Companies have DNA, just like people.

One funny part of seeing a company grow over a number of years is the things that stick vs. the things that slip away.

In Crystal’s case, I look at some of the good and bad things that have stuck:

  • Bi-weekly Voice of the Customer reports.
  • Team-specific Trello boards.
  • Photoshopped versions of various team members’ faces on chili peppers.
  • Bias towards remote communication.
  • Lack of routine employee feedback.
  • Detailed monthly investor updates.
  • Scope creep.
  • Vigorous debate with a high level of interpersonal trust.
  • The Mint Game (don’t ask how, but the :mint: Slack emoji has become a valuable virtual currency in our company).

Of all the “initiatives” we start, probably 25% of them actually take hold. That seems to be part of a startup, but it’s so hard to pin down why they do.

Regardless of how it happens, these little habits, cultural quirks, and micro-processes form your company’s DNA. And much like how your own DNA is the blueprint for every cell in your body, your company’s DNA is the blueprint for its future.

Founders have more influence on their company DNA than anyone, and that’s terrifying at times.

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Meet the Consequence Model. It’s a chart that shows how you end up making the most important decisions for your company when you have the least amount of information.

In the earliest days of a project, it’s so easy to ignore the process in favor of the product. But when you do that, you risk creating unhealthy strains of company DNA that will be impossible to rip out later, when they’ve had years to take root and metastasize.

It’s much easier said than done. But if you can catch those things in yourself early – the off-handed remark, the little corner cut, the awkward conversation ignored – you can guard your company against your worst impulses in its infancy – the most vulnerable time.

DNA is resilient. Use that to your advantage.

Every CEO has blind spots… I just found some scary ones of my own.

If you asked me to describe my “leadership values” yesterday, here’s what I would have said:

Empathy towards others, transparency with information, openness to new ideas, directness with feedback.

Today, I confidently asked my 14-person team to give me the honest truth, and this is what I now know about my real-life leadership behavior:

I am, more often than not, emotionally out of touch with my team.

1 = Never, 5 = Always

“As you walked in the room, when you looked at the other human… What does it mean?” — I, Robot

I am very transparent with information.

Except with Austin. I intentionally don’t tell him anything.

I am comfortable with new ideas, change, and volatility (perhaps too comfortable).

I am either guarded or just plain stingy with feedback.

My emoji response game is weaker that I thought.

There’s a big gap between my values and my behavior on multiple dimensions. Some affirmation, but plently of OUCH.

As a CEO  (or any leader), you have the unique power to prevent uncomfortable truths from being said or heard. You can shut people up with pressure, or remove them altogether, thus insulating yourself from reality. But that doesn’t make the truth go away.

Uncomfortable truths demand uncomfortable action. 

Though I’m tempted to keep my fingers in my ears and whisper “I am a great leader. I am a great leader” to myself in a corner office, I’d prefer to know the blind spots. This anonymous survey was like a long overdue checkup. You can only treat an illness when you can properly diagnose it.

I’m hoping that by sharing these results, I’ll be accountable to change. For me, the goals are simple: give more feedback, pay attention to how people feel, and be a little more steady.

If you’re curious, I based this 48-question survey on the work of Daniel Goleman. View my full results here.

Itching to know about your blind spots as a leader? Eager to spend tomorrow night sobbing about your shortcoming? Let me know and I’ll share the form so you can copy it for your own team.