By Guest Author Tony Scott
Last night, I went to a very interesting panel discussion of young Japanese-American CEOs here in Silicon Valley. The point that struck me the most was that all agreed that a great CEO is not an individual hero, but more like someone who builds and coaches a winning sports team.
If you look at the majority of those who tried to start a company but subsequently failed, you’ll mostly find very high achievers. The ranks of failed entrepreneurs are filled with people who scored at top of their class in school; or were brilliant in math, sciences, debate, or any number of activities that showed off their individual (and individualistic) capabilities.
But building a company is not a solo endeavor – it is a team exercise. The best CEOs know that they can’t be the hero who does everything themselves. They know that they will be most successful if they hire to their weaknesses, and build a team that can function well together to win.
Unfortunately, all too many would-be entrepreneurs fail to understand this core principle. They have lived their lives as high individual achievers: brilliant, hard-working and driven to succeed to be sure, but often also arrogant and willing to win at all costs. They have been rewarded in ways throughout their lives that reinforces the idea that their personal brilliance and efforts will insure their success.
That may be true if they pursue a career that rewards brilliant solo efforts, such as those who become stock analysts, research scientists, or those who pursue certain areas of medicine, the law, or academia. However, businesses are rarely built around one individual – and an individual-based business is inherently unscaleable.
If you want to build a business, not just a personally rewarding professional career, you need to be able to rally others around your vision and dream, and get them to buy into it and want to be a part of it. To do that, you also need to make sure you are ego-less enough to understand where you are strong – and most importantly, where you are weak – so you can build your “dream team”. Great CEOs build their “dream teams” by hiring to complement their own strengths, and to fill the gaps of experience and expertise on the team.
Great CEOs are not afraid to admit that they doesn’t have all the answers, because they know they can rely on the judgment of their senior staff. The best CEOs seek out senior staff members to be a part of their team who are clearly stronger in their own field of expertise than the CEO can ever hope to be – and then empower those lieutenants to do their jobs, and don’t second-guess them all the time.
So, what are the most important roles of a CEO when it comes to building a team?
A good CEO works with those who have the desire to succeed to see if they can improve. A great CEO also has the courage to let go those who ultimately can’t deliver results. Although that may be painful and bad for the individual who is let go, great CEOs know that may be necessary for the success of the company, and the good of the whole.
The CEO panelists I listened to last night also agreed on one other thing. When asked what their biggest mistakes had been, among the many that these confident, secure individuals mentioned, there was one that was consistent: they all said that they had been too arrogant about their own capabilities when they were first starting out as CEOs.
It may be a fine line at times, but there is a big difference between being confident and having a healthy ego, and being an arrogant egomaniac. People may respect your intellect and brilliance, but they don’t generally want to follow someone whom they perceive as being an arrogant know-it-all who is unwilling to listen to others. As Professor Andreis Van Dam told his then-student Randy Pausch (the famous “Last Lecture” professor from Carnegie Mellon): “It’s such a shame that people perceive you as so arrogant, because it’s going to limit what you’re going to be able to accomplish in life.”
That’s a life lesson all aspiring entrepreneurs should take to heart.
A successful CEO needs to be a visionary, a talent scout, a cheerleader, a team leader and a coach, without coming across as being arrogant. If you want to start and build a successful company, make sure you truly have those capabilities – or make sure your ego doesn’t get in the way of bringing on a CEO who does.