As the Founder or CEO you are the determining factor for the growth or lack of growth of your business. While there are a large number of variables in running a business, particularly a startup, how is it possible to pin the limitation or advantage on one thing or person? This is what Bob Tinker the CEO of MobileIron had to say in a talk at Stanford:

“…as the company grows, the CEO job changes, so what that means is you have to change. The way you behave, how you work, and even change on the inside.”

Pretty simple from his standpoint, you have to change and grow in many areas as the company grows. Okay, but there are other factors besides the CEO. What about all those articles touting the top reasons startups fail or succeed? Rarely do they state leadership as the only factor; it is usually timing, cash flow, market, or product failure. Failure and success is a product of a combination of factors.

Let’s look at the success side. Neil Patel in a 2015 Forbes article looks at the common elements of the 10% of startups that succeed. He came up with these four: they have a product that meets a need, they don’t ignore anything, they grow fast, and they recover from the hard-knock startup life. Does that sound like leadership to you? Let’s break it down further.

  • The product meets a need – I interpret that as vision, mission, and market research.
  • They don’t ignore anything – Attention to detail, process, and procedures.
  • They grow fast-They keep pace with a dynamic market, adjust, adapt, and learn.
  • They recover from the hard knock startup life -The company matures into a sustainable well functioning organization.

Maybe it does sound like leadership.

In 2015 CB Insights published a study of the 20 top reasons startups failed using data from 101 failed startups. In an analysis of the reasons Geoffrey James of Inc., placed them into the following seven groups: arrogance (85%), shortsightedness (55%), hubris (47%), egotism (36%), sloppiness (34%), imbalance (30%), and inflexibility (17%). Wow, that is a humbling list that screams leadership.

Here is a testimonial from Scott Cook of Intuit assessing his leadership growth as CEO.

“I wasn’t growing as the company was growing, personally. And so I made the decision after 11 years as CEO that I should hire a CEO who had the skills I didn’t. Because I felt I was holding the company back. And after all those struggles and pains, I didn’t want to be the guy hurting us.”

That is a humble admission from a leader who grew the company from nothing to a household name.

The message: your development as a leader is the cornerstone of success for your business. The sooner you take ownership of your leadership development the better for you, your customers, and your employees. Bob Tinker created a CEO’s Oath for himself and here is part of it:

“…I recognize that very few things can screw up a company more than founder drama. And if we are fortunate enough, the company grows beyond us, that I will step aside gracefully for the good of the mission.”

True leaders are in it for the mission. Companies serious about success continually develop the leadership capacity of their leaders. As the leader of your company where are you on the leadership development continuum?

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