I think my first impression of C-level execs coming out of school was that they delegated almost everything. In some cases, that could very well be true. I know when I first started working, I did see that mentality come out in a few executives that I ran across. Not knowing any better, I thought that was the case. Actually, by one executive, I was told that this was precisely the case.
My impression of a career path included several years of grunt work and eventually getting paid a lot of money to delegate a lot of stuff. I was seriously told that verbatim by one person who had already made that journey.
I can see merit to one side of that. None of us are superheroes (as much as we'd like to believe that we are). Nobody can do everything and the best leaders know how to delegate responsibilities to people who are better at certain tasks than they are. That's why most companies have more than one employee.
While that's true, I've noticed firsthand a few CEOs out there that still work in the trenches from time to time. They may still be delegating workloads quite a bit but they still get in and do work. A few examples:
- I reached out to Behance on Twitter to troubleshoot something with my Action Method account that I had been using for a while. Expecting to hear back from a customer service community manager, I actually got a response from Scott Belsky, the CEO of Behance and everything under that umbrella. He personally helped me fix a problem and will engage on Twitter from time to time.
- Our agency uses Mightybell to collaborate and share interesting case studies and developments in the PR and marketing space. We were running into a few technical snags across the board with it that was hurting company-wide adoption of it. I reached out to their help line via email and got a response from Gina Bianchi (the founder) personally via email. She helped me resolve the problem and even followed up with me again on Twitter.
- Gary Vaynerchuck is famous for reaching out to people one-on-one. He's helped me pick out things like books and wine and has built a successful business just being a human being.
I could also list several C-Level folks that I've worked with personally in Atlanta or at least know very well that are still very much working in the trenches from time to time.
The Benefits of Staying in the Trenches
Personally, I know I've learned the most when I've been hands-on with projects. It's the way I learn anything - I'm visual. I could read about Facebook best practices on their blog or Mashable. I have also experienced social campaigns and crisis situations first-hand that taught me way more than any one person or white paper could have ever prepared me for. I don't see how that learning style would change with a title.
For a C-Level person to want to stay in the weeds and still get their hands dirty is an act of humility. It means they don't see any task or job as "beneath" them. They are in it to get stuff done. I would argue that those leaders are the ones that have the most respect from their teams and help navigate change much more effectively. As fast as the world changes now - especially in technology - leaders almost have to have some ground-level knowledge of what's going on in business to be most effective.
What do you think? Should C-Level folks stay in the weeds? Or should they focus on other things?
This post was sitting on a list for some time but Gary Vaynerchuck's recent Medium post accelerated my timeline for publishing it.