Seven's a crowd at meetings

STRIKING A BALANCE: Mr Cirne - seen here ringing a ceremonial bell during his company's initial public offering in December - prefers small meetings. He feels that by setting the maximum number of participants at six, everyone can contribute.


    Feb 24, 2015

    Seven's a crowd at meetings

    Q. Were you in leadership roles or doing entrepreneurial things when you were young?


    I was involved in sports, loved music and I enjoyed school, but the thing that really captured my passion was the first computer my parents bought me. It was 1982 and there was a computer called the Commodore VIC-20. I just fell in love with the idea of creating software on the computer. I liked making video games more than playing them.

    And what about early leadership lessons?

    The mistake I made as a first-time CEO was that I wanted everyone to like me. But you can't get very far as a leader without making tough decisions that some people disagree with. I still care about people's opinion of me, but I care more about the success of the organisation as a whole.

    What else about your management style?

    I prefer small meetings. It's really about my self-awareness and recognising that I get de-energised, and often lose focus and excitement when I'm in a large meeting.

    The only way to get re-energised is to talk a lot during those meetings, which often does more harm than good. When the CEO's really active in a big meeting, people feel less willing to volunteer contributions, and that's not good.

    So my antidote for that was to realise that even though we sometimes need big meetings, I just don't need to be in them. I have a table in my office. It has six chairs around it. And if the meeting is too big for that table, I won't go to it unless it's a board meeting.

    Why six?

    If you set the right tone, everyone can contribute and you're more focused on problem-solving. Anything more than six and it becomes more about just receiving information. You're not part of the dialogue.

    Whenever I meet a CEO, especially of a large company, the question I invariably ask is, "How do you manage your time?" That's the most important question a CEO can ask of themselves. It's our most precious asset, and I don't think you can be successful in this role without being very thoughtful and deliberate about it.

    One of the things I do on a quarterly basis is to review the standing meetings on my calendar, and every one of them ought to be able to defend itself.

    The point is not to keep going to that meeting just because you always have to go. I think it's a great practice to say, "OK, we meet every Thursday on this. Does it have to be these people every Thursday? Why?" I ask myself that question and I encourage my managers to question their calendars, too.

    Other thoughts about culture?

    I love to build software and I find that when I'm in the process of creating something, it's kind of like a musician going back in the studio. There's an incredible joy that comes out of that creative process.

    Most people would say that's impossible for a CEO to do, but I will book an innovation week months in advance. When I come back, some of my ideas are duds. You've got to be prepared for that. But some of those ideas have been fundamental to creating next acts for our company.

    And when I come back, I'm energised. I have a prototype to show people, and they're motivated by seeing where our product is going. So that's how I try to have an impact.

    You mentioned self-awareness earlier. Have you heard any feedback from your executive team over the years that led you to make adjustments?

    Certainly. I can get emotional at work, and there have been times that I've said something in a moment of frustration that can ruin someone's week. I'll totally underestimate the impact of me saying something that deflates someone.

    One of the lessons is that, as a CEO, sometimes you can do a lot more harm than good coming into the office that day.

    So I try to be aware of where I'm at emotionally, and I ask myself whether I'm really going to be able to contribute energy to the company. If all you can do is criticise without offering solutions, maybe it's best to just go for a long drive.

    You have to be able to resist that feeling that if you're not at work, then you're not contributing. You have to remember that sometimes you can be a negative.

    How do you hire?

    Part of it is gut feel. You get a first impression about people. We do that throughout life. I look for people I want to spend time with - there's energy, passion and a sense that I could trust this person.

    One question I ask more often than others is: "Describe a day where you've just had the greatest working day of your life. You're driving home and you're on cloud nine. What was it about that working day that made you so happy?"

    If you're doing what you love to do and it gives you that tingle down your spine, you're going to execute at a high level.