Are you the smartest person in the room?
One of the most important roles of a CEO is the building of a strong leadership team. This is actually the single most scalable thing you can do as a CEO.
Over time, you go from succeeding through your own (heroic) efforts to succeeding through others. From player to coach. From playing an instrument to conducting the orchestra.
The right leaders give you leverage. They make you faster. More powerful. More effective. The wrong leaders slow you down and dull your impact.
The CEO role is the most important role in the company. The ultimate accountability. This is why CEOs get all the press (good or bad).
Founder-CEOs especially are a unique breed. No one will have more context than a founder. Still, too many founder-CEOs fail to surround themselves with the best leaders possible. They need to be the smartest person in the room.
If you are truly the smartest person in the room, then you are either a unique genius (i.e. Elon Musk) or you are surrounding yourself with weak leaders in order to feel better about yourself and actually be the smartest person in the room.
If you’re the next Elon, awesome! I’d like to invest in your company. Chances are, you’re not though.
As you transition from individual success to succeeding through your leaders you successively put yourself out of one job after another. You may have been the OG product leader, marketer, etc; but if you continue to micro-manage these functions or if you truly are better at running them than the person you replaced yourself with, then something is wrong.
Many founding CEOs struggle with bringing in true experts. People that have seen real scale and have deep expertise in their discipline. It is the rare, repeat founder (like a David Cancel) that has seen scale. Has already been where your business is going. Most are experiencing the roller coaster for the first time.
I get that it can be intimidating to bring these experts in. Very often in my conversations with founding CEOs they feel deep imposter syndrome when it comes to their role as CEO. “Who am I to lead and manage people who are far more experienced and accomplished than me?” they often ask.
As I wrote above, no one has more context than you. No one understands the vision more than you. No executive has more incentive than you. That’s what gives you the right to lead and manage these experts.
If you want to achieve that vision, if you want to transform yourself from founder to CEO, set your fears and insecurities aside and surround yourself with the strongest leaders possible. And remember that you are more than capable of leading them. Otherwise, they would never have joined your company.
Questions to consider
For each of my leaders, what is the nature of my interaction with them? Do I give them space to lead? Do I get in the way?
Am I intimidated by any of me leaders? What does this mean? How does this impact my behaviour?
In any meeting involving me, my leaders and others, who does most of the talking? What does this tell me?
Did I compromise in hiring any of my leaders? If so, what would I do differently if I could?
Am I enabling my leaders to shine and have maximum impact?
Are my leaders enabling me to shine and have maximum impact?
If not, what changes do I need to make to my leadership style? To my team?
Am I guilty of trying to be the smartest person in the room?