When people think of leaders who carry the illustrious title of CEO, they might envision someone who sits in a plush office all day, looks out of a big window, and has a personal assistant to bring them coffee. (By the way, did you say you wanted that with sugar and cream, or just hot and gently stirred?)
However, most successful CEOs, both with established brands or startups, will tell you very quickly that this couldn’t be further from the truth. In actuality, many successful leaders have had to roll up their sleeves to get into the “grit and grime” of hard work in order to grow their companies. It’s those menial tasks, the stuff no else wants to do, even the downright dirty work, that helped them achieve the level of success they now enjoy.
As a veteran startup leader, I have yet to see a successful company with leadership that wasn’t afraid to put on a hard hat, throw on some work boots, and get right into the weeds of the most “unenjoyable” tasks that were required for them to sustain or grow their business.
Take me, for example. When I first started Newchip, I was sleeping in a 100-ish-square-foot office (henceforth called the closet) that I leased while renting out my apartment on Airbnb to pay the bills for the office and to meet payroll. It just made more sense since I was at the office nonstop anyway (Hey, if Elon could do it, so could I). However, living at an office was no walk in the park because I had to make it without certain amenities that naturally come with the comforts of home. And while I definitely missed having a real bed, warm showers, and a full kitchen (mostly, my bed), I also realized that this sacrifice was necessary in order to build my company with the limited resources I had at the time.
Ironically, even as my company started to grow, and I was able to staff up, there were still many times that I was found in the muck and mire of cleaning up the conference room after meetings, sweeping the office floors to keep the place tidy for the next investor’s meeting, and yes, even taking out the trash. How’s that for stroking your ego?
This is why it’s so important to understand that leadership can often come with highs and lows. For example: Picture a day in which you were finally able to land millions of dollars from some of your key investors. (It’s time to celebrate, right?) But also on this same day, you have to throw on some jeans, grab a T-shirt from the drawer, and head right back to the office to make your own copies, send over your own paperwork, and order a pizza just so you have something to eat after a long day.
Despite the hardships, the great thing about doing the dirty work is that as you grow and scale your teams, you have a fundamental understanding of every aspect of what it takes to run your business–because you’ve done it all. With this in mind, here are four great reasons not to be afraid of doing the dirty work:
It shows humility
If it needs to get done and you are the only one with the bandwidth to do it, then be willing to it take on, regardless of how big or small. At the end of the day, it shows that you’re willing and able to pitch in wherever needed. It also shows humility and creates an atmosphere for excellent teamwork. By demonstrating that there’s no task that’s beneath you, you’ll inspire loyalty that can never be earned otherwise. Even if it’s just serving as an extra set of hands during a busy time or taking over for an employee who needs a quick 15-minute break, employees who see you contribute in these small but significant ways will be much more willing to do the same themselves.
It takes the focus off your title
Leadership isn’t about seniority, rank, or entitlement. In fact, great leaders don’t care about any of those things. Launching a business takes vision, resourcefulness, determination, and a willingness to get down and dirty. A strong leader doesn’t just tell their team how to work, a strong leader models this behavior in everything they do–whether it’s an elevated task like creating the company’s big vision or day-to-day things like working alongside service reps to help them answer phone calls.
It identifies roadblocks and pain points
As a leader, your time is immensely valuable and it’s also in short supply. This is especially true during the phase of scaling your business. During this time, you have to have a good pulse on all the areas of your business so you can easily identify the gaps and friction points. Being in the trenches is a good way to accomplish this.
If you have a customer service problem, handle the matter yourself. This allows you to learn about any rough spots firsthand. If you have a supply challenge, take the time to dig into the details yourself so you can determine the best solution. You will gain a fundamental understanding of how to make things operate more smoothly, which will, in turn, support long-term sustainable growth.
It helps you sweat
You can’t build a successful business without sweat equity. For the CEO, this usually means actual sweat. That’s true for companies in every industry, from tech to finance to food. You simply have to use your elbow grease. Even genius developers and programmers have found themselves not only coding software programs but also poring over financial statements or managing invoices at 2 a.m.
While this is very time consuming, it allows you and your dedicated team to handle multiple job functions in-house without extra cash compensation, as a way to save costs while you grow your organization. In the end, this will all pay off.
Doing the dirty work isn’t always fun but it can provide you with some very valuable insights and personal growth opportunities along the way. Running a successful organization requires you to be ready to dive in and do whatever it takes to keep your team moving forward.
Ryan Rafols is the founder and CEO of Newchip.