How Many CEOs Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Over the weekend a light in my home office went out and I was faced with a dilemma – should I try and fix it, or delegate it out i.e. call my guy Ah Chun to come over? 

Easy answer – I’m not a handyman, I’m a CEO and I fix business problems, not light fixtures!

If you watch the Gary Tan video above, he suggests what kills companies is “management” (people like me) that become disconnected from the act of doing stuff (or creating anything). So as an organisation grows larger, you end up with more people that talk about work than people that actually do the work. When this problem gets really bad, it becomes almost impossible to figure out the difference between real work and what looks like work. 

I call work that looks like work but isn’t, “busywork” and it’s the stuff of corporate nightmares for any CEO – when not enough real work gets done, growth slows, innovation plateaus, bureaucracy sets in and disillusioned people leave. This is the slow death of a company.

So back to the light story: I called Ah Chun and he advised me, for the same amount of time and effort it would take to coordinate a suitable time for him to cover over, for him to invoice me and for me to login to online banking, input his bank details and pay him (“busywork”), I could replace the light myself in under 10 minutes. Before I could muster up an excuse not to, he sent me a Youtube link, his best wishes and hung up.

Some of my biggest management struggles involve convincing my team, especially those more senior / in leadership positions, the benefit of “walking the shop floor”, “knowing the details 3 levels deep” and “doing things that make us uncomfortable”. All these behaviours are ways managers can stay grounded to operations, to build a better sense of what teams on the frontline are facing and to help guide better decisions – to actively combat the threat of busywork. 

All it requires is an openness to learn, a willingness to try and to continuously do new things. It’s a mindset that can be applied to most things in life; like figuring out how to change a light. This isn’t meant to be a self-congratulatory blog post but a reflection of what it takes to be a better leader, one light fixture at a time. 

Did I change the light? Sadly it took me 20 minutes. I’ll be faster next time though Ah Chun.  

“The less you associate with some people, the more your life will improve. Any time you tolerate mediocrity in others, it increases your mediocrity. An important attribute in successful people is their impatience with negative thinking and negative acting people. As you grow, your associates will change. Some of your friends will not want you to go on. They will want you to stay where they are. Friends that don’t help you climb will want you to crawl. Your friends will stretch your vision or choke your dream. Those that don’t increase you will eventually decrease you.”

Consider this:

Never receive counsel from unproductive people. Never discuss your problems with someone incapable of contributing to the solution, because those who never succeed themselves are always first to tell you how. Not everyone has a right to speak into your life. You are certain to get the worst of the bargain when you exchange ideas with the wrong person. Don’t follow anyone who’s not going anywhere.

Colin Powell

Continuing the tradition, here are the top 3 things I came across the internet this month:

  • 5 Ways Startups Die: Why Big Company Managers Fail (how to deprogram it): Youtube
  • The Fight to Rein in Delivery Apps: New Yorker
  • A powerful piece of advice from the late Colin Powell

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