The CEO Mentor and Coach

I’ve written about this topic before. I think many people with the ambition and the opportunity can become excellent CEOs. But it takes a lot of work and a commitment to self improvement. It is a very hard job. It is lonely. And it requires discipline and decisiveness. Most of these traits can be learned.

But who do you learn them from? Certainly not me. I have never been a CEO and never will be. I can help entrepreneurs with many things. But there are some aspects of running a company that I can’t help with.

So I encourage most of the CEOs I work with to get mentors or coaches (or both). I have seen this work so well for so many people. You might ask “what can a coach or a mentor really help me with?”

I’ll point to a blog post by Ben Horowitz on “office politics.” I tweeted this out yesterday so some of you may have read it already. If you are a CEO or plan to be one someday, you should read it.

Here’s an example of Ben’s advice on what to do when one exec comes to you complaining about the performance of another exec:

If they are telling you something that you already know, then the big news is that you have let the situation go too far. Whatever your reasons for attempting to rehabilitate the wayward executive, you have taken too long and now your organization has turned on the executive in question. You must resolve the situation quickly. Almost always, this means firing the executive. While I’ve seen executives improve their performance and skill sets, I’ve never seen one lose the support of the organization then regain it.

On the other hand, if the complaint is new news, then you must immediately stop the conversation and make clear to the complaining executive that you in no way agree with their assessment. You do not want to cripple the other executive before you re-evaluate their performance. You do not want the complaint to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once you’ve shut down the conversation, you must quickly re-assess the employee in question. If you find that they are doing an excellent job, then you must figure out the complaining executive’s motivations and resolve them. Do not let an accusation of this magnitude fester. If you find that the employee is doing a poor job, there will be time to go back and get the complaining employee’s input, but you should be on a track to remove the poor performer at that point.

Imagine having someone you can pick up the phone and call when this happens to you? How nice would that be?

You can get that several ways. You can take an investment from a VC like Ben or Mark Suster or Jeff Glass or many others who have serious operating experience. Or you can bring an experienced and successful CEO (or two) onto your baord. Or you can get a CEO Coach. 

I would not recommend you overdo it. Getting advice from too many places isn’t very good. Pick a mentor/coach and run with it. If you are struggling with the demands of being the boss, the first thing to realize is you are not alone. It is a super hard job. The second thing is to get some help. From someone who has done it before and knows what to do. Trust me, you will be much happier once you do that.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Julien

    Don’t you think advisors (some of them!) can play this role nicely? @jyri was of incredible help for that matter!

    1. fredwilson

      maybe, but most advisors are light time commitmentstrue coaching and mentoring requires a commitment that is beyond an advisorrelationship

  2. Emily Merkle

    Anyone – in any area – can be more successful if they 1) have the courage to acknowledge their shortcomings – admit they know what they don’t know, and 2) surround themselves with as many SMEs as they have weaknesses to mentor them. This takes great ego strength and I’ve seen CEOs fail due to a lack of it.

  3. Evan

    What I got out of Horowitz’s post was largely, “think about the incentive that you create in your organization.”

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Nice succinct summation, Evan! You seem to have a gift for this.What also struck me was the emphasis on just thinking about what you are doing when you lead a company — realizing that every decision and action has implications for the type of company you are going to end up with. The word “intentionality” comes to mind, and with that “strategic.”When you become the CEO — at least if you want to be a good one — you no longer have the luxury of shoddy thinking, acting on a whim or merely “reacting.” I mean, you can, but… well, there are consequences. What struck me about the examples Ben gave was that smart people could make those mistakes! And I can see how — especially with the myriad of other decisions/problems/choices flying at the typical CEO demanding his/her time and attention. Not a job for the faint of heart.I was also struck by how the very actions that open up a company to a political environment also represent poor management in general and wonder if a well-run company will be less likely to have a highly political climate.Oh, well, just some thoughts…Hopefully this wasn’t too long. ;-)(I’m being bad.)

      1. Peter Beddows

        Excellent and relevant observations Donna ~ Your own comments are most frequently succinct, relevant and purposeful. Always enjoy reading them.

        1. Donna Brewington White

          Okay Peter, you get to wear the “Mark Essel Affirmation and Encouragement” badge! Thank you for your kind comments.

      2. Evan

        Thanks Donna! That’s kind of you to say.I like your use of ‘intentionality.’ I think it fits with Horowitz’s post.

    2. Peter Beddows

      Right on Evan, that is a critical element: Awareness of consequences should apply beyond just the CEO but I suspect is most often not in the mind or on the radar even in that office.This even reminds me of how some parents will send the wrong message to their children by inadvertently incenting future undesirable results by carelessly offering inducements intended, in the instant of responding to a situation, just keep the kids quiet but actually establishing a precedent for future interactions: So perhaps this is an unconsciously developed habit that carries over from experiences learned in growing up into becoming how some managers, including CEO’s, subsequently deal with subordinates when under stressful situations.

  4. David Semeria

    Asking for advice in any situation is not just useful – it’s essential.But always make sure you don’t confuse advice with delegation.The fireman can give you extremely useful advice regarding which window to jump out of – but at the end of the day it’s your arse that’s going to hit the ground.

    1. Tereza

      I think you have to be judicious about who you ask…..or more specifically, what you expect from whom you’re asking.Naturally, anyone may come up with a great idea or impart wisdom. In fact everyone does, and i’m open to that.But you can also waste a lot of time on people telling you what they think you want to hear.Big problem.Need to think hard about — who am I most afraid to ask this question? Because probably, viscerally, that’s guiding you toward who will be most critical.You’ll save so much time, fast cycle everything, if you seek out those people early.Positive side effect — you may even get them on your side.

      1. David Semeria

        The biggest problem is finding experienced people who are willing to dedicate the time needed to form a useful opinion.Frequently ‘experts’ give standard answers to common questions without making the effort to think the situation through.

        1. Tereza

          I totally agree with you on that.But I also find that, when positioned as, “Could you help me?”……And explaining why that person is the single most important person to answer your question……And being very specific and cut-to-the-chase in the question, easy to answer (e.g. almost position it as a multiple choice)….Even experienced people are Human, and have a hard time saying no. And in fact enjoy doing the helping. It makes them feel good about themselves.

          1. David Semeria

            You’re talking about how to get them to reply.I’m talking about how to get them to think very deeply about a question.Most people, myself included, apply different levels of effort on problems depending on the context.

          2. Tereza

            I guess that’s where the Pappy helps!

        2. Tereza

          David, just noticed you were at Cantor. Did you work with Bernie Weinstein??

          1. David Semeria

            Nope. Most people in Cantors trade bonds. I did equities.

          2. Tereza

            He runs BGCantor Market Data…but yeah I think that’s fixed income. Anyway he’s a great mentor.

          3. David Semeria

            I should also have mentioned that I was in the Milan office….

  5. Greg Leman

    The best coach is experience. Want to become a good CEO? Spend some time working for a great CEO. The CEO job probably shouldn’t be your first job.

  6. RichardF

    Finding the right mentor/coach is the tough part. It’d be very nice to get the likes of Ben or Mark as a mentor but unlikely for many people.I’ve said it before but JLM would be an excellent mentor, worth relocating to Austin for that reason alone.

    1. Mike

      Completely agree. In just two hours he turned what I thought was one of my biggest weaknesses into a potential core competency (and new revenue stream).He’s extremely busy, but persistence is key and well worth it in the end.

      1. RichardF

        That’s great to hear Mike.

    2. Donna Brewington White

      Even though I haven’t met JLM (yet) I’ve adopted him as one of my unofficial cyber mentors — as many of us probably have. BTW, where IS he? Been missing him around here.(Edited to correct grammar: Why when communicating with Brits does my grammar start to slip? Intimidation?)

      1. Peter Beddows

        No worries Donna: Your grammar is just fine such that even ex-pat Brit’s will give you a pass.

      2. Dan Sweet

        He probably has to work occasionally right? If he had twenty responses to EVERY post I’d start to doubt him.

      3. JLM

        JLM has been in Roma, Firenze, Positano, Praivano, Amalfi, Assissi, San Gimignano, Siena, Nocello, Capri — doing research on pasta. Pasta is good.I came very close to death hiking the Trail of the Gods from Nocello to Praivano above the Amalfi Coast. Luckily, pasta is also a great cure for heat exhaustion.It is very intimidating to be walking along in the mountains and coming face to face w/ a church built in the 1500s. And, of course, just 1000 steps above the roads. Do you know how long it takes to descend 1000 steps?

        1. Donna Brewington White

          No idea. But glad you made it back safely. With great new stories to share. Welcome back!Now I have to get caught up on all your new comments. Goodie.

    3. JLM

      Hell, forget JLM, relocate for the Tex Mex and BBQ. To say nothing of the women.

      1. RichardF

        I’ve had a taste of the the Tex Mex and the BBQ but my wife wouldn’t be that happy if I sampled the women, I’ll just have to take my brother in law’s word, he relocated to Dallas to marry a Texas girl.

  7. awaldstein

    Important topic Fred.Executives make decisions. Few are easy. Almost none of them are a slam dunk.Great execs figure out how much data they need to decide for themselves. Once great source is an advisor. Someone outside. Unaffiliated.I find that many CEOs especially those that come from the product side, need to get advisors who don’t just have more experience but specific knowledge…especially true on the market development side where the company is too small to have a CMO on board for example. Your a $20M company and you need to invest in team, channels and make the decisions on how much and how to spend dollars for your peak season rollout. Your board may tell you. Agencies will spend your money but you not only need decisions but some understanding as well. My point…pick an advisor to suit the needs of your company’s stage of growth.

  8. Elie Seidman

    Fantastic advice. I learned from experience that experience is best learned from. The rights Partners, mentors, and advisors have helped me be far more than I could have ever been without them. One of the great things about silicon valley is the deep pool of entrepreneurs and CEOs to work with and learn from. That pool of wisdom is the accelerating lighter fluid of innovation and is a huge part of what perpetuates the areas success.

    1. fredwilson

      So true. Once NYC has sufficient lighter fluid (getting there fast now) wewill be in a much better place

      1. Tereza

        I think a lot of people on NYC-area have had chief-of-staff type positions, probably more than in many places. Very useful experience.

        1. ShanaC

          Where are they?????

          1. Tereza

            They tend to be tour-of-duty roles with limited shelf-life, that one grows into and gets via personal recommendation. Great for time but you don’t want to get stuck for too long because it starts to get too personality-specific and non-transferable. Critical to artfully transfer out at the right time with everyone support.

  9. mdudas

    Tying that particular quote from Ben’s post to the topic of CEO coaching immediately made me think of the scenario where the CEO has lost the support of the organization. Since Ben implies that it’s unheard of for an executive to regain the organization’s support once it has been lost, does that also apply to the CEO? Or is the CEO role unique such that coaching & mentoring can help the CEO regain support, and have you seen this happen?A related question: who do you recommend execs and employees turn to when the CEO has lost the support of a number of people at the company – the Board, each other, or keep it to themselves? I understand it may be hard to generalize here, but it would be interesting to hear some basic ground rules.

    1. fredwilson

      You have to come to the boardSince we don’t work at the company, we don’t see what goes on every day upcloseWhen the CEO has lost his/her team, they should leaveThe really hard part is when the CEO is the founderThen you really have a conundrum

      1. Allan Carroll

        I’ve seen that scenario firsthand. Had a CEO/founder that lost multiple sets of execs and is still hemorrhaging employees on all levels. There was a chance for him to regain the team’s support, but it would have taken a severe and quick change that even the fastest of learners would have had trouble with.The founder intentionally choose a board that would be uninvolved and kept them always at arms length, with little real information about the company’s operations. Made me want to look for board members who have time and are willing and able to be mentors — and to keep them in the loop.

  10. LIAD

    I spent 2000-2001 working as the PA to the founder and CEO of a large hi tech company in the financial services industry. He was a maverick, had top notch investors and built things up to 300 staff and multiple offices across the world. Raised money at a c.$500mm valuation. Working day-in, day-out with him taught me a lot and even though my job title was assistant to the CEO over time I kind of became his chief of staff/apprentice. Got a lot of stick from friends about what I did “ah, so you’re his secretary” – but that wasn’t the case. Just hanging around these kind of people you pick up a ton by osmosis. Well worthwhile. (getting to drive his sports car when he was abroad wasn’t half bad either)

    1. fredwilson

      In the army, chief of staff positions are coveted for all the reasons youcite

      1. Andrew Ice

        The Chief of Staff in the Army is the CEO! I think you’re referring to the military assistant in this analogy who for the Chief of Staff can be at the Col level.

        1. Evan

          you do know Fred is from a military family, right? Even if CoS isn’t the formal title, I think he can use CoS to describe what civilians frequently describe as the CoS.

        2. JLM

          THE Chief of Staff of Army is a single position and is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.The Joint Chiefs are composed of a Chairman and Vice Chairman appointed by the President and confirmed by the Congress. The other members of the Joint Chiefs are the branch chiefs of the Army, Navy (Chief of Naval Operations), Air Force and Marines (Commandant).The real work of the Joint Chiefs is undertaken by the Director of the Joint Staff and the staffs of each of the Joint Chiefs. The Director reports to the Chairman.The Joint Chiefs advise the President and, in general, the civilian government of the US about military matters.The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is not in the chain of command. The chain of command flows from the President to the Sec Def to the Combatant Commanders — joint (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) commands which are typically responsible for theaters of operations and are located throughout the US and the world. The wars in Iraq and A’stan are being run out of Tampa, Florida.So, technically neither the Chmn of the Joint Chiefs nor the Chief of Staff of any branch is in the chain of command though they have huge influence on the Sec Def.What Fred is referring to is the position held by a senior officer on the staff of a unit command (e.g. an Army or Marine division) which is designated as the “chief of staff” of the division which is a full colonel. He runs the Division staff (personnel, intelligence, operations, supply, civil affairs, etc) for the Commanding General (Major General, 2-star) and in concert with the Assistant Division Commanders (Brigadier Gens, 1-star) for maneuver and support.

    2. Matt A. Myers

      Lucky to have that experience. I learn best through osmosis don’t have school credentials so not sure I could be so lucky. Maybe in a couple of years time if my current plans don’t pan out so well I’ll just volunteer under someone – but I know I’d just want to be doing their job myself.. so might make it tough to swallow.

    3. johnmccarthy

      Shortly after business school I had a chief of staff role for a senior finance guy at a Fortune 50 company. Great learning experience; I learned that I never wanted his job and it moved me quickly onto the small company/startup path.

    4. Tereza

      Best part is when he closes the door and turns to you and asks, “What should I do?”You give him your opinion. And then goes and does it.

    5. ShanaC

      How do you go and find those jobs….

      1. LIAD

        You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.Sent from my iPad

  11. LIAD

    Fred – why don’t you consider yourself a CEO?You founded and run a company and deal with everything a CEO does. You have investors, employees, stategy to form, a vision to execute on, payroll to run and all the other fun and games a CEO gets to deal with- what gives?

    1. fredwilson

      I don’t like to manage people and am not good at it eitherI love to partner with people and work with them

      1. LIAD

        Not buying that.Your role at USV is one of CEO. Not liking managing people doesn’t change that fact.A lion that doesn’t like roaring is still a lion.

        1. David Semeria

          Dude, the man has spoken 😉

      2. Donna Brewington White

        …and that’s not a form of “managing people”? Sounds like a “collaborative” management or leadership style. I’ve only had a few bosses, but the best I’ve ever worked with have had that style.

      3. Andy Maddocks

        Knowing what makes you and other tick… the right coach can help, but there’s more.There have been a lot of great comments and insights generated from this posting. One of my mentors, the late David C. McClelland (Harvard professor until retirement, and then a University Professor at BU) had some powerful advice. Your comment about knowing what you don’t like and what you love reminded me of it.David always emphasized the importance of understanding what makes each of us tick. In terms of good leadership qualities he boiled it down to: the ability to understand and modulate your use of power (in its various aspects) with a specific competency in the focused use of interpersonal power in service of the organization while exercising strong self-control over the use of “personal” or self-serving power.Some of his research indicated that the inability to inhibit the wielding of “personal” power often resulted in drinking problems and other “addictions” that ultimately could harm the organization. He also found that effective leaders were “moderate” risk-takers; neither gamblers (high risk) nor bureaucrats (low risk). He also found that successful executives also showed moderate motives related social/team environments. An interesting additional finding was that intellect, per se, was not quite as important as focus and intention (i.e., achievement motive). With focus and intention a leader of average intellect can accomplish corporate objectives with far above average results. Wrap it all together and his findings put some meat on the bones of what Collins calls a Level 5 manager.There’s lot more to it than that; but I have found David’s advice very practical when partnering or consulting with organizations as well as when I’ve had line and general management roles; and, in situations where I was sizing up organizations for both acquisition and for turnaround settings. Companies where leadership behavior was well balanced in terms of the modulation and exercised of power always appeared to have more zip, business potential, productive climate, ability to handle high pressure situations when they occurred and “political” stability.Coaching can have a big impact, too; especially when there’s a solid fit between a coach and an organizational leader. The challenge is finding the right ones for the right leaders. Many of the comments above contained snippets of advice that should help any reader either make the decision to seek coaching, or to select a coach.Thanks for launching this enjoyable and challenging thread of discussions from your post.Andy

      4. ShanaC

        Me too. Yet I think you are probably a more effective manager than you would think. You get people to fly by not trying to impose your will on them….

  12. sachmo

    If you’re starting out in an area that’s not quite Silicon Valley, how do you go about finding such a mentor?I’ve gone to a few entrepreneurship meetup groups, but not everyone you meet is necessarily a veteran business owner… or perhaps some are, but are in completely different types of business – like a law practice or real estate development.Also, supposing you meet someone with veteran experience in a tech. business, how would you go about entering that delicate mentor / mentee relationship without being too much of an imposition? It seems difficult to find a good mentor in practice…

    1. fredwilson

      Super questionCan I bookmark that for a blog post TBD?

      1. Connor Murphy

        I look forward to that post. It would also be great to get a Mentors perspective on being approached by a potential mentee? Like @Sachmo, I’m always worried that I’m going to be an imposition on those gracious enough to offer me their time, advice and opinion. The last thing I want is to become a “tor-mentor” 🙂

      2. sachmo

        absolutely, I’d be honored.

    2. johnmccarthy

      I wouldn’t limit your mentor-universe, or contacts to tech execs . Someone who has successfully built a business in a non-tech industry has faced the same issues, especially personnel issues, that you will face in building a tech business. And sometimes getting out of the tech/VC/startup echo chamber can point you in the direction you need to move to resolve an issue.

    3. Mike

      Sounds like we’re in the same boat (I live in Dallas). When I first launched I started attending several networking events and alumni organization meetups, but what I found was a lot of mortgage brokers, real estate agents, and insurance salesmen. Technically small business owners but of the old guard variety that couldn’t necessarily relate.I’d mention what my website was all about and they would respond, “Wow, you young guys sure do know a lot about technology. You should meet my son, he loves computers!”Not helpful…At each event, no more than 1 or 2 people usually had any idea what I was trying to accomplish, so I’d leave feeling like I had wasted my time. But looking back over the course of the past few months of pounding the pavement (and commenting here at avc) I realize that I have managed to hone my pitch, expand my business, and meet several seasoned executives who’ve provided priceless input into what it takes to make a business work.In short, it just takes longer than you want.

      1. ShanaC

        Yes I’m being told right now to contact my alumni organization just to get started in job to company started. I don’t think they realize that that’s frustrating beyond belief.

  13. andyswan

    There is also something to be said for understanding the difference between different levels of CEOs. Having been “CEO” of two private and small companies, and now working in mgmt with two CEOs of large publicly-traded firms, I can tell you there is a HUGE difference between the two roles.As your business grows, the role of the CEO will change dramatically, and sometimes very quickly. Being the CEO of a 2-man shop becomes very different when there are 10 of you and an angel investment of a million bucks in the bank. Even more different when you’re opening a new sales floor and trying to get a deal done with Apple. Different still when you’re on a series D with $25m in the bank, a $300m market cap and 72 investors. I don’t even want to get into the next step…..It’s unbelievable what the CEO of a publicly-traded firm deals with.Having a “coach” that has been through all of these stages would be nice, but it’s probably unrealistic for most.I’d suggest having a coach, mentor or at least a good drinking buddy that’s been successful one level above where you’re at.I’d also suggest BEING a coach, mentor or drinking buddy for someone one or two levels below where you’ve been. It’s the only thing that makes me think I’m staying close to sharp, entrepreneurially-speaking.

    1. fredwilson

      Awesome comment+3

    2. kagilandam

      Completely agree with you on one-up and one-down… is there a 10-like button?One up and one-down equation works like watching a circus show of yourself … especially if they are drinking buddy.When you talk to the one-down you yourself will wonder how deep some learning are embedded into your mind. It also gives a fair idea of what are the coaching ideas you have accepted in your sub conscious mind…only those you accepted goes down to the one-down buddy.It is really a wonder to watch oneself … it fairly gives an idea about who you are and why you arefiltering-out some of the ideas from the coach.

    3. karen_e

      Tag: #pappy

    4. Mike Hart

      “It’s unbelievable what the CEO of a publicly-traded firm deals with.” Having been a public CEO and now back in the private world there really is no comparison. Many private CEOs think the transition is easy, but wrong – it’s tough as nails. As a public CEO I’d often find myself on an island balancing the board, investors, mgmt team, and employees. A coach or mentor is helpful, but a drinking buddy is required.

    5. Olivier

      Thanks for this great post from Fred and this great comment from @andyswan. It reminds me some good and bad experience as a young CEO.Having started our company at 21 (5 years ago), we had the chance to meet a mentor who definitely helped us to grow the company, in fact up to 25 people and a first 3M€ fund raising. Clearly I wouldn’t have achieved that without his advices, as we had everything to learn.The thing is, after this fund-raising I felt somehow as “now I’m the man to run the company, leave me alone I’m old enough” (kind of an adolescent crisis for entrepreneur maybe !). So I stopped working with this mentor. This was just the most stupid decision I took in retrospect 🙂 Not that I should have continue with him, but as andyswan mentions, I should have found a new mentor who would have helped me to get to the next stage and so on.I’m quite sure any CEO needs a coach, whatever its age our experience. I would love to hear from senior CEOs from important companies, how they deal with this mentor/coach issue ! 🙂

    6. Dan T

      A great place to find an appropriate drinking bud for first time CEO’s: YPO. I wish someone had turned me on to it when I was a YP. I did not find out till I was 40+. The people that I know that have participated got a lot out of it.

    7. Donna Brewington White

      “I’d also suggest BEING a coach, mentor or drinking buddy for someone one or two levels below where you’ve been.”Re-reading your comment again (because it was worth it), just caught that line. Love the generosity in that.Any of us could do that for at least one person. Right?

      1. David Noël

        Great, your comment reminded me of a term Bijan used in a post in July: Penniless Philanthropist. It stuck with me and I found it very inspiring:…”Pick one [startup] you love and get busy”

        1. Donna Brewington White

          Wow, David, that’s fantastic! Thanks for sharing.(Reminds me that I need to read Bijan’s blog more often. Inspiring guy.)

          1. David Noël

            Oh yes, you should, great music taste, too 🙂

  14. Dan T

    Great Advice Fred. I’ve had mentors and I have also had a coach. Both were towards the same goal, but there is a vast difference (as you have noted). Just because someone was a great CEO, does not make them a great coach – just like great players don’t necessarily make great coaches. Coaching is an art/science that takes a lot to master. My experience in being coached was great. It really helped me understand my strengths, weaknesses and biases and helped me become more effective. Anyone that has ever tried to understand their “winning formula” will know what I am talking about. Jerry, whose blog you noted earlier http://www.themonsterinyour… seems to be a great example of one of these practicioners.

    1. fredwilson

      Jerry is a masterful coach

      1. panterosa,

        Jerry is the bomb.Before him, I had a business school boyfriend turn me on to Sun Tsu’s Art of Strategy, still a favorite today. He taught me the hands on of it by walking me through a super complicated real estate partnership exit which took years. I still keep the Art of Strategy on the front shelf.

    2. Tereza

      Jerry rocks.

  15. roshandsilva

    True Fred. I was so impressed by Ben’s insight when I read the post the first time, I’ve bookmarked it and will keep referring to it time and again. In life, we tend to not talk about the dirty side of building a business – office politics is one such area. Unfortunately as the CEO you have to be conscious about it and learn the rules fast – esp. if like myself you are a young person and the typical hires esp. in Senior management tend to have played the game much longer. I totally second what Ben says with some tips of my own:-1. Don’t indulge in loose talk / gossip. The more you indulge in it, the more you will encourage such behavior in the company.2. Remember that there will be people who will use your friendliness as a tool in front of others and distort it to mean that they are powerful/ wield clout/ are not to be messed with. I’ve found it important to not do too many one on one meetings and instead do facilitative meetings where I can play more the role of a co-ordinator / referee.3. We like to promote out of turn as this makes the CEO feel powerful. It’s necessary to do this in only the rarest of rare situations and have a good HR person to run through each decision on a case by case basis.

    1. JLM

      We have a tendency to focus on the “DONT”s when perhaps we should be focusing on the “DO”s.Manage the message w/ your employees as carefully as you would any other messaging challenge.Two things you will find out — they already know a bit more than you suspect and they are pretty good judges of who is phoney and who is genuine. Second, they really don’t care as passionately as you do but they truly appreciate it when you speak DIRECTLY to them.I have company meetings — around a cheeseburger or taco or hot dog lunch — and force them to answer questions. “We’re not going back to work until we have at least 4 good questions.” It is amazing what they ask, so be prepared for it.

      1. Tereza

        Just like parenting. DO’s are far more effective than DON’Ts.As a manager (parent?) it also puts the burden on you to pre-think and then explain clearly, with detail, what they should DO.Sometimes when doing that, you realize there were legitimate reasons why they did kooky things that you hadn’t wanted. Then you can steer them right, rather than “Why the hell did you do that??” which is generally a great way to start a conversation that’s guaranteed to end badly.

  16. Mikej165

    The situation becomes intractable when the “problem” executive turns out to be none other than the CEO himself. If the board doesn’t have sufficient willpower to do what’s necessary, the ultimate casualty will be the company culture and a steady flow of people towards the door. I’ve come to conclude that there are two basic sub-types of CEO: those who are great at getting the company off the ground and those who are great at bringing it to the next levels. The hybrid of those two is rare indeed.

    1. fredwilson


    2. Peter Beddows

      A very good observation Michael: Totally agree with you on all counts.This kind of problem is further exacerbated when a) The CEO in question has a major financial stake in the business ~ not necessarily someone who is a founder but certainly someone who has been brought in to be CEO (perhaps someone who is selected specifically to replace the founding CEO) not only for supposed skills and experience but also for that financial contribution, and b) even if that CEO has not made a financial commitment but when you have a board that does not easily want to admit it has made a poor choice in selecting that CEO.Many people try hard to avoid publically admitting they may have made a mistake and instead look for excuses to justify their inaction and thus keep the status quo in spite of increasing indications that they need to ever more urgently and decisively act to change course. They may also be fearful of the financial consequences resulting from firing someone who has provided a significant cash infusion. Hope is never a strategy but frequently comes into play nonetheless.Either separately or together, both of these conditions can lead to a company slowly sinking like the sun at sunset – ie: clearly obvious what is happening but nobody taking any responsibility for leading towards a solution before the inevitable demise of the business becomes “fait a compli”. Under such circumstances, it is virtually impossible for the business to survive because there is no possibility for intervention.ironically perhaps, such situations would appear to occur because “The hybrid of those two is rare indeed” thus the founding CEO often gets replaced by a later stage competence CEO at the board’s discretion as limitations of capability and competence of the founder are reached thus dropping the board into the dilemma of justifying making their choice for replacement if subsequently that replacement proves to be a mistake. Gordian knot!

  17. jeffyablon

    Fred, this post is my absolute favorite kind. I started out thinking “yeah, yeah, yeah!”, and halfway through flipped 180 degrees.The first point you cited, about the age of information by the time it gets to you, is spot-on. A CEO’s job is ultimately to 1) have and 2) be able to communicate the best, most up-to-date information. Or as I’ve said for years “he with the best information wins”.But to then switch to “and your job is to immediately shut down bad stuff (albeit “until you can evaluate it”) is just not right at all. Yes, that’s the method that PR companies advocate for when information goes public before it “should”, but ultimately (and it needs to happen quickly) everything gets addressed, and doing it openly is the way that keeps proving itself as “correct”.When you’re dealing with an internal issue if you look like you’re stonewalling even for a moment you create a bad situation for yourself, and the trickle-down can be cataclysmic. With all respect to both Ben and you, a great CEO works from that position. No, I’m not advocating a wimpy “keep everyone happy” approach at all. Quite the opposite: gather your forces and act like a general.Two cents deliveredJeff YablonPresident & CEOAnswer Guy and Virtual VIP Computer Support, Business Change Coaching and Virtual Assistant ServicesAnswer Guy and Virtual VIP on Twitter

  18. Guest

    Fred, thanks for this… It really makes me evaluate my efforts.I have actually wanted to work out a situation like this, find a mentor / make friends with someone of more experience but perhaps I am just not meeting enough or the right type of people.I will do anything to find a good mentor and develop a good relationship with whomever that may be.Any tips or Ideas about how to actually make this happen? Most CEOs that I can think of as “Dream Mentors” are not necessarily very attainable people and while am sure a not so dreamy mentor can actually be just as much – or more – help I wonder if there is a meetup or any other gathering, or anything where one can potentially make such connections.

  19. David Quiec

    The challenge is identifying and recruiting the coach.

  20. Geoff Graber

    Fred, great post and I couldn’t agree more. When I discovered coaching after years in management it was like I was seeing the world in a completely different way. Primarily that was because I was able to get some perspective on myself and how others were seeing me. I also saw the impact that coaching could have on an entire organization by helping me and others in this way. To me, it is a different–and more powerful–dimension to work and to achieving excellence beyond the typical “smarter, faster, harder” routine that I had grown up with in school and my first jobs and businesses.Some of us are blessed through nature or nurture with high emotional intelligence and introspection. Others, like myself, have had to work very hard to develop these skills. Coaching–when done well–is by far the most effective means I have found to accomplish this and the other “Black Box” characteristics of a Level 5 Leader in Jim Collins’ words. The difference from mentoring is that a coach is a trained professional whose job is to work with her client on specific business-related goals for a set time period. I think mentors are also valuable, especially with help in navigating a new company or new function. I have found the two to be not interchangeable. Not just because of the skills and experienced involved with being a great coach but also because of the process that leads to a successful outcome.

  21. sigmaalgebra

    Fred: Since you say you are difficult to reach and have been struggling with spam detection, you might look at your e-mail messages with date lines:Date: Tue, 24 Aug 2010 13:26:09 -0400Date: Tue, 27 Jul 2010 06:44:03 -0400It’s free, free, free, already on the shelves of the research libraries! And I’m not looking for either a meeting or a check! It’s old work of mine, and good work, but I’m doing other things now.Gee, a form of a private key that can be transmitted harmlessly in public! Sounds like a patent opportunity. Oops, it’s ‘prior art’ now!For the latest Horowitz essay, I don’t want to be the skunk in the garden party, but the horses’ durvers have been in the sun too long.Apparently I get notifications when Horowitz posts another of his essays, so yesterday I read the essay before there were any comments. I drafted a comment, kept it to clarify my thinking, but didn’t send it.What Horowitz is writing about is not nearly one of the most important problems for a CEO unless the CEO is such a doofus he will ruin his company in other ways anyway. Still there is some importance in his subject.I’m interested in the subject: My solid plan is to be CEO of a successful company, and that’s what I work on. I’ve seen a lot of management, in big organizations and small, wildly successful down to sickening disasters and a lot between, and office politics and nearly no good, or even very good efforts at good, management. And on the side, not in the way of writing software, I am trying to learn more. I’ve read:Jim Collins, ‘Good to Great’, ISBN 0-06-662099-6, HarperCollins, New York, 2001.Robert Townsend, ‘Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits’, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1979.Dwight D. Eisenhower, ‘Crusade in Europe’, ISBN0-385-41619-9, Doubleday, New York, 1948.more on military leaders Nimitz, Patton, and Marshall, noticed what Oppenheimer did inRichard Rhodes, ‘The Making of the Atomic Bomb’, ISBN 0-671-65719-4, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1986.and now am readingOman N. Bradley, ‘A Soldier’s Story’, Henry Holt, New York, 1951.And I’ve read more, in books, articles, etc.Ah, from what I learned from the first half of Bradley, for the movie ‘Patton’, there is my brother’s remark, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”!My brother’s Ph.D. is in political science; he’s taught ‘organizational behavior’; he’s explained ‘goal subordination’ to me more than once; and I intend to get advice from him.For the Horowitz essay, to take what he says very seriously:(1) I would want more and better evidence for more and better thinking.For one, I’d like some scientific evidence and, in part from my brother and some of my wife’s work and her Ph.D., know where to look for some. E.g., her Ph.D. research was essentially on the conjecture:”Boldness becomes rarer, the higher the rank.”-Karl Von ClausewitzTwo of her professors were President, American Sociological Association, and one provided the data for her research.Yes, she took a course on organizations from March at Chicago — right, as in March and Simon.Such evidence from the research community is careful but it is not comprehensive.And I’d want evidence from people who have been there, done that, with high success, on a big scale, e.g., Marshall, Eisenhower, Bradley, Nimitz, Oppenheimer, even Townsend.(2) As I read the Horowitz essay, it failed both my sniff and giggle tests. In particular I can see why he had political problems.Uh, somewhere on the top ten list of simple minded office politics manipulations, and central in the essay, is to have person A complain about person B to their common manager M. We’re talking kindergarten level stuff here, folks: Little Barbara shouts out, “Teacher, teacher, Billy threw a spitball at me.”. Remember that nonsense? Or a more modern version: “He looked at me in a way that made me feel uncomfortable”. Then there’s one I ran into to: “He [me] doesn’t use SAS.”; of course I don’t — I’ve done a lot of work in computational statistics and optimization but so far have not had a problem both simple enough and small enough that SAS would be any help so have just written code, sometimes calling, say, the OSL, Linpack, or even the old SSP. Besides, for the project in question, I’d written a nice paper of applied math showing a promising solution; SAS would have been of no use; and I was writing solid software. The main point of the SAS guy was just to sabotage my work since SAS was about the only tool he had and would not solve the problem at hand and my work was well on the way. He was “competing with the guy down the hall”.Uh, there were a lot of salesmen and many more customers. The salesmen got assigned in fine detail to customers. How the assignments were made had big effects on profits. There was quite a lot of data on ‘effectiveness’ in the selling. So, how best to assign the salesmen?Well can write this problem out as 0-1 integer linear programming and right away see that the problem is uncomfortably large. Yes, we could wish that P = NP.But if stared long enough at the problem, then could see that could also regard it as a case of least cost flows on networks, and there get a MUCH faster version of linear programming and one that honors the 0-1 integer issue for free.Could use the Cunningham work on ‘strong feasibility’ or even the Bertsekas work on a polynomial algorithm. I took Cunningham since he was one of my profs! For the whole sales force, could touch up with non-linear duality and Lagrangian relaxation. Nice universe: Lagrangian relaxation works poorly on small problems where don’t need it but works well on big problems where do!Uh, can’t do that stuff with SAS! Besides, we wanted to ship a software product to customers so could not include something expensive like SAS, the OSL, or C-PLEX. So, I wrote code starting with Cunningham’s paper. The SAS guy did NOT like my work!Uh, managers: If you have someone doing good work, then just assume that everyone else in your group and much or all of your management chain will try to cut him off at the ankles, knees, waist, or neck. So, first, mostly don’t let anyone else know what this person is doing. Second, at least within your group, support the guy against the nearly inevitable attacks. For any and all potential attacks, say as little as possible about the project until the project’s DONE, the value is easy to see, and it’s too late to attack. More generally, ‘support’ the guy: Uh, you DO want the work done, well, right? And you ARE paying him, right? So, support him, e.g., defend him from attacks trying to cut him off at the ankles, etc. Simple enough?Uh, and what did the teacher do in response to little Barbara’s accusation about Billy? Take Billy to the supply room, close the door and investigate, essentially as Horowitz recommends, and get ready to punish the “wayward”, “poor performer” Billy? HECK NO!First, the teacher should already know plenty about both Barbara and Billy.Second, for Barbara to get the teacher to “re-evaluate” and “re-assess” Billy would be a BIG victory for Barbara: The teacher would have just been manipulated by five year old Barbara.Third, Horowitz shows that he has a hair trigger on firing people, especially over Billy failing to have “the support of the organization”. That alone can cause enormous political problems, e.g., people can conclude that their job is highly at risk from random, total nonsense anyway, so why not fight the organization instead of work effectively for it? No one wants to scatter their best pearls before swine.Look, even if Barbara were right: An even simpler manipulation, we’re talking just boys even before kindergarten, is for Sam to tell Billy “You won’t jump off the roof. You’re scared.” That’s like Sam telling Billy the obvious, that you should not jump off the roof. So, tell someone to do something it’s obvious that they should do anyway and, then, claim that you got them to do what you said. Seeing this, Billy has to not jump off the roof and let Sam win by doing what he says or jump off the roof, maybe get hurt, and do something totally foolish Sam told him not to do and, again, lose to Sam. Uh, the teacher has to deal with both Barbara and Billy without appearing to be subordinate to either Barbara or Billy.So,”You must resolve the situation quickly. Almost always, this means firing the executive. While I’ve seen executives improve their performance and skill sets, I’ve never seen one lose the support of the organization then regain it.”So, in effect Barbara screams something trivial about Billy, and the teacher is now close to sending Billy to the school office and maybe home. For Billy, the trip to the storeroom has no upside and only a downside — Barbara is winning, big time, gets extraordinary power in the class and “the support of the organization” while the teacher and Billy lose.Horowitz just got an F in kindergarten classroom management 101.So, what does the teacher do? “CLASS! TAKE your seats. The next person who talks will wish they hadn’t. Barbara: Just what is it about being quiet you don’t understand? DON’T answer that.”Uh, WHENEVER A talks about B to M, M should immediately start to think of A as a destructive, power grabbing, political weasel. And if M does much about B apparently from the effort of A, then M starts to lose big time.The biggest failing of Horowitz is the emphasis he places on “the support of the organization”. Here he is leaving himself wide open, really inviting, some gang, organized much like on the playground during recess in the first grade, based just on gossip. That same day during recess Barbara would be nominated by acclimation as the leader of her own gossip gang.Are five year old girls this smart? HECK yes. Do they forget these lessons over the next few decades? NOT a chance!Looks like Horowitz had an encounter with Barbara’s mother, lost out, got afraid, went all a-flutter, and formulated his “the support of the organization” which is an even weaker and less competent response to aggression than Neville Chamberlain. We’ve got to award Chamberlain a posthumous Ben Horowitz Wimp-O Award!Again, the teacher is already supposed to know about both Barbara and Billy.Then, here’s where Horowitz misses it again, SUPER BIG TIME with a threat of devastation to the company: Suppose CEO Joe has VP Billy working on getting MemCache working, Sam is in Billy’s group (by 25 boys can also begin to understand the games girls played with such mastery at 5), and VP Billy is getting picked on by his subordinate Sam and his vicious gossip gang.For CEO Joe, he needs VERY much to have CLEARLY in mind what the heck VP Billy and his group are supposed to be doing on MemCache and should know, right along, with ‘fingertip feel’, for how the work has been going.That’s the MAIN point: The WORK. Billy’s group is supposed to be doing the WORK.So, after Sam leaves his little ‘organizational behavior, goal subordination spitball accusation’ with CEO Joe, what should Joe do?Sure: At the next, PREVIOUSLY scheduled regular opportunity, praise the work of VP Billy, and his group and there emphasize how well the group has been doing the work on MemCache. There let all the gossip gangs know that they are at most arguing about spitballs with a stone wall of PRODUCTIVITY in getting the WORK done. Net, in the most important 10 things about VP Billy’s group, all 10 are about getting the WORK done, and spitballs are not anywhere in sight.If in fact VP Billy had not been doing good work, then CEO Joe should have already had the evidence and met with Billy, asked about what he was encountering, made some suggestions, offered help, and as a last resort reassigned Billy.For Sam and his gossip gang, pick the least useful person and reassign them — “Works every time.”.In his high attention to accusations about spitballs, Horowitz is making freshly plowed, fertile, unplanted ground ready for a bumper crop of accusations. Not good.Reading, say, Bradley, I saw:(1) He tried to select his officers carefully. An officer who had already done well was near the top of the list.(2) An officer has to be able to take over an existing unit, with all of its politics, gossip gang leaders, and spitball screamers, and within no more than a few weeks have the unit, all but maybe just a few ‘relieved’ officers, being effective in the work to be done. Little or no time or effort was needed for handling spitball accusations.(3) When an officer was not doing well, Bradley knew it right away and didn’t have to wait for some mutiny in the ranks from something about “the support of the organization”. Moreover, no way was he going to let some spitball screamer or gossip gang leader grab power and/or ruin the work — not a chance.(4) What Bradley concentrated on was the WORK. E.g., just after Normandy, a big, really big, deal was moving inland, turning right, that is, moving west, and taking the peninsula and port of Cherbourg as the crucial port for supplies for the charge to the Rhine. Bradley knew in stark terms what the movies mostly ignore: An army travels on its stomach; when you’re out of food, water, gasoline, or ammo, you’re out of the war.Uh, what I’d like to see soon is some US Army Field Manual about how to handle gossip among subordinates. Bet they’ve been there, done that, and solidly solved the problem.Horowitz misses another big point: CEO Joe and VP Billy are just totally AWASH in OVERWHELMING power over Sam and his gossip gang. The only way Sam can get anywhere is for Joe to be dumber and weaker than Neville Chamberlain.Finally Horowitz lets himself go all a-flutter over some employee who wants a ‘career development plan’ and ‘promotion path’. Such things are pursued by the organization when they are good for the organization and are not some ‘right’ of an employee. Horowitz is letting himself be pushed around by some suggestion of an employee right.Some good news is how successful some businesses have been with some really bad management. It looks like I will be able to handle office politics and, further, be an effective CEO.Yup, being a CEO can be a lonely job; at times have to be willing to be the skunk at a garden party. Skunk or not, I’m looking for the best information I can get on ‘office politics’, etc. and will not swallow thin stuff that doesn’t pass my sniff or giggle test. More generally I’m starting to entertain that for inputs to my business I better take from nothing much below the top 10% of the cream.

    1. Evan

      holy schnikes this is a long comment! if your emails are anything like this comment, of course VCs don’t return your emails. I don’t know anyone who reads rambling screeds from people they don’t know. Learn to be pithy and then at least your email might get read.FYI, when people mention that they like “Good to Great” I immediately categorize them as a facile thinker. That book is a case study in how smart people can confirm any theory by misusing statistics.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        You wrote:”FYI, when people mention that they like ‘Good to Great’ I immediately categorize them as a facile thinker. That book is a case study in how smart people can confirm any theory by misusing statistics.”Gee, I wrote:”And on the side, not in the way of writing software, I am trying to learn more. I’ve read:”Nowhere did I say or imply that Collins was something I “like”. Actually, I believe that his book fills a much needed gap in the management literature, would be illuminating if ignited, and would be much better published as a scroll, on soft paper, with perforations.I have NO WAY to keep you from so seriously misreading what I wrote. Maybe you do. You should he embarrassed and humiliated by your mistake, but somehow I suspect you are not.For my post, I tried to respond to Horowitz. Anything shorter with the same content would be too difficult to read with understanding — people would just skip over and not understand. E.g., for all the high level posturing both on this blog and also on the one of Horowitz, the subject just goes back to kindergarten with “Teacher, teacher, Billy threw a spitball at me.”. So, it’s a simple subject that people are not getting. So, I should write especially clearly.Of course, a good conjecture is it’s all just about posturing; I’ll entertain that.What I wrote is the way I thought about the issue for myself and wrote out yesterday. What I posted here I revised maybe eight times, at least twice after I first posted it. So if it is was too long to read, then I should have noticed that somewhere in my typing or revising!Fred said that “Every successful social media system I have ever been involved with has to tackle the problem of spam.”so I sent him some of the most powerful work on the planet for such separation of wheat from chaff. Then he wrote “know I am hard to reach, that I return less and less emails every day. But if you have something to share and say to me, please keep trying. I promise you that I am listening.”and I gave him another chance and sent to him again. I don’t want a meeting, a check, an introduction, a favor, or anything else. I was just trying to do him a favor.If he really wants to attack spam, then he will have to read things much longer and many times more difficult than any e-mail or blog post I ever wrote. My paper is in its way by a wide margin the most powerful on the planet, but for nearly anyone an unguided tour will be an unanesthetized root canal procedure. There just ain’t no way to make it new, correct, the most powerful, short, and easy all at once.I can understand that over 90% of the people want sound bites. When I am being a nice guy trying to help people, I will avoid sound bites. I won’t buy sound bites, but I might sell some.If I am successful, then I will be very rare. My approach to being successful is much more rare — likely not a single person in Web 2.0 or ‘information technology’ could get even a weak little hollow hint of a tiny clue about the crucial content of it. I just expect people to like the results, but they will never understand how they were produced. Everything about what I am doing is “lonely” — my background, the work I’ve done, my business direction, and the results if I am successful.I expect people to like the results of my business; I can’t expect very many people to like anything else I do. I know a few people who like my work and thinking, but we’re talking maybe 1 in 100,000.With what I wrote about the Horowitz issue, I believe I did a real favor for anyone actually interested in the real subject. If they don’t like it, then they can page down. Ah, just to defend their readers from my posts, Disqus could implement at each post a link to the next post! Also put a word count at the top of each post with a ‘loquaciousness’ warning! Okay, now these ideas are ‘prior art’ so that they can’t be patented!If my favors are not wanted, then fine with me. I could have saved some time today not writing that post. I will consider posting less in the future.But apparently something about my post got you angry: (1) You complained about the length, but that did you no harm. (2) You jumped to make an erroneous conclusion about what I wrote to accuse me of liking Collins. So, you are angry. I can guess what you are angry about, but it is not the length of the post or Collins.You seem to be a little like Barbara who really doesn’t care one way or another about Billy but complains loudly about him to the teacher for other reasons, ones Horowitz was slow to see.People who want to posture and play politics, go for it. I see wasted time and little money there. Back to some real work.

        1. Evan

          too long; didn’t read.

          1. sigmaalgebra

            So, you are attacking me, deliberately, angrily. On the topic Horowitz selected, I write a more carefully reasoned piece than Horowitz does, with good references and much better example cases, and you describe it pejoratively as a “screed”. You embarrass yourself misquoting me about Collins. I respond, and again you have only insults and nothing substantive.You are just angry and, thus, embarrass yourself.You confess poor reading abilities and again embarrass yourself.With each of your attacks on me, you look worse and worse.I believe I know what you are angry about: You can’t do anything about it, so get used to it.

          2. Evan


          3. ShanaC

            I can’t believe I am saying this:Evan, you are acting disgustingly immature by teasing him. How does it help you, how does it help him. He’s venting slightly. Take time to listen instead.

          4. Evan

            what teasing? I think all my responses were quite appropriate in context.

          5. ShanaC

            I don’t he has the same personality as you. More sensitive.

          6. Evan

            He made a long, rambling post. I don’t think it was unfair to label it a ‘screed.’ I suggested he learn to be pithy. In response he wrote another looooooooong rambling post that included factual assertions about me.I decided to be pithy to make my point about pithiness. Hence tl;dr.He cast another round of aspersions on me — thankfully only a few paragraphs. I was amused more than offended so I responded with a <3.I don’t know what else you think I should do or what you think I should apologize for.

          7. ShanaC

            More like historically this is the way Sigma writes. Maybe it is just a mething, but I rather just disengage, it’s unfair to both you and him.He comes off aggressive and a bit over the top- but the smart thing to do isto handle it so that it is contained. I find that over time the lengths getshorter and shorter if you engage on his level.Frankly, if you did that to me, I probably would do the same as him- it’sthe kind of behavior that if your not sure, you think the other person ismocking you.And no, I wouldn’t ask you to apologize, I just would expect you tounderstand how to manage people so that they don’t do that if you don’t wantthem to.

          8. LIAD


        2. ShanaC

          .Sigma- By any chance does this have to do with Banach Spaces ;)Two more serious notes: Has said paper been verified in the math establishment/comp sci establishment (ie published, looked over, gotten some sort of yeah, we agree, this can work)I will pull a request if I must to have that done, despite you anonymity and your mistake in explaining banach spaces ( i had a friend help me with that). I’m friendly with a math professor at UChicago. They’ll be someone out there who will understand what you are doing.It’s not the kind of thing that I think is going to get easy emails back, if it does work. It’s going to be hard to understand. Get your approbations and then email.Though I totally disagree with you about your approach to kindergarden. Having had a kindergarden experience that was sort of like that- it didn’t stop teasing form happening. Nor did getting pulled aside. It’s one of those things that needs working on.

          1. sigmaalgebra

            You claimed that there is something wrong with my short description of Banach space but gave no details.My description of Banach space, a complete, normed linear space, was relatively non technical, but I claim was fully accurate and without error. If you have an error, by all means trot it out.Or have your friend from Chicago post here.I will await details on your claims of an error.

          2. ShanaC

            Banach space: It’s a ‘complete, normed linear space’ namedafter Stefan Banach. So, it’s a vector space, typically infinitelydimensional, with some additional properties. The easiest non-trivialexample is the real valued continuous functions with domain the set of all xwhere 0 <= x <= 1. The ‘norm’ of a function is the largest of its absolutevalues. This collection of functions is ‘complete’ because any sequence ofthe functions that appears to converge, that is, in the weak sense ofCauchy, converge in the norm, actually does converge (qualifying examquestion). The axioms are weak, but still there are some surprising results– open mapping, closed graph, uniform boundedness, Hahn-Banach, and more. Pettis integration is for Banach space valued functions.should readBanach space: It’s a ‘complete, normed linear space’ namedafter Stefan Banach. So, it’s a vector space, typically infinitelydimensional, with some additional properties. The easiest non-trivialexample is the real valued continuous functions with domain the set of all xwhere 0 <= x < 1. The ‘norm’ of a function is the largestof its absolute values. This collection of functions is ‘complete’ becauseany sequence of the functions that appears to converge, that is, in the weaksense of Cauchy, converge in the norm, actually does converge (qualifyingexam question). The axioms are weak, but still there are some surprisingresults — open mapping, closed graph, uniform boundedness, Hahn-Banach, andmore. Pettis integration is for Banach space valued functions.I believe at one, you would end up with infinity. I have a friend atMichigan completing his Math Phd there. From what I hear, it is anexcellent department.As for whom I am friendly with- For whatever my reasons, I happen to have anoddball relationship with Professor Shmuel Weinberger. He used to givetalmud classes on occasion through the University of Chicago Hillel, so Ijust know him. For a really obscure fact about him, he was in Rabbi JosephBaer Solveichick’s gemara shiur before he died (he’s the former dead on YUand is considered to this day the thought leader for good chunks ofJudaism), which is probably why he taught this class in the first place. I’m still regularly comment on the state of his coffee cup picture onfacebook, which he regularly switches. To this day, I still wonder why henever did also go for the rabbinate while going for the Math Phd.

          3. sigmaalgebra

            I’m sorry, your change from0 <= x <= 1to0 <= x < 1that is from the interval [0,1] to the interval [0,1) is badly, fundamentally, even profoundly wrong.Here’s a proof that you are wrong: For f: [0,1) –> R, considerf(x) = 1 / ( 1 – x )Then on [0,1), f is well defined and continuous.Now we come to the definition of the ‘norm’ of f: The norm is to be the largest of the absolute values of f. However, there is no such largest absolute value of f because f is unbounded above. The largest value would have to be positive infinity, but, as is standard, a norm has to be a real number, and positive infinity is not a real number.So with your [0,1), the norm is not defined for all continuous functions. So we have proved you wrong.To continue and be more clear, for f: [0,1] –> R, the functionf(x) = 1 / ( 1 – x )is not defined at 1. Moreover, for any definition one would want to make at 1, the function is not continuous. So, this function is not in the set of all continuousf: [0,1] –> Rthat we are claiming is a Banach space.The reason for the profound difference between [0,1] and [0,1) is that [0,1] is ‘compact’ and [0,1) is not. Compactness means that every infinite subset of the set has a limit point in the set and that each open cover of the set has a finite subcover of the set. In the real numbers, a set is compact if and only if it is closed and bounded (more is true).E.g., for [0,1) for positive integers n, consider the points1 – 1 / nthen the only candidate limit point is 1 which is not in [0,1). So [0,1) is not compact.Why do we care about compactness?Because a continuous function on a compact set is uniformly continuous, bounded, and achieves its upper and lower bounds. In particular, then, the definition of the norm|f| = the largest |f(x)|is well defined and finite as we need to have an example of a Banach space.The norm we have here says that convergence in this norm is uniform convergence, and here is a simple example of the importance: For positive integers n, for x in [0,1], consider functions( 1 – x ) ^ nSo, for each n this function is continuous, and at each x the function values converge, but the convergence is not uniform and the limit is not continuous. In particular, these functions do not converge in the norm we have defined. So, part of the deal in Banach space is that we don’t want such things to happen.So, we get to show that our candidate example of a Banach space is complete, that is, a uniform limit of continuous functions is continuous.This material is central in the first chapters of Baby Rudin, ‘Principles of Mathematical Analysis’.Experience with teaching and learning show that this material is not easy to learn. Learning it cannot be a spectator sport. In particular at least at one time Baby Rudin was one of the three main references for Harvard’s course Math 55, described at…and sometimes called the most difficult undergraduate course at Harvard.The material on Banach space through, say, the Hahn-Banach theorem is deeper.Banach space is a nice topic especially since the applications form a mile long dessert buffet.For a “mistake” in what I wrote, I should change”converge in the norm”to”converges in the norm”.but that is about grammar and not about Banach space.For your:”Has said paper been verified in the math establishment/comp sci establishment (ie published, looked over, gotten some sort of yeah, we agree, this can work)”as is fully clear in what I sent to Fred, my work has been published in an Elsevier peer-reviewed journal of original research in computer science. For such a journal, the usual standards for publication are “new, correct, and significant”. The editor in chief of the journal was a full professor at Duke.Also the paper reports some computational experiments that help provide ’empirical validation’ of the work in practice.But there is considerable question about the need for ‘validation’: The research content of the paper was theorems and proofs. For a real application, one should be careful about honoring the assumptions, but after that there isn’t a lot of doubt.Prerequisites for reading the paper in detail include some fairly standard graduate pure math material in ‘analysis’ and good understanding of probability theory based on measure theory. This last is a bottleneck, especially for computer science.For your”It’s not the kind of thing that I think is going to get easy emails back,”Here you are commenting on something not much related to anything I did; I was not seeking or expecting to get “emails back”.Again, Fred stated: “Every successful social media system I have ever been involved with has to tackle the problem of spam.”So, I offered some help. I’m not seeking either a meeting or a check and, really, want neither.To help, I just gave Fred the reference to the paper and included a short, intuitive explanation. Since my paper is in the research libraries, he, then, is fully free to pass the reference on to “Every successful social media system I have ever been involved with”If some such people want some help and contact me, then I will try a little to help, for free, no obligation, but I can’t do much because my interests now are quite different.For your:”By any chance does this have to do with Banach Spaces”I’d have to check to be sure, but just as a first-cut guess, yes, my work would apply in any Banach space. But often in practice there would be a standard problem from what is commonly called the ‘curse of dimensionality’ which means that my math is still correct but in some respects the quality of the results would fall. But, there may still be some good applications.For your:”Though I totally disagree with you about your approach to kindergarden. Having had a kindergarden experience that was sort of like that- it didn’t stop teasing form happening. Nor did getting pulled aside. It’s one of those things that needs working on.”it is not at all clear that your are disagreeing with anything I claimed. So, I must have written ‘too little’ and not been clear enough.What Horowitz was suggesting be done, in the kindergarten case, would involve taking Billy to the storeroom. As we all know very well from whatever teachers we had in K-6 or so, a good characterization of what teachers commonly do is just, as I wrote:”CLASS! TAKE your seats. The next person who talks will wish they hadn’t. Barbara: Just what is it about being quiet you don’t understand? DON’T answer that.”So, the ‘subtext’ here is that the teacher sees Barbara and/or Billy just ‘disrupting’ the class, as you put it, maybe “teasing”.I only claimed that this is a description of what teachers do; I didn’t claim that it stopped:”teasing form happening”.But, of course, with the class in their seats and quiet again, the “teasing” or other disruption or politics did stop for a while. And, as we know, with a teacher who runs “a tight ship”, it doesn’t take many such statements to have a ‘general increase in classroom discipline’ that does over the weeks reduce such nonsense.For nearly all girls in K-12, having a teacher say to the whole class:”Just what is it about being quiet you don’t understand?”is essentially a public insult and humiliation and a really big ‘reality check’ and will slow down all but a small fraction of girls.The connection for the Horowitz context of office politics is clear: A CEO should not be a wimp, should run “a tight ship”, and should not give in to such political nonsense. Here Horowitz blew it in ways kindergarten teachers don’t; I believe that for a CEO handling the Horowitz subject of office politics, the kindergarten teachers are correct and Horowitz is wrong. Sorry ’bout that.Again, my interest is in being a successful CEO. I can read the blogs of Horowitz, Wilson, Suster, etc. to get leads that will help me in what I want to learn. But, as I more and more believe is important, my standards for quality are high. So, when I see low quality I point it out hoping to raise the quality in the future.My summary view of the Horowitz essay was that it was by far his worst; I believe that he should not have posted it; that Fred quoted it surprised me.That essay, then, convinces me that I should not have Horowitz on my Board; whatever good his check might do, in my company too soon he would go all a-flutter as in his essay and ruin my company. Clearly some companies could be successful with Horowitz on their Board, but I don’t believe mine could.I’ve found some okay material on some of these blogs, but there is a problem separating wheat from chaff. For quality, unlike Horowitz, I gave some good references, e.g., Bradley, some examples from some good references, e.g., some of what apparently Bradley did, and some broad pointers to sources from academic research — in these threads apparently I was the first and only person to note that some of academic research could be relevant here.Indeed, there are courses on organizational behavior. How do I know? My brother has taught them; from March my wife took one; when I was an MBA program prof, the organizational behavior profs were just around the corner. Net, sorry, I believe that with references, examples, pointers, and understanding of office politics, I wrote a better post than Horowitz did. As CEO of my company, I will be following what I wrote, not what Horowitz wrote. I want still more, but I will try to get it from sources such as I mentioned and not from Horowitz.So, I’m pointing to higher quality. Overall I am concluding that I need to draw from only the top 10% of the cream and that such blogs are not much worth reading.I tried these blogs; they don’t work for me. My guess is, my brother, my wife, my father, the OB profs I knew, other people I respect, none of these people would like the Horowitz essay. Sorry ’bout that.This stuff about being a successful CEO is a big and not a small or incidental thing for me. For these blogs, I need solid material and cannot allocate time or effort to the blogs just for light entertainment or social chit-chat.Maybe my company will be successful, and maybe it won’t. But the results, responsibilities, and decisions are mine. I’ve seen a lot in business, and I’ve been successful in various situations that look more challenging than what I am attempting now. At this point, I see at least good success needing less capital equipment than a grass mowing service and less work than starting an Italian family restaurant, and I do expect to be able to do such work. I’m getting to have low patience with nonsense.

    2. RichardF

      sigma, how does what you propose prevent hackers targeting accounts or prevent people accepting spammers as friends?I’d be interested in learning more.

  22. Donna Brewington White

    Fred, thanks for this post. I can’t think of much better advice you could give and coming from you I think it has the potential to go far.I think this ties into yesterday’s post and the theme of humility that emerged. The best (and most emotionally/intellectually mature) CEOs — and leaders in general — that I’ve known have demonstrated the ability to know when they need help. When the help being sought is about leading, all the more admirable — because (1) this is one of the hardest areas in which to ask for help and (2) it demonstrates that the leader takes this aspect of running an organization seriously! The ability of a top leader to ask for help demonstrates confidence and a lack of insecurity. In fact, in recruiting for a leader, if I don’t observe this sort of humility or wisdom, I see it as a danger sign. I sorely, sorely regret the times I’ve overlooked this.(Loved yesterday’s post and the comments that emerged and also your sponsorship of Kelley but have too many thoughts on these topics that couldn’t be articulated as succinctly and thoughtfully as I’d like in the amount of time available. Plus I’d really like to get my name out of that Disqus community box — I now think that some sort of qualifier should be implemented so that EVERY SINGLE comment is not counted. Or I guess that I could just try to comment less.)

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Shoot — realize that could be taken the wrong way. Was thinking about MY comments, not the other people in the box. Oy…

    2. RichardF

      I liked your comment. The first part, don’t comment less.

  23. Tereza

    The world’s best opera singers continue to have teachers.The world’s best athletes continue to have coaches.The are essential to staying in top form and adjusting to what is happening around you, and inside you.And by the way, neither give performances/competitions without rehearsals and dry-runs.In this context it strikes me as insane that someone would think they would not benefit greatly from a coach, or a mentor who is committed to your success as a cause.Even as simply as regular check-ins. To keep you from falling into behavioral “unresolved circular references”. Need to avoid them at all costs, but you can’t see them yourself. Someone from the outside with cojones or the license you provided them, needs to call you on your BS.And trust me, we all have our little BS-y traits.But I guess the quest to conquer them is what makes life fun!

    1. Evan

      I totally agree. Human beings have a tendency to get comfortable, use heuristics to get ahead, and fall back on what worked in the past. Only the paranoid survive. ;)In that vein, anyone want to critique my bschool essays for me? Heh.

      1. Tereza

        Actually I do have advice on the topic of bschool apps and essays.Whoever you do enlist to help you, be profuse in thanking them after. And then count them among people to stay in touch with down the road as you develop.I helped a whole bunch of kids critique essays, I wrote countless reco’s, had a really great track record of them getting in to top schools. One of them had me write literally a dozen reco’s.And not one stayed in touch after they left for school.After the midnight oil I burned on their behalf, it makes me wonder of they’re paying it back by helping the next groups of kids who need it.When they help you, it’s because they in fact care. So do them the courtesy of maintaining the relationship over time.

        1. Evan

          Thanks so much for volunteering to help Tereza! I accept! ;)Seriously though, I sympathize with your experience writing a dozen recs. My pre-MBA background is pretty untraditional, so I think I need to apply to 10 schools to minimize variance. That creates conflict, because letters of rec is already the weakest part of my app as I have a limited well of recommenders from which to draw. I feel pretty bad asking anyone to do 10+ bschool apps…and it seems like bad strategy anyway as the recommender might be tempted to go with the ‘one size fits all’ approach.I also tend to think letters of rec are pretty stupid for admissions purposes, as many recommenders just tell you to write your own rec and they’ll sign it.

          1. Grant C.

            Let me know if you want a second opinion, Evan. I’m only 18 mos. removed from having written my own (mission accomplished); I still remember a few of the basics re: what adcom purportedly wants.

          2. Tereza

            :-)You know, if we’d had direct experience together and I had bandwidth I’d consider it.It is very rewarding to help someone at an inflection point in their life.I think some of the less conventional recommenders will write the reco themselves.Think out of the box. And go for people who are excellent writers and not just big names.Most people in the business and tech worlds are not excellent writers.Also write up your whole app, print it, staple it in the order it’s submitted, then put it aside 2 weeks, then pick it up fresh to re-read from cover to cover. Have a friend read it too. Use the Reco rating form to evaluate it, bc those are generally the metrics (they differ per school).Few people bother to read it from cover to cover before they submit and you’d be surprised at what a bumpy read it is that first time.Consider it “user testing”.

        2. ShanaC

          It hard, we outgrow. And thanks for the help and continual volunteering for help,

          1. Tereza

            I’m talking about pinging someone every year or two, or five. That’s not hard.You’d be surprised as you grow that the other may know things or people, results to questions that you didn’t know to ask.It’s a minuscule effort that can pay dividends.

    2. Donna Brewington White

      “And trust me, we all have our little BS-y traits.”Oh, this is so quotable.

    3. JLM

      Great point that athletes at the top of their game embrace PRACTICE as a part of their continuing professional development.Professional businesspersons at all levels should be continually improving their own level of competence at a myriad of skills.I have a personal theory which I call — the 360 Degree Businessman — which calls for continuing education in every aspect of business. Finance, marketing, technology, etc.Just get cancer and see how quick you can really learn. <<< Sorry, ghoulish analogy but true.There is no reason why a businessperson who got into business before the advent of PCs could not be as technologically sharp edged as a 30-year old today. If he had continued to develop his skills.

      1. Tereza

        My grandmother was a concert pianist and practiced every day until, eventually, her arthritis got the better of her. At that point stopped playing completely.You stop practicing, you stop performing.Regarding cancer or something of that level of seriousness — been through that one. Indeed for someone who sucked in biology. Amazing what you’re capable of learning practically overnight when something is vitally important to you. Age is irrelevant in this case.

  24. Greg

    Love this post, in my opinion, this is the very FIRST thing a first time (or seasoned, they can always learn too!) entrepreneur should do when starting a new business.I also think that each stage of the business requires perhaps a different type of mentor, coach or advisor (not using them interchangeably). We continue to add Advisors to our AB (who also act as mentors/advisors to our team) as we enter different phases.To Andy’s point below, the one that’s really scrappy and good at getting businesses off the ground is not necessarily the one that’s going to advise you on how to build a world-class sales team.

  25. lucidtyson

    Fred, thank you for a great post. As a 1st time CEO it’s definitely been like drinking from multiple fire hoses. It occurs to me that my VC’s know more CEOs than I do. How would you interpret one of the CEO’s you back asking for a referral to a mentor or coach? Undermined confidence? Is this something you would expect them to handle independently.

  26. JLM


    1. JLM

      For some reason I cannot log in through Disqus, any suggestions?

      1. ShanaC

        jlm, email gianni

  27. Jon Callaghan

    Everyone needs mentors and coaches, not just CEOs. In my experience they are the hardest thing in a career to find and cultivate.The right mentor/coach isn’t only the person with the experience “one up” (though yes, they need that), far more valuable is the right mix of experience, trust, and human connection to that person (ie communication). The right coach is someone who can advise you but not judge, listen at all the right times and speak plainly and candidly when it counts, and someone who sees the arc of the problem, not just the moment of the question. The right coach is the one who’s criticism never triggers your normal defenses.These people have a vested interest in your success and growth, and don’t have conflicting agendas. When these relationships are good, they are the type that pick up right where you left off despite time and distance. No need for small talk, pleasantries, all of which are nice, but not necessary in the relationships with the clearest connection. This sounds a lot like friendship but is not. It’s more focused and directed than your pal or drinking buddy, and frankly a good coach knows your weaknesses and strengths better than your pal does, and a coach shouldn’t be shy about reminding you of them.I’ve been lucky enough to have a couple of great coaches, and in my position working closely with many CEOs, I regularly see the difference in efficacy of CEOs who have strong coaches and those who don’t. No comparisson: coaches make better CEOs.It takes time and tons of effort to develop these relationships. They are long term, significant investments, but they pay tremendous dividends of growth, self-awareness, and higher performance.

  28. ShanaC

    I may be late, but I find it interesting that no one has mentioned that these postings are a form of mentoring and of themselves. And a form that lasts for posterity.

  29. Rwingender

    You want good CEO training early on in your career? Join the Army and become an officer. I’ve worked for many good executives and both good and bad CEOs, but the best leaders I’ve ever worked for were Army officers who were Company Commanders (Captains) or Battalion Commanders (Lieutenant Colonels). NOBODY, and I mean NOBODY teaches leadership like the US Army. Lives depend on it. Best experience and training I’ve had…my MBA is on 20% as valuable to me.

    1. JLM

      As a former professional soldier and a VMI grad, I can second your enthusiasm. I have recently only been hiring academy grads with MBAs. They are all tired of the continuous deployments to Iraq and A’stan and are incredibly hard workers and fabulous professionals.Being a company commander in the combat arms is the best job on the planet though it has wrecked a great number of careers also. It is the equivalent of being a feudal Chinese warlord with a sugar daddy to pay all the bills.One of the real challenges with business today is sorting out the overlapping but different roles played by entrepreneurs and CEOs when viewed through the different lens of management and leadership.Being a skillful entrepreneur and a good CEO is not the same thing and being a good manager and a good leader is not the same thing. Being “great” at any one of those areas of competence is even tougher.

  30. Nancy

    Just a cautionary word — there are lots of kinds of “coaches”. Someone who has “done it before” is great, as long as they realize there are a variety of approaches that can work and are willing to explore alternatives rather than “command” you to do what they did. It may also be helpful to have a “professional coach” who is more like a business therapist — able and willing to help you identify the blind spots and issues that can keep you from listening, understanding your own growth areas, communicating effectively — all the elements of being a mature person and good leader

  31. Justin Scott

    I couldn’t agree more Fred. I am a young entrepreneur and in the process of launching my first business. The two most valuable things I have done are network for business contacts and find suitable mentors/coaches. Note here that a mentor/coach that is designated to you (often in the case of competitions) is often never appropriate. This is where your own efforts come into play. I have found three excellent people to turn to for advice all of whom have the utmost experience in large corporates, as CEO’s and as mentors and coaches to other start-ups. Often when seeking advice, I use them more as a reassurance of my decision than seeking the answers from them. But, that is not to say I have all the answers as I do not. Duncan Ledwith has been invaluable as a CEO mentor for me, we had the exact scenario that Ben Horowitz uses in your example above, and Duncan ensured that I handled it quickly and appropriately, much better than if I had gone it alone.As a 20 year old, first-business entrepreneur, a mentor is the best thing to have whenever you are facing something new and challenging – which is invariably all the time. A simple phone call can save time, morale and, most of all, you from your own worries.

  32. Herve Lebret

    CEOs may need both mentors and coaches, but my experience is they need mostly mentors. Remember Noyce being a mentor for Jobs (check Noyce bio by Leslie Berlin). Now the entrepreneurs I know tell me they need people with whom they can share things they can not share with their spouse. Some CEOs told me they appreciate greatly the associations such as Svase ( or The Indus Entrepreneurs ( or less known equivalent where they can meet their peers and then people they will know more closely to the point they can discuus their big issues. Can coaches do this? I am not sure. Of course finding a Noyce is a challenge, but it is really what you need, a mentor, a friend.

  33. mattb2518

    Great post, Fred. I am a big believer in both approaches. I have worked with a CEO coach for years, and I always have 1 or 2 current or former CEOs on the Board as independent directors. I’d add a third element to your recipe for success, which is creating or joining a CEO peer group.

  34. desmondpieri

    Fred, great post. I like in particular your saying that you (as the VC) are not the mentor / coach. I meet so many VCs who (a) have never been a CEO but (b) feel that they can satisfy the mentor / coach requirements of the CEOs in their portfolio.I’ve seen this situation from four sides: (a) When I was a CEO, I got great mentoring from folks like Dr. Chris Horn, the founder of IONA. (b) I’ve been interim CEO at five companies where the CEO failed and I was asked to go in and clean things up. (c ) I’ve been interim COO at five other companies, working with a founding CEO to help them out; really an “on-site, hands-on” mentor. And (d) for the last 12 months I’ve been the “mentor / coach” to the founding CEOs of five other companies here in Boston. Great fun.Des

  35. Cindy Taylor

    While not a CEO, I have benefited greatly by what I’ve learned from my coach and mentors. I know people who believe know everything they need to know, or feel they don’t have time to dedicate to a coach, but the benefits of learning from other experts is well worth the investment.

  36. RichardF

    great comment Charlie. So true about people trying to make interpretations based on how the CEO looks as he comes in to the building.

  37. roshandsilva

    I totally second the part about firing people gracefully. It’s important to do so quickly, gracefully but also in my opinion to signal clearly before that the person in question is on a sticky wicket or else that the position is being made redundant and you are trying to get them alternate accommodation. Not signalling can and will be used over time to portray you as someone with an unsteady mind who is prone to quick decisions.The same also goes with shifts in strategy and pursuing new initiatives. Many people who come in from larger organizations are not comfortable with the numerous quick pivots that startups do and the high risk of failure from these initiatives. When pursuing new initiatives it is worth building a system to generate feedback and most importantly a way to figure out the true believers and to put them in charge so they are as passionate about the same as you!!

  38. JLM

    As a CEO, any time anybody every comes to me to complain about any other member of the team, I just invite the other team member to sit in on the conversation.I am not going to pretend that I am going to rectify any issue without input from all involved and I am not going to tolerate any person thinking I would take sides in a personal conflict. I am running a business not a day care.Every conflict gets resolved by the application of a very simple yardstick — what’s right/fair/ethical and what’s the best thing for the business? Conflict is good because it is the reflection of passion. Passion for the business. If not, then it is best quickly dispelled.I like to see a good clean fair fight when things are truly in conflict. I am not going to be in anybody’s corner other than truth and the interests of the company.Every company which is growing has the usual conflicts between line and staff, marketing and production, finance and operations, the need to get things done “now” and the necessity of following processes appropriate to investing gobs of money. This is life.If you do not have conflict in your company, then you may not be growing.

  39. Peter Beddows

    Well said.

  40. JLM

    The fundamental pact between an employer and an employee is — “I will give you a place to showcase your skills, to be productive and compensate your for performance. You will invest your skills and energy to achieve the company’s goals in your area of expertise. You and I will only speak the truth to each other.”A good performance appraisal system is essential to focusing talent on the issues at hand. It should contain a frank answer to the question — could I get fired in the next 3, 6, 9 months and, if so, why?Most people fire themselves when you overlay the company’s expectations and their performance. Most people will embrace the reality of the situation when confronted directly.The real issue is often “severance” compensation. Don’t ever give someone a penny of severance payment without getting a general release the “maximum extent allowed by law”.Be extremely generous when firing folks as the company will ultimately get the info. It will turn out to be cheap money in the long run.

  41. roshandsilva

    Good stuff JLM. Second your views on severance. I’ve found that you should always part on as good terms as possible and I make an effort. However, a question: when you do have to give someone a warning – that he is not performing – and I find this happens more with sales guys – it ends up pretty much being summarized in the following manner – you make xUSD in y time or else you will need to leave. Is it ok to be so frank and upfront?

  42. Kelley Boyd @msksboyd

    Hmm, I have found that the real measure of success in a job is not performance. I think that the real measure of success in a job, or rather at a company, is fitting in. It is not only my experience but my observation of others, men and women. This is the advice I gave my son as he started looking for work….pay attention to how people dress, how they talk. Don’t come in a lot earlier or stay a lot later than the median of the citizenry, it makes people uncomfortable. When getting a job, I think the most important question to ask your direct supervisor is “how do you measure success in this company?” and the answer is key to understanding who you are working for. The next question might be “what are the characteristics of someone who is successful working for you?” You can then decide whether you will be a good fit, and ultimately successful in the company.

  43. JLM

    “I have found that the real measure of success in a job is not performance.”Huh?Wow, what an underwhelming comment — sorry for being a tad offensive but I am just flabbergasted about your comment.Having been a CEO for 30 years, I can tell you that “I” am always looking for that extraordinary talent to promote above and beyond their peers based solely upon performance. Without regard to gender, age, education or anything other than education.In the hiring process, I am looking for excellence — not fitting in — excellence. The potential for excellence in performance.There is a direct correllation between coming to work early, staying late and working hard and excellent performance and “luck”. If there is not, then find another company for which to work which values performance.The industry norms as to how folks dress and conduct themselves are just packaging. Though I am a firm believer in dressing for the job you want and not the job you have.I endorse you line of inquiry as it relates to defining success through the eyes of your supervisor but I guess I have a tendency to think of it a bit more like — what is it going to take to get your job? How did the best XXX you have ever had perform?Remember you are not just “doing a job”, you are “managing your own career” and while it is certainly useful to know from whence you are starting, hopefully you have a more lofty goal than just becoming the mail room supervisor.A career is hugely different from a job. You are responsible for managing your own career.

  44. Tereza

    I usually am more direct. I ask my potential supervisor what specific metrics he is measured on. And then I say, ‘my job is to make you look good. Tell me what that means so I can make sure that happens.”It generally works very well.

  45. JLM

    The real key to performance is to set Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely goals which will provide the road map from whence to measure performance. Do it in writing and make them sign them.Get a two weekly personal report and a two weekly written report which focuses on the goals and make the written report be a continuing narrative. So every other week you are getting some form of communication.Use the goal form to develop the continuity of the goal and the subsequent reports so you can plot progress. I also favor a graphical measure of success that can be objectively reviewed and updated.When you are evaluating performance it is important to revisit the goals and ask — were the goals SMART? Did you have the resources to attain them? Did you make necessary effort to attain them?In the weekly reporting and evaluation, you are a coach and the other party is the QB on the field. Adopt a coaching vernacular and draw from the person what they are really dealing with. I am firmly convinced that everyone wants to succeed. Harness that power to draw out their performance.There can only be a few real explanations as to why they were not achieved — changing market influences, unrealistic, not quite ripe yet, inadequate support or lack of effort.Your attitude should not be one of being a taskmaster.Most people fire themselves. They get fired by the trend not by a eureka moment.Sounds silly but they know when they are performing and when they are not. Particularly if you are meeting with them regularly to plot performance.You are not being either frank or upfront, you are simply being professional and realistic as to what needs to get done.

  46. Tereza


  47. Kelley Boyd @msksboyd

    First let me say I am hardly offended. You certainly have your view and the right to express it. And, apparently you have been away enjoying a pasta retreat. I hope it was fabulous!I did not say performance was not important. Of course employees must perform “to expectations”…it is when you exceed expectation that things get dicey. I am surprised that after 30 years you have such a narrow perspective. Or perhaps you just responded quickly without giving the comment much consideration beyond your first impression. Having spent some time considering your comment, there is likely more than one scenario in which I could agree with you. But in the interest of perspective, perhaps you might consider this:There is an old story that I learned (probably a bit too late) in my career. I have searched online for a few minutes to see if I can find a written version, but as I cannot find one, I will tell it here. The story is much more fun to tell in person…well, if you are a good storyteller, which I am.Guy goes to work at a box factory. He works for just a few days before he sees inefficiencies in the way that the boxes are being made. He works to increase the number of boxes he can produce in a day…and he does. The changes to production are largely based on his ability to increase his performance. This is great performance.The whole of the company is built around the number of boxes produced; sales quotas, materials, warehousing, delivery schedules etc. To absorb the increase in the number of boxes, quotas could be raised and this may result in an increased need for budget for marketing, or worse result in having to hire more salespeople or increasing quotas causing disruption in the cadence of what had been a satisfactory performance of the team. The cash flow has to be changed to allow for the increased need for capital to buy materials, and if the boxes are not sold, there may have to be a change in the amount of warehousing space, and the trucks being diverted to deliver them to the warehouse could throw off deliveries to customers. The workers on other shifts are now challenged to raise their output of boxes to match his. They become stressed and some leave the company, requiring new employees to be hired and integrated.In this case, the impact of his “excellent performance” had an inverse result. His job was to make the number of boxes that he was asked to make; that is at once excellent performance and fitting in. To exceed what was originally called for could be viewed as excellent performance, but not fitting in. Really this story is all about “playing his position”. You can be an excellent pitcher but if your job is shortstop…you need to stay off the mound, right?I know that is simplified, and you could counter with “well, the company could just adjust to the change and increase revenues”…but there are underlying effects of change that are not well absorbed without pre-planning and preparation. The implications are greater than just performance of one employee.But, it is not necessary to continue, we simply have different viewpoints. I would say in support of your comment, it would have been good to have met you earlier in my career as you seem to be one who would have gladly made the investment to adjust your business to my production level. I am very glad others have had and perhaps will have the chance to benefit from your embrace of their talents.

  48. Kelley Boyd @msksboyd

    I like that very much. I will put that in my bag…or rather, pass that along as useful.

  49. roshandsilva

    thanks JLM. Well said!!

  50. JLM

    Hmm, different take. Use the new guy’s performance level to set the norm amongst existing employees, reduce employees based upon increased production, expand profit margins. Make more money per unit from existing production but use fewer workers at lower total cost. Why not?

  51. Kelley Boyd @msksboyd

    That is a reasonable comment and could be planned for. Particularly if you have some people that would organically be leaving the company anyway.But in response to why not? If we can agree that employee morale IS a predictor for success of a business (which is not easy to say, kind of all over the place as related to different businesses) then think of the other 12 (or 30, or 100) people on the production line…many of which have probably done this job for awhile (which is often the case in production manufacturing). Is it wise as a business owner to upset the other 12, (or 30, or 100) by acquiescing to the performance number of one to cause disruptive change in the whole of the business as described above. Is it realistic that that the “one” (who is an excellent performer) will continue at the level, be satisfied at that level or even stay with the company? If you make changes to the whole organization to meet the production of “one”, and that one leaves, what are you left with? In addition, if the one has caused the others to feel less than adequate, their job satisfaction is impaired and thus they may simply go elsewhere…not at your direction but at their own. So replacing them may be an issue, and you may get worse than what you had. In any case there will be ramp time.Obviously this is a reasonable debate to engage in, and the box story is simply an illustration of the importance of fitting in…because as you wisely point out, if you were the supervisor in the mailroom, the assessment may be different. But I will not run through that scenario here. My experience is that performance is not the only indicator of success at a job. Fitting in is a key indicator of success, if you consider that success is staying at a job. Which that too could be up for discussion. Phew…So, perhaps in case you are suffering from pasta withdrawals, we can continue this at the best Italian in NYC, Il Posto Accanto or Ciena (located at 2222 and 360) for further discussion when next I am in your lovely town, my former home. Though, if I am there, I really would prefer Shady Grove (Barton Creek) as I am REALLY in need of a chicken fried steak with white cream gravy, and half/half sweet tea. I have not found a good CFS here yet…and it has been a few years. Cheers, and Ciao!

  52. JLM

    Forget business — when I used to travel regularly to NYC I used to have a list of small Italian restaurants which I frequented. Unfortunately, I have lost it. Lately I have been spending time in the Meatpacking District but I cannot come up w/ a great little hole in the wall Italian eatery. My wife’s favorite is the Mercer Kitchen (not Italian) which I also love but it does not have the people watching that I need and crave.I do know both Il Bagatto and Il Posto Accanto next door but I have not been there this year.I love Siena in Austin and have been there many times. The big problem w/ Italy v USA is the size of the portions.Whenever I am out of town for a protracted period of time I have to get a CFS, some tacos and some BBQ to get the blood chemistry right.

  53. Kelley Boyd @msksboyd

    Done…I so LOVE that you know Julio! IPA spinach is my freaking favorite thing to eat in NYC. Seriously.So, where shall I go for CFS??? I am thinking of trying Southern Hospitality because Live Bait has…you won’t believe it…brown gravy! Crazy! Who eats brown gravy on CFS? Not me! So I got pulled pork instead. Help me…I am really needing a good one this weekend.

  54. Kelley Boyd @msksboyd

    Hey, in your honor and honor of our first banter…I am wearing my Shady Grove shirt and eating Mac-n-Cheese before going to Highballs at Highline and TED talk tonight! Let me know if you find a rec on CFS…even Sylvias doesn’t have??? Crazy. Hope to chat again soon. Be well.

  55. Tereza

    All this Austin talk is getting a bit too insider for my taste.What the hell is CFS?Sorry I can’t seem to find my Austin-New York/New York-Austin dictionary.

  56. Kelley Boyd @msksboyd

    Chicken Fried Steak… ;>))