The Most Underrated Quality of a CEO

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The Most Underrated Quality of a CEO


under rated startup ceo trait resized 600You usually hear a lot about the early days of being a founder CEO, but I'm going to try to write more about the days of being a founding CEO as a company grows.  The articles will probably be shorter and more frequent.  Earlier today, someone asked me on Formspring what the most under-rated quality of a CEO is and I responded very simply with this: The Ability To Let Go. Late last week, I was lucky enough to get advice from a very successful CEO that told me: only focus on tasks that you yourself can specifically do. If it's something someone else can do and it constantly eats into your time, then you should find someone to fill that role if you have the resources. It resonated with me heavily as I find Onswipe growing faster than ever before and thinking about what tasks I should be taking on every day.

You Can't Do It All Yourself

As a growing company, there is absolutely zero chance that you can do it all yourself. Even if you had 24 hours in a day, there's no way to do it all. Eventually deals will start to take time, hiring will take numerous interviews, product will be in different divisions, and more. You need to realize this and find someone who can start taking over the burdens. As entrepreneurial CEOs, it's in our DNA to feel like we can do everything. The great CEOs realize they actually can't do everything all by themselves.

Find People Smarter Than Yourself

The best way to do this is to find people that are way smarter than you in the area of expertise. A CEO has to do a great job at setting the vision for the organization and orchestrating it. When your company starts expanding, you need to find people that are just way better at the specific task than yourself. It might be cutting deals with partners in BD or finding top notch engineers. You have to find those that are smarter than you.

Make Sure You Set The Vision

Make sure you set the vision as CEO before bringing people on board. Everyone needs to have cult like zeal in the mission and exact vision of what you're building. If they are not on the same page, it will ultimately destroy your belief that they carry it out when you defer your trust to them. Take the time to make sure everyone is on the same page with the entity that is your startup.

Trust and Defer

The phrase I use internally a lot is "Trust and Defer". I trust certain people with making decisions on certain areas of the company and defer to them for domain expertise. I do my job well by setting the overall course and vision for the company, so the decisions within their domain expertise fit within those confines. You have to trust the people that join your company with your life because that's literally what your product is.

It Will Hurt

There's no way around this. It's going to be a weird feeling if you're used to bootstrapping and running a company with 1-2 cofounders. When you're all of a sudden 10+ people working across the globe, it hits you in the face. It's okay, this is normal. If you've found people you trust and are smarter than yourself, it will work out better than you ever expected.

We're growing faster than I ever thought. A few weeks ago we got to the point where there are teams handling BD and teams that are handling Engineering. I've learned to make sure that the vision is set and make sure that I'm focusing my time solely on the things that solely I can do.  

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Posted by Jason Baptiste on Mon, May 23, 2011


Very thought provoking post & really like your this line "its in our DNA to feel like we can do everthing" it suits me well, though I'm not a CEO just an employee but on a verge to start a business & I feel it in my dna from now onwards only that I can do everything, which can't be possible. Hiring smart people is good but what about when they themselves shows us their back & begins to be our rivals.

posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 1:59 AM by hyderali

Hi Jason,  
Re: The phrase I use internally a lot is "Trust and Defer". 
I have a better one! 
“Inspect what you expect.”  
Outline what you expect others to do and… then checkup to make sure it’s getting done CORRECTLY.  
Refine, refine, refine… 
PS - credit to Anita Campbell for that quote.

posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 3:06 AM by Ivan

I think the biggest challenge is to create a pool of talented people and providing a nourishing environment to them.

posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 7:07 AM by seema sinha

Ivan - I could be wrong, but I thought the quote "It's not what you EXpect, it's what you INSpect" is attributed to Lou Gerstner. No? 
Anyhow - love this article. As a pre-funded startup, we are still struggling with the line " should find someone to fill that role if you have the resources" because that's a big IF. But I would submit that it's critical for a CEO to create a financial/biz plan that removes the IF from that equation. Figure out what others should be doing and make sure you can get the resources.

posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 9:18 AM by Peter Alberti

Thank you for this quality article.

posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 11:07 AM by Rafouf,S.

Great article but I totally agree with Ivan's comment re inspecting what you expect...particulary customer relations and financial aspects.

posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 11:32 AM by Donna Neumann

Regarding this statement: "Find People Smarter Than Yourself" 
This is a lot harder than it sounds. The largest issue I see with fulfilling this is the ability for talent recognition. If you do not have the ability to do well in a certain area, what makes you think you know the right things to look for when making a decision to hire certain talent.

posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 12:50 PM by Henry H

I'm grappling with this right now. I fear hiring someone who ends up being a dud, and I fear not being able to manage people properly. Anybody have any great resources with concrete advice for learning how to 1) find smart multi-hat independent non-techies for a virtual start-up 2) properly manage said personnel?

posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 1:08 PM by Buck

Good article. I would like to add: 
Review and Revise. On a regular schedule - every 6 months. Often forgotten, or pushed aside because other things seem more important. Give this priority and make a habit of it. It will catch issues before they become problems. Esp cash flow problems.  
Get one or two good mentors, no matter how well seasoned you may be. It is nice to know there is someone in your corner. People that are outside of your business also have a different perspective of it. They can be an excellent resource and sounding board. They may see things you can't because you are too close or lack experience in a certain area. A mentor may not always agree with you and is not afraid to tell you, which is a good quality to have access to.  
Buck, perhaps two part time people who excel in their specific areas might be better than having to rely on one person for everything. Send me an eMail.

posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 4:04 PM by Daniela Huppe

Great posting that will be very helpful, thank you! Currently I am in start-up of a vertical niche social platform, right now it's all about bootstrapping and enjoy being in control of every aspect of building the foundation. 
However, when we start to grow will be referring back to this article and remembering to "let go".  
And I am already anticipating growth and hiring people so looking out for people that are extremely talented and smart, hoping one day to recruit them. I think they will be extremely excited about our vision and unique business model, we will see in a year from now! 
Regis Mejia  

posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 4:13 PM by Regis Mejia

Hi Jason, 
My wise Mother told me to hang around people who are smarter than yourself. Then comes the Trust. This can happen when good leadership is in place.

posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 5:08 PM by Fareed

"You can't do it all yourself" is so true even from day 1. I've found key, core folks with non-overlapping skillsets. Already been hurt by poor people choices but better to let go and move on. 
"If" is tough as a completely bootstrapped startup so sharing equity with the early people is key and benefits me to have a successful company, even as my ownership stake shrinks more and more because of it. I figure that it's better to have a small part of a successful company (because it does take a village afterall) than 100% of a failed project. 
For Henry, I may not do well in certain areas but having worked for many companies, I do know what they are suppose to do and what knowledge base/speciality to look for (e.g. finance and accounting are not the same). This is where mentors or advisors would really be helpful. 
Buck, managing is not easy and frankly, one of the easiest to mess up (taking people for granted for one) but constant communication (not easy), clear objectives (not easy either), respect, trust, and the ability to admit to your own mistakes is a good place to start. Everyone makes mistakes but I've found it's how you respond to those mistakes (be they your own or someone elses) that will determine your ultimate success (learn and grow versus withdraw or be angry). 
I feel like we are oh-so-close to landing our first contract but even then, there'll be a lot more ahead to learn, adapt, and move forward, all in spite of my constant fears. Haven't gotten to the "it will hurt" phase yet but if being there is because there's strong momentum, than somehow I'm sure the hurt will be short-lived. :) 
Anyway, my two cents.

posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 5:27 PM by First time founder

This is sound advice and wish I had this when I was starting up and running my prior businesses.

posted on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 12:00 PM by Don Kim

this is such valuable and simple methodology. I wish more people would think this way than what really happens.

posted on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 1:10 PM by april

Right on! Having been a serial CEO and working with early stage entrepreneurs, couldn't agree more. For more on the art of being a startup CEO, see

posted on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 4:23 PM by Edwin Oh

Im currently working for a boss and he is struggling to let go of the creative department, and he told us that it's not easy to do so, because the business is still in a growing phase. (If it wasnt, Idve been worried) But yes, he probably thinks, it'll stop growing if he lets go

posted on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 4:24 PM by Accommodation in Durban

There is a blurry line between "perseverance" and "cutting losses" - knowing how to choose the right one is what makes a great CEO.

posted on Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 5:23 AM by Mohammad

coe's are the best

posted on Saturday, May 28, 2011 at 1:04 AM by brody

Google's CEO Shakeup: Why Pick Larry Page?

posted on Saturday, May 28, 2011 at 1:06 AM by brandtson

One tip I would like to add to is "not to grow apart as company grows". Though it is not possible for a CEO to meet everyone in the company, usually a CEO stops meeting everyone (mostly) on the lowest levels. It means that there is now a chasm between the organization layers.  
Your suggestions are very useful. 

posted on Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 3:10 AM by Ashvini

Absolutely true and essential to find great people. As a non-technical founder and CEO of, I think Fred Wilson said it best: 
"A CEO does only three things. Sets the overall vision and strategy of the company and communicates it to all stakeholders. Recruits, hires, and retains the very best talent for the company. Makes sure there is always enough cash in the bank." 
What's more is that it is important to be involved in each of those particular processes and not deferring them to other people. Great post and I look forward to reading more!

posted on Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 1:44 PM by Joseph Mahavuthivanij

I don't agree. In general, your A players will hire other A players because they do not fill threatened by others and would in fact, want to be surrounded by folks smarter than themselves. It's your B and C players you have to worry about - they will be concerned about looking incompetent.

posted on Wednesday, June 01, 2011 at 7:04 AM by Henry H

Wonderful perspectives that all entrepreneurs and founders can learn from. It is great of you to share them.  
As a Venture partner at OpenView we spend time with founders like yourself and as you mention in your blog... founders don't scale so you have to build out the management team and you want to hire people smarter than yourself as you do that. 
Also as you stated you have to make sure you have the vision set because all the new people who join the company have to buy into the vision for the team to reach it's goals and have alignment around execution to achieve the goals and meet the vision. 
All the best and keep sharing! 

posted on Thursday, June 02, 2011 at 11:33 AM by George Roberts

Finding people smarter than yourself is a good one. You will only progress if you surround yourself with talented individuals that can compliment your skill set and also sharpen it.

posted on Thursday, June 02, 2011 at 2:07 PM by Maciej @ Brandignity

I AGREE WİTH hANRY "I don't agree. In general, your A players will hire other A players because they do not fill threatened by others and would in fact, want to be surrounded by folks smarter than themselves. It's your B and C players you have to worry about - they will be concerned about looking incompetent."

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posted on Sunday, June 05, 2011 at 9:41 AM by Ray Alley

Good posting.. 

posted on Wednesday, June 08, 2011 at 1:13 AM by Nithya

In other words, if you're a control freak, you won't be a good CEO. 
And hiring someone's who's better than you takes guts and a lot of self-confidence!

posted on Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 5:40 PM by Bernard Ferret

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