Last week, I was moderating a TiE Panel in Bangalore with three industry experts who spoke on the subject of how an Entrepreneur-CEO should plan his or her own career. Like any other role in an organization that needs planning, nourishing and systematic care, the role of the CEO also needs the same careful attention.
The idea revolved around a basic concept – when a CEO experiences personal growth, the individual buoys the company up. Such growth on a sustained basis, is not an accident. It is therefore that behind high-performance companies, stand high-performance CEOs.
Take for example Andy Grove of Intel.
The forty years or so he spent at Intel can be equally divided into 10-year periods of being a start-up entrepreneur-cum-chip designer, the chief operating officer, then the chief executive officer and finally, as the chairman of the board. David Yoffie, Professor at Harvard University and long standing member of the Intel Board, told me once that it was as if they were four different people; such was the transformative, personal growth experienced by Grove.
We see similar cases in India when we look at the career trajectories of CEOs like Ratan Tata or a Narayana Murthy. Why is it that some CEOs keep growing and some hit the glass ceiling? What can an entrepreneur-CEO do to keep growing? These were the conversation pieces at the TiE Panel had. The Panel members were Hema Ravichandar – the much talked about HR and Strategy consultant who saw Infosys grow up, Dr. Pallab Bandyopadhyay of Perot systems and Rishi Das, founder-CEO of Career Net. Towards the end, the Panel took questions and as happens in case of any engaging Panel, we ran out of time for that one all important question that came at the end: What are the signs that should tell an Entrepreneur-CEO that it is time to get help? May be, move away to the next role within or to sometimes, move out? It came from an entrepreneur-CEO in the audience; so it wasn’t your typical idle question at the end of a session.
Leadership requires what Peter Drucker termed “planned abandonment” – only that leader who can let go can experience planned abandonment so that the individual may expand his or her capacity and in the process, take the organization along. Inability to do so stifles the organization. The sad news is that there is no one to tell the entrepreneur-CEO, because of the very position the individual holds, that he indeed is the cause of his own, and the organization’s stagnation.
I have been pondering over the question on tell-tale signs for the last few days and I finally decided to take a crack at the question myself. I want to share a few situations with those who are interested in the subject – these situations, if evident in multiple numbers in the life of an entrepreneur-CEO, should send the signals that it is time to get someone smarter for the job and move up or move on. So, if you are beginning to question your own competence to run the tasks you currently do, check out the following. If many of these look familiar, it is time to get help.
1. Your books of accounts are not current for successive quarters. Closing the books has been a big ordeal. You do not believe in the numbers yourself. You are having trouble understanding what your chartered accountant is talking about. Your cheques have bounced a few times.
2. You are leaving office everyday around dinner time for the last six months.
3. For the third time, you have missed the delivery deadline.
4. When a recent significant prospect visited you, you were at a loss to understand what she was talking about. Her language was Greek and Latin to your ears even as you kept nodding intelligently through the conversation.
5. Your people are not confiding in you anymore. No one seems to disagree with you on anything you say. You sense false harmony when you are around.
6. You have lost 2 of your top 5 accounts last quarter.
7. You no longer understand your own manufacturing process or that of your best competitors.
8. Recently, you were at an international tradeshow – you felt lost.
9. You have crossed sales of Rs. 100 crores. But you really have no clue of the differences between sales and
10. You have been feeling irritable at home. You cannot focus. You do not finish a book and can not sit through a movie. During the last vacation, you went to bed every night thinking about work.
11. You believe you have a second-rate team. You cannot imagine in what significant way they can grow up and become valuable to themselves and to others. You sometimes do not know what to do with them.
12. You have lost 3 key people in sales and cannot understand why.
13. You had a great ride for three years. You have no idea what the next three years would be like.
14. You do not seem to know the top three weak spots of your business, which when taken, could get you
out of business.
15. You have failed to raise the second round of funding.
16. You know the market is in Europe. You just have not been able to get there. You somehow do not like selling and feel awkward opening doors for sales calls.
17. You did a fantastic job with one customer or in one vertical or in one geo. For 18 months, you have tried but you simply cannot break into others.
18. You feel that you are physically slowing down.
19. You go to the Club during daytime.
20. You know that the business has potential but you feel as if you are a single-engine, two-seater aircraft of World War II vintage.
21. You read comics at work and have caught yourself surfing the Net for trivia. Personal friends drop in while you at work and you enjoy it.
22. Your wife is feeling bitter about how much time you are giving to the family.
23. You missed your flight thrice in the last three months. You feel lethargic to go to work.
24. You do not remember the names of the top people of all your 10 customers.
25. You were cheated thrice in the last one year.
26. You are ten years older than most of your buyers.
27. It has been three years since you started the business. You are obsessive about designing the marketing collaterals by yourself.
28. You hate to travel.
29. You have defaulted in filing statutory returns and pay the taxes even though there was money in the bank.
30. For the third year in a row, you are not profitable.
31. Three of your clients have complained about poor quality and you really do not know how the issue could be fixed – you have yelled at your people but that is not helping.
32. Your competitor is growing faster than you; the industry is growing faster than you as well.
33. Your competitor’s sourcing baffles you.
34. You just did not have time to exercise in the last six months, have not taken a vacation for a year. You
do not have an active hobby and have not helped with the children’s homework as far back as you can
35. You have not invested in R&D in the last three years after finding success with the initial product and your competition is doubling their R&D investment.
36. You do not get any Press, your competitor does. You do not know why.
37. You have not learnt any new word in the last one year. You have not gone to a new tradeshow in the same period. You have not added any new book to your reading list. You have not landed in a new airport in the same period.
38. You have the same set of professional friends and you discuss the same thing over beer.
39. You have not met a customer in the last three months. You do not feel like.
40. You know three positions need filling up in your company. You believe you need to meet the candidates yourself. You simply did not have the time.
The problem with being an entrepreneur and a CEO is that you are a Type-A personality, it is your own show and no one will come to shape your career for you. You have to read the signs, watch yourself and make way for more competent people. If you do not vacate your existing ground, how would you take a new one?
“Overall, the job of a CEO”, says my long-time friend and Professor at the Penn State University, Ragu Garud, “is to lead. It is not to fight fires. Leading requires the ability to create frameworks that others may use and that needs energy, power and connections”. Further away you are from that state, lesser you are doing your real job. It isprobably time to consider “planned abandonment”
With that, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers. I will connect with you all in 2009!