If You’re the Company Founder, You Probably Shouldn’t Be the CEO

If You’re the Company Founder, You Probably Shouldn’t Be the CEO

That may seem counterintuitive. Who better to lead the company than the person who created it? What many founders fail to realize, however, is that a vision and its evangelization is nourished with a certain kind of fuel — and it’s very different from the fuel that steadies the ship and keeps it sailing.

This division of talent is a very good thing. When mastered, it’s the stuff billionaires are made from.

When I was a college entrepreneur, one of my mentors said “The best companies have an outside person and an inside person in the top 2 slots. You can choose who goes where, but make sure you have one of each.” You might even say one would likely be an extravert and the other an introvert. What becomes critical, however, is noticing which you are.

For years, I thought I was the outside person; I resisted my natural tendency and talent to build the infrastructure, mentor the staff, and bring the process to life. That was office-y stuff. “Secretarial” stuff. There was no glamour in it, and the initial visions for my companies were mine, damn it. But once things launched, I noticed that my talent was absolutely not in rainmaking. My best pairing yet was when the person bringing in the revenues was my very gifted business partner, who could be set loose on a show floor to come back with 10 business leads and fresh ideas. At the same event, I’d have a few meaningful conversations, then became “peopled out” and needed to decompress in my hotel room.

Conversely, he considered the staff “mine,” as I created a beautifully oiled machine with them, and we had a seamless way of managing all the things. For a long time, however, I wrestled with this. I was a lifelong entrepreneur — what was wrong with me? I didn’twant to be inside. Then one day my partner pointed out that what came effortlessly to me, so much so that I considered it beneath me, was not something most people could do without thinking. My mind can look at the 40,000-foot view and the close-up almost simultaneously. Only then did I understand the value it provided to the company — to any company.

When we embrace our most natural talents, we benefit not only ourselves, but the organizations and people we serve. I’ve learned to allow myself to fully revel in the building of things, and the development of human beings. I can still be an entrepreneur — that will never change — but I now go about it very differently. The first thing on my list is always to seek out the outside person.

In my growth consulting, I’ve encountered the greatest chaos in companies where the evangelists are also trying to run things. To switch back and forth from inside to outside requires such massive shifting of mental gears that it cannot be done well by a singular person. Something will always fall through the cracks, and the staff will always be scrambling to keep up. I encounter frazzled employees who are constantly pivoting to the next shiny thing, processes that are a suggestion at best, and a company still operating in spite of itself.

So, founders, my advice to you is this: Know your role. Are you the evangelist? If so, for the love of all that is good, please do not try to create or manage the internal process. Shine on, you crazy diamond, and go sell that vision. Raise that round of funding. Go on that talk show. Get yourself an internal dynamo who will create the kind of infrastructure to support the growth of your dream — and then get out of the way. You’re welcome.

Photo: JP Davidson