A CEO Answers The Phone At The Front Desk

So often consultants, growth experts, career coaches, and peer groups will tell you that to be a great CEO, you need to work on your business, not in your business.

The CEO is the vision, the opportunities, hovering above the weeds on where the company should be. You have chief operating officers, presidents, and vice presidents who are living in the now and getting sh*% done to achieve the vision set by the CEO.

It makes a lot of sense, and it’s been proven for decades and decades that it’s the right way to grow. Then you see an interview with someone like John Chambers, the wildly successful former leader of Cisco, who would talk about eating lunch with staff and talking to the rank-and-file on a regular basis.

What’s the best way to lead? Is there a difference between an entrepreneur and a hired-gun CEO? I believe there is.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Some entrepreneurs love being CEOs, and they don’t want to be in the business anymore. That’s OK; however, entrepreneurs (founders) love the details. They love knowing how things are done at a minute level.

They want to know what happens at staff meetings, how new hires are being onboarded, what the delivery process is, and if everything is being done the way it was envisioned, and whether it’s being done in a better way (or worse).

Our company has grown every year for more than 20 years. We have been an Inc. 5000 honoree for 12 years. I have a full C-suite, vice presidents, and a human resources and training team, and I’m as involved in the business today as ever before, just in different ways.

This week, I walked into the office a little before 7 a.m. and, surprisingly, the front desk was empty. We usually have someone there just before 7 a.m. to answer the phones and greet people.

The phone was ringing.

So, like I did in the early years of starting the company, I sat at the front desk and answered the phone. Calls came in about payroll questions, canceling a meeting with a recruiter, someone not going into work, and a problem from a client. Finally, it slowed down, and I saw the message light flashing on the phone.

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I checked the voice mail box and there were four messages from the weekend, and two missed from last week.

We aren’t perfect. Over the years and through delegation, some things get lost and missed. While I wish someone hadn’t been sick and the desk would have had someone there, I was glad I got to get my feet wet again with the basics. It took 30 minutes of my day, and I:

1. Regained some empathy I thought I had, but had actually lost, for our support staff

2. Identified technical problems with our phone system and email

3. Wondered how many people who are executives but not founders would jump in at the reception desk

I’m not telling anyone what’s right or wrong. There are companies 10 times our size where the CEO wouldn’t dream of answering the phones and those one-fifth our size where they wouldn’t either. There’s no magic sauce. It’s up to you. This was hardly Undercover Boss. “It was just an entrepreneur getting into the weeds.

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