Jed York: When the Boss Needs A Helping Hand

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, dur...
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The boss, it turns out is, human.

That can be hard to believe in an age where CEOs can be paid a lot of money and deified at the drop of a hat. But it’s true, and easy to spot when the CEO is younger, less experienced, and front and center of the spotlight. With the pile-on week for 49er’s President Jed York by journalists and fans (and me too) still in process following the firing of 49er head coach Mike Singletary, it helps to remember that Jed York is all of 29 years old.

One of the very best and smartest (Hey! These guys and gals are brilliant aren’t they?) moves young leaders can do is to have seasoned, trusted advisors in their midst. Younger and smart is different than a little older and smart – there’s a lot less data and experience for the former. “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes” said Oscar Wilde. Young CEO simply have not had time to get lots of experience – and it frequently shows.

You can see that lack of experience anytime you see someone like Facebook’s CEO 26 year-old Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) interviewed; Kara Swisher in this case. Experience helps a lot. Ask someone who has worked around younger Steve Jobs (Jobs 1.0) versus his return to Apple several years later (Jobs 2.0) – and see the NY Times piece on that experience What Steve Jobs Learned in the Wilderness. Look up old video clips of younger Bill Gates, Richard Branson, et al and you’ll see the same pattern; youth and inexperience carries some bumps.

Zuckerberg is fortunate to have some wiser, experienced hands working for him on the executive team such as COO Sheryl Standberg and CFO David Ebersman and Marc Andreessen on Facebook’s board of advisors. Assuming Zuckerberg is able to solicit, listen, and submerge any youthful hubris, having people like Standberg, Ebersman and Andreessen around is priceless.

Trusted advisors – not infrequently executive coaches like me – are people who give CEOs the straight scoop when the people who work for them might clutch and fudge on feedback.

Trusted advisors- me or my colleague and friend Phil Towle (widely credited by the St. Louis Rams with helping the franchise win a couple of Super Bowl Championships, and helping keeping a little known band called Metallica stick together) – coach people like Jed York (or Mark Zuckerberg for that matter) to be more effective in their work by leveraging our experience to enable those younger execs to learn faster and quicker.

One example, for someone like Jed York as an instance, is to avoid going on the record that he won’t have anything apart from signing checks and “will have no role in football operations” once he hires a new general manager. The best, winning owners in the league do more than sign checks; they are all very present – they just avoid meddling, which is a big difference. All of us would like Jed to join that club. And he’d get some advice to wear something different than a suit with a vest in public- it signals that he’s hiding behind armor as he engages with the the locals.

If Jed has a wise trusted advisor or two it’s not been obvious in the way he’s handled things. Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, seems to be picking up smarts fast, more likely than not from people like Sandberg, Ebersman and Andreessen.

So Jed, give me a call (415 843-1242, or infoatbackwestdotcom) if I can help, or even if you just want to know the best way to get ahold of my colleague Phil Towle.

Good luck Jed York (and all the other young CEOs in the area)! The 49er faithful on counting on you, as are all the people who work with you and for you, and more than willing to give you a helping hand.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy ofKnowledgeCrush.

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