The CEO is customer #1 – Mark MacLeod

August 21, 2023 - Mark MacLeod

The CEO is customer #1

The CEO is customer #1. This is something I say to my clients all the time.

Anyone familiar with the concept of ‘servant leadership’ might not agree. So let me expand on this.

In the startup world, all the biggest outcomes tend to be founder-led from start to finish. So there is a 100% correlation between a founder-CEO’s performance and the outcome of the company.

If you buy that, then this founder CEO must get whatever she needs to thrive.

Her role should be built around her unique superpowers. Her management team should be chosen, in part, to complement those powers.

If you are a technical CEO that loves to spend time in product as an example, then you choose leaders that are strong in other areas so you can go deep into product.

In the extreme, you might even have a COO leading all the commercial aspects of the business. This is what Mark Zuckerberg had for years with Sheryl Sandberg.

For each leader reporting to the CEO, their first customer is the CEO. They will only provide maximum leverage to the CEO if they buy into this notion that the CEO is customer #1.

Now, I am not trying to turn CEOs into divas. This is a two-way relationship. As CEO, you must articulate what it is that you need from your leader for maximum leverage. A customer will never be satisfied unless she says exactly what she wants.

In turn, the leader must tell the CEO what they need in order to deliver that.

One leader that has done a great job of articulating exactly what he wants from new team members is Luc Levesque, who is currently Chief Growth Officer at Shopify.

Many years ago he created a blueprint document so that his team was crystal clear on his expectations and work style. You knew what he wanted and how to work with him.

Give something like this a try in your business. It creates transparency and removes uncertainty. Articulate what you need in order to deliver maximum value to your business. Surround yourself with leaders that enable you to deliver that value.

Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

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