Wash the Dishes When Nobody Else Will

When you're starting a business, you have to wear a lot of hats. You don't have an HR department, or an IT department, or a marketing department, or any specialized department, so if a press release needs to be written, or a networked printer needs to be set up, or you need to find the personal email address of a prominent celebrity chef, you have to figure out how to do it, and do it yourself. When you're starting up you have to take the initiative to identify things that need to be done, and do them, even if they're outside of your “job description” or area of expertise. Even if you don’t know how to do them. Especially if you don’t know how to do them.

Here at InTheMO we've been growing lately, and we're fortunate enough to be staffing out specialized roles for things like PR, HR, and quality assurance, but one of my personal goals is to preserve that scrappy sense of startup hustle that we all felt back when we were sitting in a cramped, black widow infested office in a back alley in Culver city, making calls to Florence at 2am trying to book our first Michelin-Starred Restaurant shoot.

When Cary Levine, our CEO, talks about owning projects and taking responsibility, he often says “Operate as if you were the CEO of the company.” He says this all the time, and I think that the tendency is to think that being CEO of the company is glamourous: having authority and freedom, being the big dog, sitting at the top of the chain of command.

When I hear Cary say "Be the CEO," I think of a story from when I first started working at InTheMO. Back at our first real office (and I say “real” because before that we were essentially squatting in empty office space), we had a kitchen, but no dishwasher, and no cleaning service. A lot of people brought their lunches, cooked in the kitchen, used the dishes, and generally made a huge mess. Everything would just accumulate until it got really out of hand, but somehow, it always got cleaned up. I was an intern at the time and only working 3 days a week, so i just figured everyone kind of pitched in when I wasn’t there.

One day, I walked by the kitchen and saw Cary washing the dishes. “Huh” I thought, “The CEO is pitching in. Cool.” I figured it must have been his turn or something, and sort of forgot about it.

A week or so passed, and then it happened again. The kitchen became a ginormous mess, and then one day, there’s Cary, washing dishes. Then it happened again, and again. Each time, he’d look up, and nod, then go back to scrubbing dishes. One day, I walked by the kitchen and noticed it was a huge mess. So I washed the dishes.

Being the CEO of the company isn’t about power, authority, or glamour, it’s about washing the dishes when nobody else will.

Be the CEO of the company. Take responsibility for things that other people ignore. That’s the definition of leadership, and if you make a habit of it, pretty soon you'll be inspiring the people around you to do the same.

Update: great discussion going on at Hacker News