In 2013, as we grew our team, my role as a CEO became a lot more challenging. These two posts by Mark Suster really resonate with me – CEO’s job is being a psychologist to the team and all medal winners have coaches, no exceptions. If you haven’t read them, do have a look.
I had read a lot about the benefits of getting a CEO coach, but wasn’t very sure. I have 5-6 mentors whom I deeply respect but a coach’s role is a little different. A mentor might give advice on a situation, but a coach trains you to respond to situations in a certain way. So, one of the things that I tried in 2013 was to get a CEO coach. It felt great to be able to talk to someone openly and get him to share his thoughts in an honest manner.
Here are the two most important things I learnt:
Always be close to the facts
Most of the things that I learned during the coaching were around how a CEO communicates. It didn’t mean that you have to be more sophisticated or polished, but more conscious about how you express yourself. A startup is a roller-coaster and you can go from feeling awesome to depressed in the same hour. Nothing really would have changed in the external world – just chemicals in your brain playing with you. So in this kind of a environment, one of the most important things is for the CEO to express himself/herself in such a way that it expresses the “reality” rather than an underwhelmed or overwhelmed response. This becomes important as you grow because a lot of people take cues from your body language as well.
Statement 1: “Dude, at Akosha we just can’t get design right and finding designers is so frustrating.”
Statement 2: “Dude, at Akosha we have learned a lot about design in the last 3 years. We are nowhere close to a Cleartrip, but with sustained effort and hiring external consultants, we can get there”.
Besides being truthful, the last statement also sets the context for what we could do next.
This all is easier said than done and I have honestly not been as successful at doing it as I would like to be.
Learn how to make an effective request
A lot of times we need other people to do things for us but they don’t get executed despite the intention being there.
Whatever the company does, ultimately it is the CEO’s responsibility – so when work doesn’t get done, it can be very frustrating. However, instead of blaming the other person, I realized that it was actually my fault because I used to rarely make an effective request.
A request is effective if it results in a real commitment from the other person.
An effective request must fulfil all the 6 criteria below:
- your request must be specific (you must articulate all expectations or perspective or background to the request)
- you need a committed listener (the person should not be distracted)
- there should be clear conditions of satisfaction (specify the quality of work needed)
- you need to give a specific time line / deadline
- the other person must have a choice i.e. they must have the ability to say NO.
- you need to check their understanding at the end (to ensure they have understood correctly).
The toughest of all in the Indian context is no. 5 – the ability to say No. People in India don’t like to say no, especially to their “superiors”. They may not have the bandwidth or the ability to do the task but they will never say “No”. So it becomes your job to make it easier for them to be able to say “No”.
Once I understood this, I made sure that the top 8-10 people in the company were following it to. Like any habit, it will take a while to form, but just being conscious about this has made a lot of difference.