Boatside Chat #4 with Menno Beker, European serial entrepreneur and advisor to startup and growth companies aiming for the global market. Marten and Menno discuss why the CEO needs brutal honesty. When a CEO has the courage face the brutal reality of the company, problems can be fixed. Great CEOs seek brutally honest feedback from both employees and customers.
See also Boatside Chat #3 with Menno.
Marten: We’re talking about how do you engage with a start-up CEO. How you ask questions and how you reach a level of honesty and probably brutal honesty to really get to the depth of things.
Menno: First of all, in my life, there were a lot of people who taught me exactly the brutal mentality. Sometimes that’s really hard. Sometimes I even left companies because of that. But in the end of the day, you learn a lot about that as well, and it’s not that those people were, for example, either successful or not successful. That’s not the issue. The only way to grow as a person is to get the damn truth out of it.
For example, if you’re a company based in a country and you have the dream to build up this huge enterprise business and you’re getting money in, how in heaven’s name are you able to have a board with only people out of your own country.
Menno: I don’t get it, because you need cultural differences. You need people who have experience abroad with doing business all across the world. You need the right people for asking you those brutal questions.
Marten: But then you must be very comfortable with uncertainty and comfortable in dealing with people you don’t know. You must have courage as a CEO to do that.
Menno: Yeah but I think that the CEO’s who make this world are the CEO’s who are open up for criticism. I think the strongest point of being the best CEO in the world is defining “how can I find the people who are going to tell me exactly what is going on?”
I’ve got one example, it’s that there’s a guy called Rajesh Patel who is the former CEO of Exact. Exact is a software company. He really opened up and he put a lot of entrepreneurs in the room and he asked them, “what do you think my company looks like?” They told him the brutal honesty. He wrote a letter to every single entrepreneur and told them exactly, “okay, we made failures, but we’re going to do it right now. We’re going to change it, I’m going to change it and make sure I do it.” That’s the honest truth.
Marten: How do you get the startup CEO to become so open to that sort of input?
Menno: Just, you ask him these brutal questions. If he doesn’t like it, I’m not the right guy for the job. But then you’re never going to be that successful.
Marten: How many would you say, if you meet 100 entrepreneurs, how many of them are ready for the brutal honesty and how many are hopeless cases.
Menno: I don’t have a percentage. I think out of every hundred entrepreneurs, there are only a few who are going to really, really be successful. But they also know how to build a team so it’s always a mixture between finding the right teams and being open and discovering. They talk to their own staff as well, and they are opening up, and they know the criticism is not asking. Not saying, if a client says, “I’m not really happy,” then the typical answer is, “yes, but-” No, it’s not “yes, but-” it’s “okay.” And then shut up.
Marten: And do something.
Menno: And do something with it.
Menno: Thank you.