How do you work? … CEOs are incredibly normal people … Get to know them as humans and you will achieve much more

February 23, 2018

I remember my first day as a CEO (it was in early 2004, I had just been appointed the new leader of a mid-size 500-person organisation). I found my office and settled in, worked out my plan to get started. Lots of people to meet, lots of listening and learning, lots of being humble. Trust your top team, keep the business running, focus on the priorities, engage all stakeholders, then start dreaming about the future.

The thing which hit me first was how differently people treated me, compared to in my previous roles.

Before I was one of them. A colleague, a peer, a worker. However senior I was before, being “the boss” was different. Everybody wanted an answer. Everybody was looking for clues as to what I was thinking. Everybody accepted everything I said without challenge. It didn’t feel right. And I quickly went about trying to build a more consensual, more collaborative, more relaxed style of working as a team.

It still amazes me how people put CEOs on a pedestal. So often they are treated like an alien species, who never had a normal background in business like everyone else. Who don’t have normal human passions and frustrations. And don’t have space in their schedules or minds for being human anymore. That’s why I loved this series of short CEO interviews with the Wall Street Journal:

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, on explaining the rules of cricket … and more:

Emmanuel Faber, CEO of Danone, on keeping meetings short … and more:

Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, on why Waze works best … and more:

Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan, on his first car – a Fiat … and more:

Robin Hayes, CEO of Jet Blue, on becoming an US citizenĀ  … and more:

Actually, that last one has a personal connection for me. Way back in 1993 I worked with Robin in a small, noisy office at the back of Victoria Coach Station in London. This was the super-unimpressive marketing nerve centre of British Airways. Robin was always the joker, always the team player, and first to the pub most evenings. He lived and breathed with loyalty to his brand, and you can see the same to his new brand, but he was always human. The soul of a party, the butt of plenty a joke, and the leader of the gang.

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