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.