No, no you can't work on whatever you want... - Mark MacLeod

March 9, 2021 - Mark MacLeod

No, no you can’t work on whatever you want…

One of the things that founders love the most about starting their own companies is that they have no boss. At least, not in the traditional sense. They can work on whatever they want, whenever they want.

In the early days, founders do everything from the most strategic to the most mundane. As the company scales the founder will “fire” him or herself from successive responsibilities in order to bring in more specialized, dedicated people.

Despite this tried and true pattern, I still see many founder-CEOs clinging on to activities that they “like” doing even though there is (or should be) a dedicated person doing it.

I see this the most in product. A product-centric CEO should never completely abdicate product. However, it is a mistake to try and get into the weeds on product specs, product marketing etc while still trying to be CEO.

This is all about altitude. As the company scales, the CEO moves from working IN the business (building product, acquiring customers, serving customers, etc), to working ON the business (do we have the right people? Are they working on the right things? etc).

When a CEO starts meddling IN the business, all kinds of unintended consequences can happen. For one, let’s assume you can’t stay involved at this low, detailed level all the time. This means that you come in, wreak havoc and leave.

As I always say, ‘you can’t be a little bit pregnant. You either are pregnant or not’. So, don’t pretend to be running a function some of the time (whenever you feel like working on it).

If you have dedicated people in that function and you swoop in, this will likely be demotivating for them, causing good people to either lose engagement, or in the extreme, leave.

If you find yourself being pulled into a functional part of the business step back and look at why this is happening. Are you just scratching your itch? Are you avoiding something in your actual CEO role? Or are you really needed, in which case you have a gap in your team or your processes.

To scale as CEO and to help your company scale, you need to stick at the right altitude, working ON the business and not getting into weeds of working IN the business unless absolutely necessary.

Questions to consider

Am I guilty of this? Do I swoop into parts of the business that I likely should not be getting involved in?

If so, what are the patterns? Which functions? Why? When? Does it happen regularly?

What’s causing me to do this? Am I bored? Do I just miss that function? Am I avoiding something in the CEO role?

Does this point to a gap in our company? Do we need to add/ replace people? Do we need to change our processes?

What changes do we need to make so that I am not required to swoop in?

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