I am wondering if anyone has tips on how to build some recognition for my work, not just in a “touch up my resume on Linkedin” kind of way but in day-to-day situations so that I can get some leverage and respect from my coworkers, my peers and the industry.
I have worked for a few years for a “superstar” founder who is extremely intelligent, innovative and courageous – really, a trailblazer kind of guy. Unfortunately, as is the deal with many founders, he is not too into doing the “hard” or “boring” part of the job. When I say he’s “not too into it” I mean he avoids it like the plague.
I was hired for a specific creative function at first, but soon became sort of his right-arm in the startup, occupying managerial and strategic roles in every area of the company. I have basically done every job there is to be done at least for a while, so it is no surprise that I was recently offered the role of CEO (which he was before me), which I accepted because it seemed like the natural thing to do but also because I feel a great responsibility in keeping things together. But taking on this role has brought up many feelings about my role in the organization and the disproportional lack of recognition I get.
Here is the catch: the founder’s complete unwillingness to deal with anything that’s not super creative and interesting and disruptive and ego-boosting means that he always needs someone to clean up after him and to go through hell and back to make things viable for him. He is, like I said, really good – but it is simply not true that he is the “idea” guy.
I am now more aware than ever that everything this (successful) startup is today is much more mine than his in terms of essence. I have geared (and delivered) the general strategy, positioning, branding (I was originally hired as brand manager and still do that in addition to my other roles), financial strategies (and tactics and operation), hiring, management culture, work and communication tools, products and more; most times against his will (we get along well but fight a lot over what we think is right for the business). The reason I got to do that is because he damn near brought this startup to bankruptcy (brand-wise, product-wise, morally AND financially) with very bad long-term and compromising decisions against all logic and advice (because that’s just founder behaviour sometimes – they do what people will think is cool, not what is best for the business).
In all of these situations, I had to clean up after him and steer us in a different direction in not so subtle manners – I literally saved us from bankruptcy after hijacking the entire financial department (I really had to practically stage a coup) and re-hiring, re-strategizing, re-negotiating and re-structuring the whole thing.
We are, after many huge mistakes (in which my role was that of the clean-up crew), in a place of serious success and what we are doing is exactly the strategic plan I had for the startup 3 years ago (now being followed after trying every one of the founder’s ideas). I have been the only executive working in structuring the business and saving it from failure, and I swear I did it in a very humble way – I saved all my smugness for this rant.
The problem is: I know this is all true but I get absolutely no recognition from our peers or in our industry. He is the sales guy, the face of the startup, the guy who’s always in magazines and participating in creative projects. The magazine and selling myself thing is really not my type. But even though this business is now my baby and I accepted the CEO role because I need it to thrive, I am a creative, that is what I do best, and I do feel the need to get some recognition for making this brand what it is today.
Every creative project we’re involved in has been an outcome of my work as a brand developer, but they come out to the world as his ideas, his business, his genius work. I don’t get to work on those projects because I’m busy being CEO. All I deal with all day are stressful situations of his creation and I don’t get to do anything enjoyable, and I feel that is not because I’m not trying. I feel left out because I can’t get recognized as the creative head of the startup – our clients and collaborators think of me as a glorified secretary for him (“the real genius”).
There was one particular situation recently where I worked on a project to deliver the (successful) creative direction and got a comment from a collaborator basically saying the project was great in spite of my creativity-killing work (of getting the numbers together for it to be feasible).
Now I know he knows that about me (that I’m creative head of business) but he likes me where I am, doing the heavy lifting, so he won’t help. And I realize that when people say “I did it all and nobody applauded” it’s often because they are delusional.
I don’t feel like a special snowflake, I know that what I wrote here is all true. He has a lot of merit, but the fact is there would be no business if it were up to him.
I just feel like I’ve been catching all these rocks thrown at me and that has made me unaware of how much I was letting go of what matters to me (which is participating in the creative projects I thought up and brought in). I feel shut out because no one sees me as someone valuable in the creative discussion, even though it will probably be me delivering things in the eleventh hour.
The worst thing is that no one outside of our team recognizes me as CEO either because he is the face of the business and people have this idea that he is some kind of hero that does it all (little do they know). I’m scared that I’ll be stuck forever in the back, disguised as a secretary in spite of doing all the hard and successful work.
Anyway, I would love it if someone could give me some pointers as to what I can do to put myself out there and make it known that I am one of the heads behind this startup and that my work is awesome!