Captain of the Ship

Lance Integrity, Leadership Leave a Comment

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I know it’s been awhile since I last wrote a post, but it hasn’t been for lack of wanting to. It’s just been that my normal blog writing time has been devoted to TEDxDayton prep work. Checking my calendar: October 14th is … now less than three weeks away!


As I was working on that this morning, I came across this great profile article on Airbnb’s CEO, Brian Chesky. Several things about this young leader learning as he goes caught my attention as worth preserving here and passing on:

1) What being the CEO/Leader really means:

“… I’m the captain of the ship. But I really have two jobs: The first job is, I have to worry about everything below the waterline; anything that can sink the ship.” He points to the scribbled line of waves that cuts the boat in half, and below that, two holes with water rushing in.

“Beyond that,” he continues, “I have to focus on two to three areas that I’m deeply passionate about—that aren’t below the waterline but that I focus on because I can add unique value, I’m truly passionate about them, and they can truly transform the company if they go well.” The three areas he’s picked: product, brand, and culture. “I’m pretty hands-on with those three,” he says. “And with the others I really try to empower leaders and get involved only when there are holes below the waterline.” (emphasis added)

2) The lesson learned during the biggest crisis to hit Airbnb:

“… my priorities completely changed,” says Chesky. “And I basically said I should stop managing for the outcome and just manage to the principle.” He needed to apologize, Chesky felt, even if it might hurt the company. …

Chesky’s primary takeaway from the experience was to stop making decisions by consensus. “A consensus decision in a moment of crisis is very often going to be the middle of the road, and they’re usually the worst decisions,” he says. “Usually in a crisis you have to go left or right.”

3) The importance of exposure to different ways of thinking:

A key aspect of Chesky’s [learning] theory is what he calls “synthesizing divergent ideas”—basically, going to unexpected sources for insight. To learn how to become an elite recruiter, for example, Chesky might skip talking to an HR exec and instead seek out a sports agent, whose business lives and dies by attracting talent.

To learn more about the leader behind one of the most incredible startup stories ever, read the whole thing.

Now, back to work for me. 20 days isn’t a long time…

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