I Don’t Butt Heads with the CEO of Zappos
Image source by Hana Muchova'
Many CEO’s are told what they want to hear, rather than what team members really think. That’s a foolish way to avoid butting heads with the boss.
I asked Jamie Naughton, Speaker of the House for Zappos, to talk about a time when she butted heads with her famous CEO, Tony Hsieh. Jamie indicated that issues don’t escalate to head butting.
“There’s no argument, ever. If I don’t like something, then I just say it.”
How to avoid butting heads with the boss:
- Establish disagreement-rules. Ask your CEO how he best receives disagreement.
- Fully align with organizational values.
- Advocate for the organization not yourself.
- Say what you believe not what’s expected.
- Disagree early, clearly, politely, and specifically.
- Constantly communicate. Express opinions when you have them. Flare ups occur when issues build up.
- Once decisions are made, grab an oar and row, regardless of your position.
Bonus: Add positive options.
Butting heads and who decides:
“The best thing about Tony as a CEO, as a boss, … He will give direction. He will give advice. … He’s going to be part of the conversation but he’s not the decision-maker.” Jamie Naughton.
Corporate teams fear CEO’s because CEO’s make too many decisions. Jamie explained that her boss would never make a decision about phone systems or sponsorship opportunities, for example. “Why would he approve a sponsorship when we have a marketing team who’s trained?” Jamie Naughton.
“He’s – Tony Hsieh – not going to interfere with my department because I know it best. He’s going to offer suggestions and I take it or leave it.” Jamie Naughton.
What suggestions do you have for disagreeing with the boss?
Bonus material: Jamie Naughton in her own words. (6 min.)
Connect with Jamie:
Jamie Naughton works directly with Tony Hsieh as the Speaker of the House for Zappos.
My initial response……work for someone not disagreeable!!!!!!!
Option 2 work for yourself!!!! Well that only works if you worked out those nasty mommy issues you been dragging along in your head. Hehe
Other than that pretty much rely on dumb luck which means you end up working for a guy like Jamie does.
Sometimes when I have one of my moments I think the problem is WE read Dan’s blog, the books and tapes, do the rebirthing to get rid of our birth drama, nearly drink and drug ourselves to death, realize we got addiction, join AA NA. Work the program, recover on a daily basis going on 29 years ect ect ect, right? All y’all done that, right?
But what about the fella or gal we work for? They pecking out their thoughts on an iPhone b4 7 in the morning just trying to figure how how to get along?????
Me think not but I could be mistaken, allegedly!
Just not sure today Dan, just not sure. Am going to give it everything I got today marching confidently to somewhere!!!
Thanks Dan have a good one.
Thanks Scott. I’ll take option two today. 🙂
A really very relevant and insightul post. I have learned that disagreement works best when you fit into the system first. Secondly, one has to establish and feel ones presence in the system.Without your presence felt, however you may be intelligent, talented or credible,no one will heed attention to what you say.
It is very important to show performance and effort before showing disagreement with boss.
Performace chart plays major role initially than character chart.That is why one need to show concern and performance before showing disagreement.
Thank you Ajay.
Wonderful contribution. I hate it when people on the sidelines, who are doing nothing, try to tell others what to do.
Credibility is the earned right to be heard.
The smartest people in the room are the ones who aren’t doing anything!
Love that, how courageous is that to have ideas and then let others decide whether they are to be implemented. True leadership. 🙂
I agree! How silly that we think of leadership in a dictatorial way rather than as the power to influence others to support your decisions. I think the majority of these control issues grow out of a lack of security on the part of the leader.
My favorite image of a leader developing leaders for the future comes from Moses’s example in the Old Testament. Check it out for some great insight on how to build powerful organizations!
Which extract from the Bible did you mean in particular?
Justin may be thinking about the delegation passages where Moses delegates authority to a large group of individuals. Remember how Moses’ father-in-law intervened?
Sorry for answering for you Stuart… 🙂
The approach of generating ideas and letting your team sort out the implementation makes great sense. Assuming that you know your people, and have aligned them with their best skill-sets, they know best if and how to execute the vision. The leader or boss may understand the grand scheme, but the nolts and bolts belong to the team.
And the the best teams work best with synergy and not with micromanagement.
Thank you Martina.
Absolutely! In the end, it’s all about the horses in the barn. Do we understand them? Can we leverage their talents? What prevents us from letting them run?
Agreed- this is a phenomenal way to lead a team. If you don’t have the trust in your team to make the right decisions, then you are failing as a leader. One person cannot do it all, which is why delegation and trusting your teammates is so important. More team leaders and CEO’s should take a page from Tony Hsieh.
Thank you Aaron.
Trouble is, if letting others lead was easy, more of us would do it. In the end, Tony is both a leader and follower.
Great post Dan!
One of the keys to building a sustainable company is having great leaders who know how to make a decision. There are far too many weak ‘leaders’ who are afraid to make decisions based on the response they will get. So they pass it up the line to avoid backlash.
When everyone is aligned with the mission and supports the core values, decision-making becomes incrementally easier.
I’ve always wanted to speak up and voice my opinion to the top director of my program, but I was always advised not to by immediate supervisor. Recently, however, I decided that I cannot keep quiet anymore and I decided to send her a long email expressing my views and what I see wrong in the organization. She, of course, was very upset and defensive. She would not live up to her responsibilities and she started making excuses to cover up any mishaps. She did not use the opportunity to learn about wrong-doings and work with me on ways to fix them. She instead resorted to intimidation tactics because I dared to speak up. In this system the employees are not valued or respected for that matter because they are not involved in the decision making process.
Tony Hsieh is a remarkable leader and that’s why he was able to make Zappos what it is. He has faith in his employees and he empowers them through his respect for them. In my case, however, the employees are not respected because they are not included in any decision making. But when I finally decided to speak up, I can assure you that I got somebody’s attention and I will be seen with new eyes from now on.
“5.Disagree early, clearly, politely, and specifically.” This resonates with me, especially disagreeing *specifically*. No generalizations. No blanket statements. Otherwise, there can be no understanding and no improvement.
I think my advice is don’t disagree with people with people who aren’t listening. If they are not ready to hear any voice but their own, politely state your disagreement and move on.
My second recommendation is patience. I currently work in an organization where I disagreed with a company policy during my interview and they hired me anyway. It took me another 4 years to get the policy changed. Because I worked for people who were open to new ideas even ideas they didn’t agree with, I just kept bringing up the policy until I was able to get them to see what I saw.
Great thoughts, Dan! Bully CEOs do not lead long-term growth. They chase off the best talent! I love the point made about Hsieh’s refusal (or at least reluctance) to make decisions in areas where a trained staff exists to carry out the company’s mission in specific ways. A CEO, as he understands, should guide growth not by micromanaging but by developing leaders who think independently.
It takes a secure CEO to release some of his “power” to management teams, but it almost always leads to an empowered workforce who is inspired to achieve great results– for the team!
Talk is cheap. I know plenty of “bosses” that preach the right words and even MBWA and are polite when given suggestions but have never implemented nor seriously considered any suggestion unless it was already preconceived in their mind. And worst yet I have seen Bosses take credit for ideas and suggestions that originated elsewhere. It all boils down to understanding and truly believing “It is not all about you” and as long as the V/M/V are complied with all ideas without exception are worth hearing. Leaders need to create “safe space” and a culture of “no blame” to allow staff the freedom to speak up. It is very avant garde to say “oh yes we empower our employees” but in truth the tongue in your shoe needs to match the tongue in your mouth and not just mutter what sounds good at a staff meeting. The people that do the work, know the work and have a lot of context but unfortunately no authority while the “bosses” have a lot of authority and absolutely no context. Like someone already said, Tony Hsieh has got it right and for those bean counters out there this method is good business with great ROIs when you engage not just mouth wash the strengths, creativity, and innovative capabilities of your staff. It is all about “safe space” and a no blame culture where mistakes are not assigned but examined and where the question is not who did it but what happened. Kudos to Tony Hsieh and the likes of him. Thanks for the vent session guys and “death” to the old proverbial “org chart” which has no place in the “conceptual age.” Cheers. 🙂
I still want to work for Al!
As you and others have noted, do advance work, determine receptivity and process, if either are lacking, decide what the ROI is on expending energy to establish a process.
If the process is dialed in, spend advance time focusing your issue with close to an elevator speech- answer the why, what, etc., concisely. Determine what your personal attachments are-and why. Maybe SBAR it too-situation, background, assessment, recommendations in a couple of paragraphs for the back story as needed.
Once a decision has been made, jump in or move on, but let go.
Dan, good post – I think the advice would work well for most married couples as well. 🙂
Thank you for sharing the bonus audio clip! I’m enjoying your posts immensely!
@Maria Keckler Maria@superbcommunication.com 619-672-3042
I really like #7 (grab an oar and start rowing) – in my experience this is the part of disagreeing effectively than many forget about.
it would be so cool if every company was Zappos, I’m fighting the urge to envy their culture yet again
A previous CEO of my org was perceived as pretty volatile. The few times I did approach her to convey info that she may consider “butting heads material,” I would make sure I had her at a time where she could really listen (i.e., not walking to and from a meeting, etc.) and I would also know that the first answer back may be reactive but that I could trust that she really would think on what I had said and take it seriously.
One of the most important things a leader can do is create a safe environment for genuine robust discussion. Avoiding group think where everyone thinks alike or just goes along with the leader is essential if an organisation is to really identify changes that are coming internally or externally and be able to proactively address them. Vulnerability is an important attribute for any leader developing this type of culture, encourage people to put their hand up to challenge your thinking and be prepared to be wrong. When there is a genuine culture of being able to challenge and debate matters the power is enormous.
Point 1 on your list should be applied to all relationships where feedback is being given and taken, understand how people are comfortable having these discussions whether positive or negative in tone.
Thanks as always, Dan
This post is so insightful, especially to us as young people about to enter the market place. It points to one of the most important principles we can learn; it’s ok to make mistakes. We have to remember that we’re not hired to be yes people, we’re hired to be problem solvers.
Along with your comments I would add: keep focus on the higher purpose of the company, a CEO will welcome sincere criticism if it furthers the effectiveness of the whole company.
I think management/CEO’s pretend like they want to hear the truth. They end up either getting offended or just ignoring your requests/thoughts/ feelings. You end up feeling like “what’s the point of telling the truth?” – no one’s really listening.