For most CEOs, the best piece of advice they ever received came from a parent, boss, or mentor of some kind. Not for Redfin CEO Glen Kelman. The real estate brokerage head revealed in a post at LinkedIn that the best advice he ever got was from “a food-splattered, sex-crazed short-order cook at a Bellevue Red Robin.”
Kelman was working as a dishwasher at the restaurant before he went to college. He wasn’t very good at it. He got so behind every night that he was often working until 3 AM. It sounds pretty miserable. “When I crept into the house, the family dogs rushed me because I didn’t even smell like a person anymore; I’d become a hamburger,” he writes.
What saved him was a line cook named Steven Livestead, who was notorious and the restaurant for being a bit crazy and harassing waitresses using a pair of tongs to “increase his range.”
Livestead gave advice that stuck with Kelman his whole life. Instead of tentatively approaching the dishes and scouring the bottom of every plate, he had to furiously attack every task. Kelman writes:
“I learned instead to hit the dishes as if my life depended on it, blasting the ladles and ashtrays until my face was covered in teriyaki and drenched ashes. Seeing that, Steven would yell out his highest praise, ‘YOU’RE AN ANIMAL! YOU’RE AN ANIMAL!’
And that was it, the best advice I ever got, repeated every night for 70 nights. As a former chess-team captain and late-adolescent D&D player, I desperately needed to hear it. It wasn’t nuanced or intellectual in the way I would have preferred; it was reptilian. But from that moment on, my whole professional future became the slow process of not being such a weenie.”
And the larger lessons — the ones that everyone can apply:
“I learned to value speed in everything I do. I learned how other people lived; I learned how to be alone. I learned, even when all hell is breaking loose, first to take time to make my environment productive. I learned that people love to be good at things, even the silliest things.
But mostly I learned how to be hard on myself, which let me mow down the other students when I went off to college at the end of that summer, and into a wider world where hardly anyone else had ever washed dishes for a living.”
That’s something that serves him well as CEO. People are afraid to make decisions, which leads them to fail. Even if it’s not a perfect decision, you’re much more likely to succeed if you put everything you have into making it work.
Effort and hard work create confidence.
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