Netflix’s CEO Learned a Valuable Lesson When He Caught an Old Boss Washing His Coffee Mugs

Before Reed Hastings, the founder and CEO of Netflix, was one of Silicon Valley’s staple tech-entrepreneurs, he was a grubby computer programming grad student at Stanford.

He was intrigued with entrepreneurs then, so when he joined a startup for two years at age 25, he was in it to learn. Little did he know, he was about to learn one of the most important lessons on leadership of his career.

Hastings was a kid with some messy habits. He left dirty coffee mugs on his desk as he worked until he started noticing how they magically became clean every morning when he arrived to work the next day — this went on for a year.

One morning, he went in early to work. As he stopped by the bathroom, he noticed his boss using the sink to wash coffee mugs — his coffee mugs. Hastings asked his boss, “Have you been cleaning my mugs all year?”

His boss responded, “Yes.” Hasting asked him why.

His boss said, “It was the one thing I could do for you. You do so much for the company.”

From then on, Hastings said he would follow that guy to the ends of the earth. Unfortunately, that’s where the company went, and after two years, Hastings was out of a job. However, he learned two valuable lessons from his startup experience.

“I realized leadership is pretty nuanced because there’s the personally endearing part about character and followship, and there’s also the strategic part about not leading the company into a boxed canyon.”

So when you prepare to be the leader of a company, your own startup, being a boss means you have to connect with your employees so they’d be willing to follow you and be enthusiastic about their work, but at the same time you have to guide the ship so that you don’t end up putting everyone out of a job. It’s all about the perfect balance of character and strategy.

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