I’ve been asking Gen Y entrepreneurs for their thoughts on leadership lately, and today a 26-year old business owner responded with a story about the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. This CEO had told him that his success was due to his employees seeing him in the office at 6 am and picking up trash in the parking lot at the end of the day. After seeing that, he says, there was nothing his employees weren’t willing to do for him.
I get that. I can see why employees would appreciate a CEO who doesn’t consider himself too lofty to do the menial things. I understand the symbolic value of that act. Over the years, I’ve heard several variations of this same story about other company leaders and the menial work they’re willing to take on, from sweeping floors or loading coffee mugs into the dishwasher.
But is it good for the company? Is it a good use of his time? In a Fortune 500 company, would it be a value to the shareholders, to have the highly paid CEO spending his valuable time out front chasing litter?
I’d say that sort of parable should be taken with a grain of salt. I would advise that CEO not to spend too much of his time out there in the parking lot. His role is to provide leadership and vision, to steer the company, to make the tough decisions. The cost of one of his hours is a far larger expense to the company than the hourly rate of an employee a bit lower on the totem pole. That CEO is best serving the company when he’s up there in his corner office running the show.
The cost of CEO hours is even more obvious in a company built on billable hours. In a service business like Tribe, where we bill clients by the hour, people with different talents and experience levels are billed at different rates. If someone needs to run an errand for the company, is it better to send the CEO who bills out at $250 an hour or the intern who costs the company only 10 bucks an hour?
I’d also say the CEO is not demonstrating value by showing up at work at 6 am, unless he’s leaving mid-afternoon to play golf or train for an Ironman. Why set the example of not being able to handle your workload in a reasonable workday? By the time one hits the C-level, one would hope to be operating on a higher level that is more dependent on the value one brings than the hours one works.