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7 Things My First Real Boss Taught Me--Lesson 7

Lesson 7: You Had 1 Job…Actually 2


It was the early 2000’s and I was at a management meeting in Redmond, Washington. We had recently completed a merger with our largest competitor. After over a year of sizing each other up and learning how to work together, some of us were still trying to figure out exactly where we fit in this new company. 


This was an important meeting. We were discussing reorganizations and new product strategies. I had just been promoted and was excited about my role and the challenges that went with it. When I started with the company (Lesson 1), we had just over 20 employees with annual revenues around $1 million. Lots had changed since then. Our revenues were now over $300 million (and rising), our technology and product line had grown significantly, and we had employees and facilities all over the world. 

Steve (the CEO and my first real boss) was with us in Redmond, but wasn’t really present during any of the working meetings. I’m sure he wanted to show his support and be available for any major questions or decisions, but wasn’t going to micromanage. We did typically see him at the group dinners and evening events. 

One night I sat down next to him to get caught up and share all the exciting stuff we worked on all day. He was interested and asked good questions. I commented about how much the company and my role had changed over the last 10 years. He agreed and said his role had changed too: 

“My job now is to watch who we hire and how we spend our money.”

Steve Thornton

Steve Thornton

There it was – a one sentence job description for the CEO of a growing, international, publicly-traded company. I knew there was more to his job than that, but he was making a point. He wasn’t in our meetings that day on purpose. He knew his presence would automatically influence the discussion and decisions. He wanted us to do our jobs and he wasn’t going to get in the way. 

At Ignite, we’ve worked with all kinds of organizations ranging from start-ups and established companies to nonprofits and retail organizations. It’s interesting how many of the serious challenges and problems we see boil down to one or both of these points: 

Who You Hire – Jim Collins’ popular book Good to Great dedicates an early chapter to “getting the correct people on the bus.” Having the right team members, especially in leadership, that have the tools to do the job, share your core values and have a passion for your mission makes all the difference. And, as we all know, it’s more difficult and costly to fire someone and have to replace them than it is to hire the right person in the first place. 

How You Spend – It’s amazing how many organizations don’t have a workable budget, proper financial policies, or a good handle on their spending. Good leadership commits to establishing context for financial decisions by developing a growth strategy, setting priorities, and measuring every investment. 

Steve spoke that night like a man satisfied with what the company had accomplished and with the team he had in place. The machine was built. He was going to make sure it stayed on the rails. Hire the right people and give them the resources and guidance to perform. Then, stay out of the way…but not too far.