Why Jamie Dimon Should Take Out the Garbage
A few weeks back, I had an interaction at the Balancing Life’s Issues offices that left me thinking. I was taking out the garbage when I bumped into a coworker. To my surprise, he was taken aback by what he saw.
“Wendy! You’re the CEO. Why are you taking out the trash?”
My first thought was, “Because it was full!” But his reaction left me wondering. Should a CEO pitch in on taking out the garbage? Even just once in a while?
This is not just about trash. It’s about the mail, it’s about answering phones, it’s about being there as a backup for other staff members. It’s about taking less vacation than others. In the end, it’s about being in touch with the human condition.
What do actions like this say about a CEO? Is it inspirational to others, or a sign of weakness?
Does it make a difference how big the company is? Or could it be gender related?
There are a range of opinions about this. To me, the answers to these questions are clear as day.
As CEOs we inspire with our words but also by our actions. It’s what you do, not just what you say, that shows what you’re made of. Inspirational speech is well and good, but we also need inspirational action.
As a parent, you show your kids you’re taking out the garbage to demonstrate responsibility. Shouldn’t we expect just as much from our business executives?
I’m writing this as an open letter to leaders everywhere.
If you’re a leader — or you aspire to be one — ask yourself: why do you want to be one? Is it just for power, or are you there to do some good?
Good leadership means rising to the occasion and keeping up with the demands of the times. Today, good leadership is talking about the Derek Chauvin trial, or checking in with your AAPI colleagues to make sure they are doing okay. I am particularly inspired by the courage of the CEOs who came out publicly recently in support of voting rights in states like Georgia, at great risk to their companies. They put responsibility over profit.
Five years ago, times were different. Leaders would have stayed away from these issues. But leadership today requires getting our hands dirty — taking the garbage out — because the people in positions of leadership who don’t or won’t do that are not in touch with what’s going on in the world and the human experience.
When it comes to hands-on CEOs, perhaps the most well-known example is the late, great Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos. Hsieh had built a reputation as a CEO who was not afraid to pitch in — sitting in a cubicle among his employees rather than in a corner office, even packing up shoes in the company’s warehouses himself. His goal was a fun workplace, where employees could find happiness, and his workers were devoted to him for it.
(Though over time, as Zappos grew and he became more powerful, Hsieh’s interest strayed toward pet projects and his behavior grew erratic, leading up to his tragic demise last year. In the end, his is a cautionary tale.)
Vlad Tenev, CEO of the trading app Robinhood, recently appeared before Congress and apologized for his company’s role in the wild GameStop stock swings earlier this year. It gave me hope to see a leader take responsibility for his company’s actions. But he still grew defensive under questioning and would not pledge to any solid reforms. Many of the small investors who were hurt by Robinhood’s actions were not impressed.
In April, banking giant JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon released his annual letter to shareholders on the state of his company and the economy. It contained a surprising admission: that corporations like his deserve some of the blame for the racial and economic inequality that has been so hurting this country.
It’s a start, but there’s much more he could do. If he really wanted to tackle inequality, he could devote more of his bank’s resources toward doing actual good. Pitch in, Jamie! Help take out the garbage!
Leaders must ensure they are here to do something for the greater good. Every decision you make should work toward making the world a better place. If you refuse to help take out the garbage, don’t be surprised when it starts to stink.
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