FIVE THINGS I LEARNED IN MY FIRST DECADE AS A CEO

by | Jan 5, 2020 | Accomplishing Something, Accountability, Avoid Complacency, Challenge Yourself, Leadership, Positive Living, Work Hard

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Having just wrapped up my first decade as a CEO and reflecting on what I want the next decade to look like, I was struck by how much I’ve grown and matured as a leader. The 2010s were filled with many ups and downs, achievements and setbacks, laughter and tears…just like any good decade should be! I took a few moments to jot down what I learned in my first decade as a CEO and this is what I came up with, along with some suggestions for you to consider.

  1. Self-Care Is a Discipline, Not A Luxury. I push myself hard to be an inspiring leader who gets things done and effects positive change. To do this effectively and sustainably, I know I must take care of myself. I used to feel guilty for getting a weekly massage or sneaking away for a lunchtime run, but I’ve let go of this self-imposed, unhelpful guilt. I now understand that if I don’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of anyone else. Massage, mediation, acupuncture, phone-free vacations, daily exercise, and cuddle time with my son are all part of a self-care routine that allows me to be the best version of myself. My advice to you: when it comes to health and well-being, put yourself first. Don’t feel guilty about taking time to relax and rejuvenate; in fact, be disciplined about doing it. 
  2. Pursue Personal Growth, Not Perfection. I used to believe that perfection was the ultimate goal…that if I couldn’t be perfect at something, I either failed or it wasn’t worth the effort. I beat myself up over not having the perfect body, not communicating perfectly, not executing my plan perfectly, not performing perfectly. I was driven by fear of never being enough, of not being recognized as a talented, capable person; it was a frustrating, sometimes agonizing way to live. Over the past ten years, I have realized that “perfect” is a myth…a false utopia…something that isn’t achievable, and nor should be. Instead, I learned that pursuing personal growth is a much more inspiring and sustainable way to live. While I still don’t like making mistakes and wish I were a few pounds lighter, I don’t beat myself up for not being perfect. I reflect on what I can do better every day, try to take feedback with grace and action, analyze my decisions and interactions with others with the goal of improving them the next time…and…I give myself a break when I mess up…because the human experience is messy and stepping into the messiness, rather than fighting it, is empowering and where the good stuff happens. My advice to you: give up the idea of perfection and focus on the small improvements you can make each day. If you screw up, apologize, forgive yourself, commit to do better the next time, then move on. 
  3. Being a Disruptive Leader is…Well…Disruptive. I have never been afraid of change nor have I shied away from creating change. In my opinion there is nothing more gratifying than overcoming status quo and making a significant impact. I move fast, even though I feel like I am moving too slow. Because of this, it’s hard for me to fully grasp what it’s like to be change-adverse and unable to sustain the pace. I’ve learned that I must be more balanced, having the patience to develop and execute a plan, discipline to grow my team and develop people, and truly hear feedback about my intense (but hopefully inspiring 😊) style. I don’t want to NOT be a disruptive leader but my desire to bring others along for a hopefully enjoyable, yet challenging ride is a good governor and one I will continue to foster in the next decade. My advice to you: be yourself but cultivate self-awareness to better understand the impact you have on others. It’s nice to be accepted just as you are but don’t let yourself off the hook for aggressive, obnoxious, or unhelpful behavior. Take responsibility for the negative impact you have on others and adjust your style to be more effective. 
  4. Never Trade Culture for Growth. In our capitalistic society, the pursuit of business growth is the name of the game. Companies make the news for ungodly valuations and exponential growth rates. While growth is important, it should never be pursued at the expense of your team and culture. This is a lesson near and dear to me because in my first decade as a leader, I put a disproportionate emphasis on doing, performing, and achieving. And our culture and teams suffered because of it. Luckily, I am surrounded by people who help me balance out my desire to win and we pivoted our focus back to “people first”. Cultivating team and culture building requires constant and intentional work. I will never take it for granted again. My advice to you: focus on the one thing you can control…building a great team and developing people. There’s nothing more important or effective. 
  5. ​Maturing as a Leader is a Real Thing. When I was named StoneAge’s CEO at the end of 2009, I was 31 years old. There was so much I didn’t know, and I was still growing up. I made some amateur, and quite frankly, childish mistakes. But like most of us, I didn’t see myself as an immature leader. Reflecting on the past decade…because hindsight is 2020 (pun intended) …I can see how much I’ve grown up. I am less emotional, more thoughtful, and more disciplined. I’ve gained valuable knowledge about my industry, my job, and what makes people tick. I know how to set healthy boundaries and when I need to take a breather. It feels kind of funny to say, but I am proud of how I’ve matured over the past decade, even though I still have more self-improvement work to do. But hey, that’s what the next decade is for, right? I plan to continue to grow, mature and develop as a leader over the next ten years and am inspired by the work ahead of me. My advice to you: remember that leadership is a journey and each year, strive to mature your style and thought-process. Experience is only useful when you reflect on how to be a more effective leader and adjust accordingly.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading. I hope this was useful to you as you think about your own leadership journey over the next decade. And, as always, I appreciate comments, likes and shares.