When you are the founder or CEO of a young company, and maybe you have 5 to 15 employees, the imperative is growth. It’s probably what you think about everyday, in every meeting, and the fundamental driver for every decision is, “how do we grow this company?”
That is appropriate because, as a young company, you are meant to hit certain benchmarks in order to prove that the idea was a good one in the first place, that your company is destined for the future you imagine it can have, and that you are the right person to lead it.
So, as the company grows and the work becomes more complex, and you have a growing team to help you with this goal, you’ll notice that fundamentally there becomes two different kinds of jobs to do.
The first job is to imagine new ways of growing the company, to forge new strategies, and to implement new systems which are either new innovations for the industry or just new innovations for you.
The second job is the management or maintenance of the existing systems or workflows that you already have in place. You might start out selling through a particular channel online and then decide that you want to open up different channels; you then have two jobs – the first is to maintain the online channel that is already working and then incrementally over time, and the second job is to go into completely new territory.
And, since you can’t do everything and you are growing a team that forces you to choose what to delegate, it is the natural impulse for you to give yourself the job of growth and to delegate the management and maintenance. If you do this, you’ll be rewarded early on, most likely, by incremental successes.
Let’s face it. You’re likely to be more successful at forging a new channel or a new workflow or a new innovation than anyone you could hire at this stage, so if you are taking on the growth aspect and you are delegating the maintenance aspect, then the trajectory of your business is likely to be positive.
The problem is, however, that as your team grows and you get more and more people on board to maintain the systems that you are innovating, you only end up with one innovator . You only end up with one person who can expand the complexion of the business and redefine how it moves through the world. It’s like having only one segment of surface area that can grow at a time while everything else is just reinforcing itself and maintaining a momentum to repeat the past.
What if, instead, you didn’t give yourself the job of growth, but gave yourself the job of maintenance and you delegated growth?
This would mean, first of all, that you might have to hire different people, because if you hire only people who are capable of maintaining what is and incrementally improving it, you can’t be successful if you hire them in a growth role.
Second of all, if you are successful in hiring people that can grow into new domains, new channels, and new systems, then the surface area where growth is occurring in your company is multiplied by the number of people you have delegated growth to, instead of just yourself. And your job becomes to maintain and support them by giving them the resources they need to be successful.
So instead of doing all the growth initiatives yourself and hiring five people to support you, imagine hiring five different people to grow the company in five different ways – each of whom has this specific expertise to succeed in their one domain of growth – and your job becomes to support them and give them the resources they need to be successful.
This second job of maintenance and support is, in my view, the true and appropriate job of a CEO.
Once you articulate the vision of how you see the company can grow, it shouldn’t be your job to get it there. And if it is, it will only grow as fast as you can keep track of and maintain all of the variables in your head at once.
If you have given yourself the job of growth, and delegated the job of maintenance, then you are constricting the growth rate of your company to that of your own growth rate, and your company can only grow as you can learn.
Again, at the beginning, you may get rewarded for this choice and it may seem like you’re growing faster, after all, it will be more difficult to find, hire, and train capable growers than it will be to find, hire, and train capable maintainers.
But as soon as you have two or three or four successful growers on the team, then the growth rate of the new company with you as the maintainer will far outpace anything that you could grow on your own.
There is a misconception that the entrepreneur is a maverick, and that the CEO of a startup is out there on his or her own, forging new territory and single-handedly creating the company.
The actual fact is no one does anything single handedly, and we are all interconnected in a web of dependencies, successes, and failures. The more you, as a first-time CEO, acknowledge and invoke that web of dependencies, the more you are able to use it to your advantage.
You are not alone, and pretending that you are will only limit your success in the future.
There is an interesting counter argument to this philosophy which bears mention. And that is when you are attempting to do something that is not only new for you and new for your company, but an innovation on the standard of practices in your industry.
One mistake that first-time CEOs often make on the other side of this coin is when they can’t figure out how to solve a problem, so they hire someone who also can’t figure out how to solve it and delegate that problem solving to that new person. And then, of course, the problem doesn’t get solved, the new person fails, and the CEO fires them in frustration.
If you’ve got a new product with an innovative pricing model, it would be a mistake to hire a VP of Sales Organization before you had successfully made a few deals.
Don’t hire a dragon slayer until you’ve slayed at least one dragon yourself.
Many times, the “dragons” that you want your team to slay are in fact mythical creatures; they don’t really exist and therefore can not really be slain. If your VP of Sales is struggling to create a process that reliably sells your product, it might be that the product is actually not well fit to the market. If you’re trying to set up a new manufacturing capability in China, and you are unable to get the cogs under control, it might be that the design itself is flawed.
So this presents an apparent paradox or contradiction. Don’t hire a dragon slayer until you’ve slain the dragon yourself, and also don’t give yourself the job of dragon slayer.
When you are hiring growers, you have to hire people who have grown businesses in exactly the domain you wish to grow yours.
When you are hiring maintainers, you can train them to maintain your business – provided you yourself have been successful in that domain.
If you are only hiring maintainers and you are doing all of the growth initiatives yourself, then you have given yourself the wrong job.
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