Work on the company, not in the company
I have friends and family who are doctors. They talk about their work — cutting people open, blood, puss, severe injuries — at the dinner…
I have friends and family who are doctors. They talk about their work — cutting people open, blood, puss, severe injuries — at the dinner table. Makes me sick, but they aren’t affected.
They are detached. These are problems to be solved and scenarios to consider. Not uncle Joe on the table with a triple bypass — unless they are talking to Uncle Joe and his family or loved ones. Then everything shifts and they lead with empathy and care as deep as the family’s fear is dark.
They have to occupy both worlds and in each mode, reach to access a level of expertise that lets them float on top and work on the problem, not in the problem. They know what to do to the body with the scalpel and they know what to say to the family to help them give their best to the patient and to each other.
Great startup leaders in the Silicon Valley do the same thing. They work on the company, not in the company — even when their company grows really fast, sprouts claws and fangs to swallow them up and pull them down through the intestines where “in” is all there is and all there ever will be forevermore — they resist and stay out of reach of the snapping jaws.
Faced with a seismic shift in the competitive landscape, great don’t go further down into the company looking for who knew or, worse, searching for why you didn’t know. Level up and work on the company in your new market reality. No panic. More, “Hmmm, this is interesting. Let’s think about all the ways this could play out…”
When a new exec does something off the wall grip your chair and resist the urge to dive into the search for what the fuck is wrong with that person or to escalate the emotional pitch to a scream by focusing your authority on it. Detach and think, “Oh, I see, you’re going to do that when she does this. Got it. Wow.” Use your elevation from the moment to find clarity, to break through and coach your teammate off the ledge. Let go of yourself and care for them in a way that guides them to a comfortable place where they can surface what’s going on, address it, adjust and move forward.
When CEOs I partner with feel down at work it is usually a sign that they are working in the company not on the company. They are lost in some twist of the digestive track and the shortest path out is almost always through the back end.