One of the most compelling and motivational CEO speeches I ever heard when I was at Cisco was by John Morgridge in early 1994. The company had been growing very rapidly for several years and many employees were starting to view our success as inevitable. At a sales offsite Morgridge recounted a series of meetings he had held with prospects at InterOp (the big show for the networking world) and how each time he could look across the conference hall or the restaurant or the lobby and see Paul Severino, the CEO of Wellfleet (our arch-rival), talking to a different prospect or one of our customers. Morgridge observed that
“They may be beaten, but they don’t know that they are beaten, and they aren’t acting like they are beaten. Now, I am an old man, and I am doing what I can. But I need your help because I can’t do it alone.”
He put us all “in the box” with him: none of us would succeed unless we all picked up the pace. And Morgridge turned out to be correct, Wellfleet merged with Synoptics to form Bay Networks and continued to be a fierce competitor.
I remember similar remarks by Irwin Federman a decade earlier when I was working at Monolithic Memories. We were doing four day work weeks, well they weren’t actually four day work weeks, we were getting paid for four days but working five. At the time I thought it was a terrible alternative to a layoff because I hadn’t any experience with how wrenching and arbitrary and destructive and capricious most layoffs are. It was a company meeting where Irwin was outlining changes that we needed to make to become profitable enough to start paying people 5 days a week. And he closed with
“And I hope that you all act on this, because if you don’t, fewer of you will be listening to someone else next year at this time.”
A good leader puts himself in the same boat with his team, especially when times are tough.
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