About five years ago, I had a chat with the younger brother of a successful CEO. The older brother was a friend of mine of longstanding and through him I met the younger brother.
The younger brother was in awe of his big brother — All State Basketball First Team kind of awe. We got to talking about his brother, the CEO/Founder, in that capacity. He was, admittedly, very good. Plus, he was a good guy with that aura of a winner that guys like that have.
“I could never do what he does,” said brother younger. “He just knows what to do. He’s a natural.” It was a serious lament, so I told him the following:
1. No CEO/Founder ever knew everything he/she needed to know before they started the company even if it is their fifth company.
At company #5, you know how to found a company, but not this company. Every company is different because the product and the market are different.
2. In every instance you learn your way into the job. You literally learn on the job. Everybody goes down the same path. Everybody.
3. Each CEO has a different “hand,” a different leadership style, and a different authentic leadership voice.
New CEOs discover their hand, leadership style, and authentic leadership voice.
Once you are comfortable with all of that, it changes, evolves — you change with the market, society, the work force, the times. Nothing is static.
It took me years to learn how to effectively delegate and then I was good at it.
4. While many principles of business are seemingly universal, there are subtle differences of latitude, culture, work force, point in the business cycle, point in the life of the company. All of these considerations impact what you do and how you do it.
5. You will learn from your mistakes — the big thing is this: don’t make the same mistake twice.
Mistakes are tuition. Don’t pay tuition for the same course twice.
6. You never get to perfect. Most of the successful people and companies in the world are 80% right, but done/shipped on time.
7. While an advocate for very high standards, I operated on the basis that we would undoubtedly catch our heels clearing the hurdle, so if we made high enough hurdles, we would do fine.
Ultimately, do not make perfect the sworn enemy of good enough when good enough is what the customer wants. [I am not advocating for sloppiness, but I am telling you that perfection, the pursuit of perfection, will steal your energy, consume your limited resources, and you will not get paid for that last 1%.]
8. In the end, all anybody can do is the best they can whilst constrained by time and money. If you do that, then you have done what you can.
9. While you are the leader, the company is also learning by doing. I cannot tell you how many times I attacked a hill with a platoon in the Army until we got it right. Hundreds of times. Practice is necessary for the company and the leader.
As it turned out, the younger brother ended up working for his older brother and did just fine building the company to soaring heights beyond what the older brother ever imagined.
How did he do it? He learned his way into the job.
But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Get after it, amigos. Find the right balance.