learnt as a CEO
Welcome to my 2nd blog, OMG do you know how many people DON’T make it this far? It is bloody ridiculous, seriously. We get all excited wanting to start a blog and we kick off with a ripper and then the vast, vast majority, don’t continue. Other stuff gets in the way and they end up blog-ging once every now and then and never really achieve the purpose that inspired them to want to start a blog in the first place.
Well can I give ALL of you permission, right here and now, to kick my ass or gently remind me, or not so gently send me a message and say – Hey Girl, Where is it?! You know there is nothing like having someone to nudge you along when you get into your “excuse” brain and you come up with a million reasons why you can’t do something. That’s why for the most important things in my life I have someone who literally kicks my ass when I don’t stay on track like my personal trainer Jess – she is messaging me regularly with short reminders that keep me in check. Great chick! Being fit and healthy and maintaining my body in a peak state (give me a break I just had an ACL reconstruction!) is critical to my ability to live the life I want, run a business, take care of three kids, produce a film, support charities, run around, be active, have fun, dance, ski, run, jump, etc. etc. etc
But so too is the theme of my blog this week.
As many of you know, and would have learnt from my first blog two weeks ago, I am CEO of a marketing agency in Sydney that works with clients all around the country and suppliers all around the world. It’s certainly NOT where I started my career and I’m sure it won’t be where I will finish my career, but I love the challenge and the diverse opportunities it offers me and my team every single day.
So, let’s get to the point! RIGHT! Well, where do I start? I really can’t go back to the beginning. No, this is personal. Really personal. And that’s what makes it truly tough.
Now this lesson is not one that every CEO will have experienced or might ever experience because some people are actually wired differently and they get this stuff without even thinking about it. For people like me, though, who are heart-centric, this is really tough. And like I said, the toughest lesson I’ve ever learnt as a CEO.
I’m not going to go into analytical description because I want you to feel and understand exactly where I am coming from so that you might really get the learning.
So! Being a boss, an owner, an entrepreneur was never something I had ever, ever thought I would ever be. But life throws some curve balls at you at times and you just have to bend and sway away to avoid being hit, OR, and this is important, because there is a bigger vision that you are a part of, that you are not fully aware of, and so it is important that you travel on that path, even if it is the last thing you thought you would ever do.
Well life has thrown me many curve balls – some I caught, some I swung and hit, many I swung and missed – Babooww – and some that hit me, over and over and over again until I learnt to get the HELL out of the way.
People before Success
Yeah, I know a lot of you, especially friends who have only known me a short time, would probably think “No Way Daiz, not you” – well the reality is – YEAH ME! But it taught me to be smarter because I got tired, sad, sorry for myself, frustrated, angry and down that I was allowing others to behave in a way I did not accept or agree with and knew it was not going to end good for them, me, the business or our clients…but you know what? I didn’t do what was necessary to stop it. Why?
WOW – WHY?
Honestly, WHY? Has to be the toughest ques-tion anyone would ever have to answer, but it is the least used question by us humans. WHY! Hahaha! Because it is confrontational and we “nice” humans (not all humans) don’t like to hurt, upset, push or pry. We just HOPE people will see the light and change. Well it doesn’t work. I promise you it doesn’t work. I guarantee you, I’ll even bet you $1000 – it JUST DOESN’T WORK!
Please learn from my lessons, failings, pain and suffering. I know we all have to learn at our own expense, but trust me I’ve paid a massive price – I’ve paid enough for many people.
But if you don’t believe me then let me tell you why I don’t believe it works…So about 8 years ago, my business was in growth phase and we were hiring people, training them and trying to drive growth to meet demand and expansion. We needed people to act effi-ciently, be productive because the business couldn’t afford to have them cruise until they were ready otherwise it would have gone broke. In fact it is much like where GDR is at today, except it is a whole new level of growth and expansion with huge risk.
Back then I had a team of around 13 people, and I am not going to name names or reveal titles because it would not be fair. Anyway, point is everyone had a job to do and we needed all hands on deck otherwise we might not have made it.
I was pushing hard, when I saw something that wasn’t right I would mention it to one of the team so they could get it fixed and not let it persist. Some people actioned fast, others were slower or didn’t do much. The longer it took to eliminate issues, the more damage it did to the business, team and momentum.
In hindsight, what I learnt about myself and where I failed was that, I may have pointed things out and asked people to fix them, and repeated myself over and over again like a mother at her children…I HOPED and expected them to get on with it but I didn’t take the action that would have shown them I was SERIOUS!
I didn’t set any consequences. There was nothing that they stood to lose if they DIDN’T do what was expected of them. They were still going to get paid their salary, they weren’t going to lose their job, they were not going to have to make up for it in another way – NO – there was no risk to them if theY didn’t change, fix the problem, improve.
Why didn’t I set consequences? Well in all honesty, and this comes from pure ignorance as a CEO and not knowing my rights as the boss or business owner, I didn’t think I could. I didn’t think I should and, more importantly, I didn’t want to upset them, I wanted to be LIKED, I wanted them to think I was a NICE boss not a BITCH.
This pattern repeated and while those people have since left the business and many others have come and gone, I stupidly kept repeating the same mistake but each time I was getting better and less accepting and tolerant of people’s behaviour. I put in place structures, processes, procedures, systems, deadlines, KPIs, and some consequences which all definitely led to growth and a better operational business because each time I learnt exactly how much it was costing the business, how much I was losing, how much it was setting the company back, holding us back.
the TRAGEDY of it all
And WHY? Because I put my ego and their feelings ahead of the business’s needs. Now you might say: “that is honourable Daizy, that just shows you have a heart and money isn’t your driver. You are not the usual cold, ruthless, business person which we are all familiar with” – and you might be right, but where this premise fails is that there were other staff in the business who were amazing, wonderful, high performers, great achievers, wanted to grow, learn, succeed and these non, or low performers were holding everyone else back.
The biggest problem with being too nice and letting people get away with poor behaviour – YOU LOSE THE GOOD ONES!
And this is the tragedy of it all.
Not in every instance, but in many, the ones you really want to stay, that were really helping grow the business, that believed in your vision and direction, just said ENOUGH! And they left.
And it happened again this year – in a massive way. One guy, I really liked. Considered him a friend, charming with the rest of the team but absolutely had no accountability and failed to deliver on nearly every single KPI. He had a team of 6 under him. I was so busy in the middle of production and filming of my documentary so I wasn’t around much, but I felt confident he and the other members of the management team HAD MY BACK.
Sadly, the others did, but he didn’t. He only had his back and the problem was he kept focusing on his back instead of forward at opportunity which caused him to fail, most members in his team to underperform and ultimately led to his departure. He lasted less than a year but, if I was honest, he should have been gone after 3 months.
I had done it again. But this time, it wasn’t my ego that interfered with my better judgement – I had really moved forward and I was far more forthright and clear and I did set some consequences, but because I liked the guy and so did everyone else in the office – I hesitated. I didn’t want the team to be destabilised, I was considering how it would look, but ultimately all I should have focused on were the numbers.
Because in the end the numbers or lack of numbers were very telling. It revealed poor performance, low effort, no focus, no structure, ad hoc management style, and all this led to his team failing and me having the final conversation with him and him quitting. That’s all good, but when he went four other people in his team also went leaving only two. Those other four all had to go too. They were his protégés and were toxic to the business. The two that stayed or really one – was my protégé and he continues to perform and out-perform everyone in his department.
NEVER DENY YOUR INTUITION
But ultimately, I should have NEVER denied my intuition – my gut knew. It just knew. I knew, he wasn’t cut out for the job. And I honestly believe all of us always know the truth and we are too scared to do what we know we have to do. Or we give ourselves a way out, an excuse, like I did. In the end when I pulled the pin, it didn’t hurt, the majority of the staff in the office basically said “why did it take you so long” because they knew as clear as day just like me.
And here is why you MUST act quickly to remove a toxic element in your business. I’m not saying this guy was a bad guy – NO – he wasn’t and I am sure he did nothing bad intentionally – but his presence, behaviour, attitude, was toxic to my business and my team and the results speak for themselves.
The aftermath of all of this is that one of my teams was decimated and had to be rebuilt and we are still doing that now, many months later. But we are taking our time and getting it right this time. But this left the business vulnerable. It was destabilising and disconcerting for some team members but most of the others just got on with it and were happy that these elements were out of the business. I was not worried. I knew we would only get stronger and smarter and promised myself and the team that I would NEVER make this mistake ever again, nor would I allow anyone else to make that mistake on behalf of the business.
money, morale, motivation and momentum
Because as I mentioned before, this impacted the whole business. It cost my business big, in money, morale, motivation and momentum but we are dealing with it. We lost a few more people throughout the year – collateral damage after the fact, but all directly related to the original sin. My original sin – not moving someone on as soon as I knew they were NOT RIGHT and could not do the job they were hired to do.
DirECT and pragMATIC
That’s it – the bottom line. Full stop. No umms, ahhs or arguments. If they can’t do the job they were hired to do and they don’t show strong signs of improving – DON’T HOLD ONTO THEM! That’s my message to any business owner, CEO, Manager, anyone in a leadership position, or anyone in general. This applies to your personal life as well, rela-tionships, friendships, family, etc. – WE GET WHAT WE TOLERATE.
So if you don’t want to be treated like shit or be taken advantage of – DON’T ACCEPT IT.
You don’t have to be rude or angry or have a fight about it. All you have to do is say to the person: “I am sorry I may have previously given you the impression that I accept the way you talk, treat, behave, etc. with me – but just to be clear – I DO NOT and I will not accept it any longer. It ENDS NOW”. If they say: “Well what are you going to do about it?” you respond with either: “There’s the door, don’t let it hit you on the way out.” Or “I’m going to leave. I’m done. I value my sanity and dignity too much to allow myself to stay around someone like you.” And you walk out!
I promise you the feeling of strength and confidence, the self-esteem you will feel for yourself will blow your mind.
We hold ourselves captive by the thoughts and stories we tell ourselves. I told myself a great story about why this guy had to go and yes it was a TOUGH lesson to finally totally get clear on, but it has helped me in so many other situations in my life so I encourage you all to STEP UP and take your power back.
That’s it for this blog and if anyone wants to talk to me directly on this or any other issue, just email me directly, at firstname.lastname@example.org, I would be so happy to help and mentor you and remember to always KEEP IT REAL!
From my heart to yours,