CEOs Reveal How They Recovered from Leadership Mistakes - Glassdoor for Employers
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CEOs Reveal How They Recovered from Leadership Mistakes

Between co-founding a startup to stepping into the C-suite of a multi-national company, it’s easy to make some typical leadership mistakes throughout the careers of CEOs. As every leader knows, some mistakes are inevitable. In the era of #MeToo and Elizabeth Holmes’ Theranos, there are some mistakes that are nearly impossible to come back from. But true leaders learn from their mistakes and use them as fuel to propel their success.

As Glassdoor named the Employees’ Choice Award for the Top CEOs, we interviewed three CEOs their leadership styles. Diving beyond the positives, these leaders got candid about the mistakes that they made in the past year and how they rebounded. Young and experienced bosses alike will be able to relate.

Transparent Employee Communication

The happiness of Zoom Video Communications is paramount to CEO Eric S. Yuan. It’s the thing that keeps him up at night and one of the first things he thinks about in the morning. However, as the company has scaled in the past year, employee happiness has ebbed and flowed, as it naturally will. For Yuan, this was an important indicator of communication issues.

“[If] I have unhappy employees, I feel like, ‘Ah, as a CEO I did not do a good job,’” says Yuan. “I ask myself if we did not set up a policy correctly or communicated to employees what they should do or how a manager could have responded faster.”

To address this, Yuan says, “I’m always thinking about how we can build a better, more transparent culture that people can really feel. It’s important that whenever an employee has a problem that we as leaders do not turn away. We have to share it, the employee has to be heard, otherwise, they will suffer. Letting time pass when there are issues is not good for employees, not good for their family as well.”

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Scaling Company Culture

Rapid growth for a startup can be both exciting and overwhelming. In addition to adding over 1,700 new customers every quarter, enterprise IoT systems company Samsara has double in headcount in just 12 months. Given this, CEO Sanjit Biswas admits, “one of my biggest responsibilities has been to make sure we’re preserving and scaling our culture.”

Rather than enacting large-scale employee engagement initiatives, Biswas thought about small, yet significant, ways that he could ensure connection with his staff.

“There was a point last year where my schedule was booked solid with meetings and interviews, and I found myself starting to feel disconnected from the day-to-day happenings in the company. I now make it a priority to keep my schedule free and hang out at the lunch table or to simply be available to chat -- the informal interactions are in many ways more important for the company over time than the big formal meetings.”

[Related: 10 Ways to Hire for Hard-to-Fill Roles]

Navigating Natural Disaster

With more than 1,000 employees based in Puerto Rico, Boston Scientific faced the unexpected when Hurricane Maria made landfall in 2017. “As soon as the storm passed, our teams reached out to employees to ensure their safety and began providing basic needs like food, water and medication. We soon increased our aid to employees, providing generators and fuel, and converted conference rooms into an on-site daycare,” said Michael Mahoney, CEO of Boston Scientific. “We were fortunate that all our people were safe, but more than 100 experienced significant damage to their homes, including many who lost their homes entirely. As bad as the news reports were, it wasn’t until I flew to the island with members of our leadership team that I fully grasped the gravity of the situation there.”

While this was not a leadership mistake for Mahoney, it was a significant challenge as well as a unique opportunity to assemble the organization’s 29,000 employees to help those directly affected.

“Our employees around the world also rallied to support our colleagues in many ways and we established a Boston Scientific Employee Disaster Relief Fund that provided more than $3.5 million of direct financial assistance for housing, transportation and other needs for those impacted by the disaster,” said Mahoney. “While all of this helped us get our operation fully running, there is a long, hard road to full recovery for the people of Puerto Rico. I’ve never been more humbled by an example of incredible resilience in the face of disaster than I was on this trip to Puerto Rico.”

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