Don’t be the “Hero” CEO – Mark MacLeod

July 6, 2020 - Mark MacLeod

Don’t be the “Hero” CEO

Founding CEOs hold a special place in the startup culture, and for good reason. After all, it takes a special kind of person to create something from nothing. To see an opportunity and go after it. To persevere through all the inevitable ups and downs.

The place we hold for founder CEOs is reinforced by media. Any time there is a story about a company, that story is inevitably about the founder. Square has over 4,000 employees, but when the press write about Square, they write specifically about their CEO Jack Dorsey, who is only running the company part time (while also running Twitter).

There is a danger, for both CEOs and employees in falling for this founder “hero” CEO culture.

For employees, on the hand, this larger than life CEO can be a reason to join a company. It’s like a magnet. But if you believe that this hero CEO is making all the key decisions, this is ultimately dis-empowering. Especially for the senior leaders who report to or directly interact with that CEO.

This “hero” CEO persona is even more dangerous for the CEOs themselves. There is constant pressure on you to have all the answers, to always be ON. Everyone wants a piece of you. You go from meeting to meeting to meeting.

It can feed your ego to constantly be needed. To come to the rescue and make so many decisions. But it is just creating a culture of dependency and will drain you.

The best people want more autonomy. This applies at all levels of seniority. Depending on a “hero” CEO to make all the calls doesn’t breed a culture of autonomy.

Instead of carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, distribute the load across your team. In all too many companies, over-burdened CEOs and CXOs are offset by VPs, directors and managers dying for more responsibility.


Leverage all the collective brains in your company. Push down accountability and decision-making, ideally to the level of the teams implementing those decisions.

Coach, support and empower those teams and individuals to make great decisions.

Continually reinforce vision, mission and values so that your employees have a common framework for making decisions.

Questions to consider:

Does this post describe the dynamic in your company? If so, do you think there is a better way?

Is it possible for your senior team and the levels below them to take some of the load of you?

If you distributed authority and decision making more evenly in your company what impact would that have on engagement, retention, speed, etc?

What would that enable you to do that you are not doing today?

Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

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