What happens when you call the CEO an idiot at Yellowfin

What happens when you call the CEO an idiot at Yellowfin

In most organizations no one is going to call the CEO stupid. That’s because most organizations are not designed to give or receive honest feedback.


When we think about feedback, it’s usually top-down, not bottom-up. It’s incredibly rare to find an organization where employees feel comfortable enough to turn to the CEO and say, “You’ve made a mistake; you shouldn’t have done that.”

That’s the environment that we’re trying to create at Yellowfin.

Yellowfin was built on a culture of honest feedback – because we had no alternative

Our culture of honest feedback started at the beginning of Yellowfin, when there was only five of us, and I had no idea how to code a product. I was completely reliant on the team to make clear how my decisions would impact them. If a feature I wanted was going to jam our technical team for nine months, the only way I knew was through feedback.

If we fast-forward to today, I’m less of a technical klutz but the philosophy is fundamentally the same. The people that do extraordinarily well at Yellowfin are those that are open, talk about what they need, and seek advice from others.

Over time we’ve built a mindset where our managers don’t lead a team, they’re part of it. Fundamentally, they work for their team and are there to help their people do a better job. Being part of a team is about being collaborative and seeking feedback when you have strategic decisions to make.

There are occasions along our journey where I’ve made rash decisions without consultation. The biggest mistakes I’ve made have been when I haven’t sought advice from the people who will be impacted by that decision. The consequences have been catastrophic for some teams because I didn’t engage those affected in the process.

So when I’m thinking about making changes in the organization, I don’t do that in isolation. I don’t sit in an ivory tower and come up with great ideas. Instead, I spend a huge amount of time talking to people within the organization, gathering their feedback and advice. It’s this synthesis of ideas that helps us move the organization forward. But this process only works if it’s ok for a team member to say “I think this is a really bad idea.”

Why it will always be OK to call the CEO an idiot at Yellowfin

Humility and humbleness are really important as a leader. You don’t become successful by telling people what to do. In my opinion, your job as a leader is to bring people with you, and the best way to bring people with you is to be a player-manager.

A player-manager is someone who actually rolls up their sleeves and works hard. Your team has to see that you’re part of the process. After all you’re a member of the team. You don’t run or manage the team, you’re a member and contributor to it. It’s that contribution that gives you credibility within the rest of the organization. It also helps you learn what your team does and how they do it, so you can empathize with them.

You can’t participate as part of a team unless that team can provide honest feedback on your performance and areas for improvement.

That’s why it will always be OK to (respectfully) call the CEO an idiot at Yellowfin.