Where the Buck Stops: What You Can Learn From a Fired CEO

by Andy Wood on March 1, 2013

in Five LV Laws,Leadership,Life Currency,LV Cycle,Principle of Legacy,Protecting Your Investment

Logo of Groupon

You may or may not know the name Andrew Mason.  But I’ll bet you’ve heard of Groupon, the famous deal-of-the-day website where Mason was CEO.

These have been hard times for the company – nobody is denying that, and if you’re interested in the business and numbers side of it you can find it here.

What interests me is the leadership Mason showed in leaving.  In an email he sent to all his employees then posted publicly (“it will leak out anyway”), Mason showed some class, humor, honesty, and most of all accountability.  Take a look:

People of Groupon,

After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today. If you’re wondering why… you haven’t been paying attention. From controversial metrics in our S1 to our material weakness to two quarters of missing our own expectations and a stock price that’s hovering around one quarter of our listing price, the events of the last year and a half speak for themselves. As CEO, I am accountable.

You are doing amazing things at Groupon, and you deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I’m getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance. The board is aligned behind the strategy we’ve shared over the last few months, and I’ve never seen you working together more effectively as a global company – it’s time to give Groupon a relief valve from the public noise.

If there’s one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness – don’t waste the opportunity!

I will miss you terribly.

Love,

Andrew

In what many are calling his finest leadership moment, Andrew Mason showed how authentic leaders think, regardless of their position in an organization.  Here are some takeaways for leaders in any setting.

1.  Accept responsibility for the risks and potential rejection of your leadership.

It comes with the territory, and we all love to drink deeply of those magic moments in our times of success.  But sometimes for a wide array of reasons, it just doesn’t work.  Often it’s the leader’s faultAlways it’s the leader’s responsibility.  “As CEO I am accountable.”  That’s how leaders think.  Save the finger-pointing for the politicians.

2.  Openly and honestly explain what’s going on.

Everybody got the email – all 48,000 employees.  No doubt that included the haters and the heartbroken.  Either way, Andrew pointed clearly to performance reasons.  Even in a brief explanation, he didn’t try to throw the Board under the bus by hiding behind rumor and innuendo.  I have no idea whether this was part of his everyday leadership style, but it was certainly there in his exit.

3.  Answer questions from constituents.

Mason’s letter, again though brief, assumed some people may have questions and tried to anticipate them.  And he did so with humor and heart.  “I’m getting in the way of you having the second chance you deserve,” he said.  His entire second paragraph makes sense out of the Board’s actions and how it affects them in a positive way.

4.  Always act for the good of the organization and its employees.

“It’s time to give Groupon a relief valve from the public noise.”  Wow.  It takes courage and humility to admit that a company and the people you love in it are better off under someone else’s leadership.  Even more so in a public setting.  Leaders at their finest are always serving first – the vision of the organization and the constituents who follow them.

5.  Be lavish in your public praise.

With 48,000 people working for Groupon worldwide, you and I both know there are plenty of places to point fingers.  Andrew didn’t do that.  Instead he walked about the “amazing things” that the employees there were doing.  Even in an embarrassing exit, he publicly applauded everyone, and publicly shamed no one.

6.  Remember the customer.

I find it interesting that Mason closed his letter by remembering the people who fired him first – the customers.  “Don’t waste the opportunity to deliver sustainable customer happiness.”  Do you know who your customers are?  Anybody who exchanges something they have for something you have is a customer.  That’s true even in blood banks, children’s ministries, universities, and little country churches.  Stop seeking what’s best for your customers, and soon you won’t have any.

7.  Learn from your mistakes.

And do it in public.   Heck, everybody else is talking about what you did wrong; you may as well, too.  “My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers.”  Notice that when talking about failures and mistakes, he always used the language of “I.”  In giving out praise, it was always “you.”  But Andrew turned his failures into potential gold by candidly sharing with them what he had learned.

 

Leaders get “hired” and “fired” every day.  You don’t have to have a big office to experience that.  But the ones who “remain on the job” are the ones who consistently show accountability, service, class and care.  With or without a position, dear friend, you are a potential leader.  And that buck in your realm of influence stops with you.

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