I’m afraid that I’m why our startup may fail. I’m the CEO and have a talented team who are looking to me for direction. At times, I fear I’ll choose the wrong strategy, so sometimes defer to the collective, rather than driving. Thoughts?

  • I don’t know if I can help, but your message made me thinking a lot. I’m also a startup CEO with a talented team. But my problem with driving and direction seems the exact opposite of yours. I know perfectly where I go. All my team is auto-driven: they all know where they go. I don’t have to drive nor push. Sometimes I need to fight to keep everybody in the same direction. Sometimes, I’m also the guy who slows down the pace to take time for thinking before acting. I never feel like the guru whose words are awaited by disciples or followers. Clearly, I’m the visionary who convince without giving orders.

    We are certainly very different. I don’t consider myself as a good CEO in the general sense. I couldn’t manage a random company. But I’m certainly the best for my company, with my current team. I do it my way, on my vision, with my qualities and my weaknesses. And it is OK.

    If you think you must absolutely be a clone of Tim Cook or Marissa Mayer to be a good CEO, it is only a path to self flagellation. You must find your own way to drive. It seems you are not naturally driven yourself, and nobody in your team is. In a way, it’s good for you, because you are not challenged in your CEO position. If you worked with my team, I can guarantee you would be strongly pushed by ambitious and capable people.

    So you must become the guy who gives the north, and you must teach your team they must drive themselves without asking you details. I’m not a method guy, but I guess you are looking for one. I’ll try to extrapolate a method from what I do naturally. You can think “agile development”, scrum methods or alike (I hate those and I don’t practice, but if you don’t have talent for that there are good concepts to put into action). Select a goal for a reasonable period of time. For me, the time period is about one month (it can be 2 weeks or 2 months because I don’t do it methodically). In this period, I have a strong objective. Something the company must realize. This goal is known, and the team must do it. They can do how they want, I don’t care much about details. In fact, I control details to be sure it will work, but there is always many ways to get shit done, and I leave people choose they way. I stop it only when I see it will not work and I have a good solution instead. In the meantime, I offer my help for problems the team can’t solve. I don’t call it a method because I don’t put strong deadlines. I put strong quality objectives and the deadlines can be pushed in the future if requested quality is not reached.

    As a CEO, your job is to make possible what is not at first glance. It means solving problems your team mates can’t do by themselves. And you must always think about the next months goals. Ideally you should have many years of potential goals: you can achieve that simply by dreaming of the next 10, 20 or 30 years. What could be this very uncertain ideal future ? Which steps could be a path to this dreamland ?

    That’s all. If you know where you go, it’s quite easy. Essentially priority and resource management. With a bias towards what you want to do and what your team wants to do. If it were just about making the most money with the less resources in the shortest time, any MBA graduate could do the job. The human desires, yours and your team’s, make it difficult and valuable. But you can do it. Being CEO is more a question of will than a question of talent or skills.

  • I think it’s important to do your research, trust your gut, and listen to the team. If you defer to the team too much and they don’t know the market, you will fail. I don’t want to sound mean when I say this, I made the mistake of leaving my team to make some very important decisions and it set me back 9 months. It wasn’t their fault, it was mine for not trusting my gut. I knew the research, but I was too busy trying to be the good guy.

    At the end, you’re the captain of your ship. You listen to your crew, sometimes they will know better than you as they possibly can see things you can’t, but at the end of the day, let your experience and knowledge navigate you through the seas.

    Their livelihood depends on your decision making. You have to always make the best and final decision for your team. You can only do that by knowing your market, having a clear vision, and the gumption to stick and execute. It’s your say.

    Good luck!

  • CEOs are manic creatures who sometimes have no idea how to lead.

    Met one who trusted his ass kissing old French guy school spy prior to checking his references. CTO did check them out and discovered amazing stuff. Guess what? Nothing changed, CEO didn’t believe anyone but his own gut…not even his co-founder (CTO). Maybe he was too embarrassed to admit his own failure of judgement.

    Startups are full of power games, ego games and back stabbing bs….corp world is sometimes nothing comparing to a bad startup toxic culture.

    And fish always smells from it’s head! 🙂

  • Having a certain level of self-doubt is absolutely normal and healthy. (otherwise you are already delusional). And shows a level of maturity and introspection.

    Just make sure you keep it in check and keep it private or only with your confidantes. I find that meeting regularly with a small peer group of other founders you trust is helpful.

  • There’s nothing wrong with listening to the team, but if you don’t have any value add via providing strategic direction and leadership, then you really should step down in favor of someone who can.

  • Been there, felt that. Only way out of that headspace for me was to lay ground rules.

    I developed a system for my team to use when decisions came up. Small daily “can i take the day off” issues were not included.

    But anything that required one person to make a decision that directly caused others more work was ran through a system.

    It was a set of questions.

    For example;

    Will it cause other projects to be left unfinished or delayed

    (If so, stack rank importance)

    Will it cause me (ceo) to change my vision. (If yes, think of overall brand and customer impact)


    They would all lead to an outcome. Now I am not the most organized or Type A, and i hate corporate bleed over into small businesses but this truly helped me make things agnostic

    Leave out the emotion at times and use / blame the system. Its a good fallback or scapegoat 🙂

  • I worked at a small company for some years and I remember a crisis where it almost went out of business. Our boss, the company owner, called us for a meeting and explained everything he was doing wrong and how he intended to correct it. His list of errors included even the lack of performance of others (as “I hired X to sales but that was a bad hire because of the factor Y that I overlooked). I think that at the end of the day, you’re the one to blame for failure or for success. You may find peace in accepting that the responsibility for both outcomes reside in the CEO’d shoulders, just as a property of the function, regardless of it being yours or the team’s choices.

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