Just How Self-Aware Are You?

The below quote caught my attention recently because of an interview I did with Matt Fischer, Co-founder & CEO of Curiosity Advertising.

  • “Modeling behavior well for others requires an incredible amount of self-awareness.” Nick Sarillo, CEO of Nick’s Pizza & Pub, page 135, “A Slice of the Pie: How to Build a Big Little Business.”

This quote and Matt’s interview reminded me of how challenging it is to become a truly self-aware leader.

I got my first real glimpse of this when I was teaching audio editing as a student at Hofstra University.

Way back before digital audio editing, we actually used magnetic reel-to-reel audio tape, a white crayon, and tape to edit and splice audio tape. It was indeed a very manual process. And, to me, it seemed pretty straight forward and relatively easy.

So, I took a job teaching other students how to edit audio tape. Amanda (name changed) was having difficulty grasping the process. In my eagerness to help her I showed her again, and again, and again. About 15 minutes into the training session, she pushed back her chair, stood, and yelled at me, “Todd, you, you, you, you, are such a NAZI!”

And, there it was. I hadn’t been called something like that since I was a kid when my long German last name caught people’s attention.

I was stunned by her reaction. Why was she so upset, I thought to myself.

Years later now, I coach Founders and CEOs for a living and I often share this story about how our perceptions of the world and our awareness of ourselves influences our approach to leadership.

You see, I’m fairly certain my “teaching” didn’t sound like “teaching” to Amanda. I got more intense, more incredulous that she could not grasp what I thought was simple, and that was not at all helpful to her. My own lack of self-awareness prevented me from doing what I had intended to do, help and serve.

So, when Matt Fischer came on the FFTC podcast and told his story on the path from Co-founder to CEO, it became even more clear to me just how important self-awareness is to leadership.

Matt candidly talked about an issue he was having with his co-founder. He explained that he initially believed his co-founder was not aligned with the company’s mission and becoming somewhat of a barrier to growth. After much introspection and outside help, Matt came to realize that the problem was not with his co-founder, but with him.

I am not so sure I often hear Founders & CEOs so publicly sharing such self-awareness. (you can listen to his interview here.)

How self-aware are you? Need some help figuring that out?

There are lots of things you can do to get help with this.

  • Have an external consultant conduct a 360-degree feedback evaluation
  • Complete an assessment tool like the Birkman
  • Ask a trusted person to watch you in a meeting and provide feedback
  • Ask a friend or family member to describe you when you are at your best and describe you when you are at your worst

As you think about this, it might be helpful to remember this quote:

  • “By far the most difficult skill I learned as CEO was the ability to manage my own psychology.” — Ben Horowitz, Former CEO & Co-Founder, Opsware, Inc. Author of: “The Hard Thing About Hard Things.”

A Bad Hire Can Devastate A Startup

Sam just needed to hire someone, he told himself. He was feeling overwhelmed. The business was picking up speed faster than he could handle it. He yearned for more simplicity and at the same time, courted complexity.

An operations leader that could run the day-to-day of his growing startup would mean freedom. Freedom to focus his energies on the things only the CEO could do. Managing the investors. Interacting with customers. Thinking. Planning. And, getting his team focused.

The problem was that Sam was somewhat haphazard with the way he went about looking for an operations person. He sent an email to his network. He called a few friends. And, magically two candidates appeared.

He quickly scheduled coffee meetings with them and found himself doing more selling rather than interviewing.

Brad seemed perfect. He didn’t have the exact experience Sam was looking for, but his excitement and enthusiasm more than made up for that…he thought.

Although it was hard to compare the two candidates because Sam didn’t really ask the same questions, he offered Brad the job.

Brad started the next day.

Everything seemed great until a week later Brad seemed overwhelmed and needed a lot of Sam’s time and attention.

“No one is listening to me, “ Brad complained.

Suddenly a line of team members formed a regular queue outside Sam’s door.

It was unanimous, Brad just didn’t know how to lead, let alone manage.

Months later Sam realized he made a terrible mistake and finally fired Brad. It was a mistake that had about a 6 month impact on the morale and trust of Sam’s team. And, that poor decision would reverberate many months later.

Although I made this particular story up, it is an amalgamation of the stories I have heard time and again.

It’s the same story that Adam Robinson warned against in a recent interview I had with him on the podcast.

He shared a few key hiring concepts that you may want to pay attention to:

  • Hiring is sales.
  • Hiring is a process.
  • Hiring takes time and patience.
  • Hiring requires understanding the role.
  • You should ask each candidate the same questions.
  • A bad hire can have a devastating effect on a small and growing company.

Listen to the full interview here and you’ll see what I mean. Adam’s insights are invaluable.

And, grab a copy of his book, “The Best Team Wins.”

What hiring mistakes have you made?

My 10 Favorite Quotes From Startupland

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I have never read, “Startupland” until recently. I’m a reader and obviously committed to helping Founders level-up their leadership and scale-up their startup. So I probably should have read it sooner than I have.

After devouring the book this past week, I was struck by Mikkel Svane’s honest and emotional recounting of how he and his co-founders brought us Zendesk.

I hope my favorite 10 quotes from the book will encourage you to read it, too.

  • “Founders’ contributions can be very asymmetric in different phases of a startup’s lifetime.” Page 27
  • “As so many startup founders know, it’s really hard saying no to money, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do.” Page 62
  • “Working with a VC is almost like entering into a marriage.” Page 84
  • “…some VCs have had a reputation for routinely replacing founders with ‘professional’ CEOs with more big company experience. Good investors understand that the founding team often is what carries the spirit of a company and makes it what it is.” Page 93
  • “One of the great things about building a smart team is that it forces you to grow yourself.” Page 117
  • “In hindsight, it was impressive how little we knew about building up an organization – and how forgiving the people that we met were with this fact.” Page 133
  • “Hiring people who are way smarter than you and who have a lot more experience is actually really hard. And it’s something you have to learn.” Page 137
  • “…in some ways the hardest part of the process was the aspect of letting go.” Page 153
  • “Sometimes it’s hard to be official and upstanding and at the same time be your goofy and authentic and human self.” Page 161
  • “Time on my own is the scarcest resource I have.” Page 169

Which of these are your favorite?

Do you rob your team?

A few years back, I was the platoon leader of an amazing group of young, U.S. Army men and women. We were stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia and had a pretty prominent global mission that garnered some attention and a significant, multi-million dollar budget. The mission was tough, demanding, and there was lots of work to be done.

Many of you can relate to keeping your team’s morale and esprit de corps high when they are working long hours and are involved in the tough work of scaling your company. Well, that was also one of my challenges as a platoon leader…although maintaining high morale while increasing training and development was more of our challenge than scaling the organization.

So, when the opportunity arose for my platoon to participate in our 24-hour relay race to raise money for a local charity, I hopped on it and convinced my team leaders that it would be a lot of fun. They agreed and we started to make preparations.

Before the event kicked off, I went to the grocery store and bought lots of bananas, sports drinks, hamburgers, hot dogs, and just lots of food for us to stay awake and keep the relay going for the full 24 hours.

Unfortunately on the day of the event I was distracted by an emergency I needed to attend to and forgot to bring all the groceries to the event kickoff. As our team settled into the relay and we adjusted to the rythmn, I had an idea.

What if I can run my part of the relay, quickly hop in my Jeep, get to my apartment, pickup the groceries and get back in time for my turn in the relay? What could go wrong, right? I had about an hour until it was my turn, and my apartment was just 15-20 minutes away.

When I arrived at my apartment I filled my Jeep with the groceries and was ready to leave and return to the race. There was just one problem. A home moving truck blocked my ability to leave the apartment complex.

After a search for the driver and painfully waiting for him to move the truck, I made it back to the race only to miss my turn in the relay. Not only did we now lose the opportunity to win, but we still had to run the relay. My team’s morale sank. And, I was the cause of it. This was the exact opposite outcome I had intended. I was focused on raising morale, not lowering it. Uggh!

I robbed my team. Because I was so fixated on my involvement in getting supplies, I forgot my real job was to lead. They could have easily and eagerly shopped for the supplies and groceries and had them ready for the event.

Has this happened to you?

As you shift from startup to scaleup, do you unintentionally rob your team of their responsibilities?

It takes many different forms.

You might tell your scrum master that you’ll take over finding a new developer for him.

You might tell your sales VP that you’ll research the new sales tech software vendor.

You might tell your COO that you’ll run the ops meeting for awhile.

The question is why?

Why do we rob the people we hire to lead when it’s their responsibility to do so?

There are many reasons. The obvious one is we are just use to rolling up our sleeves, wearing many hats, and diving in to help get work done. When the company is small, the CEO title is different and often meaningless. Our ability to lead and work is important during the early stages.

The point is, as we shift from Founder to CEO, as we transform our startup team into a scaleup team, we inhibit the growth of our company when we intentionally or unintentionally rob our team leaders of their work. We must focus our time and energy on the things that only the CEO can do.

What have you found yourself doing that really is the responsibility of the leaders on your team?