The Lonely Expansion Stage CEO: What the CEO Can Do

August 24, 2010

Expansion Stage CEOs are lonely people. It is the nature of the job that I wrote about it in a recent post.

What can the lonely CEO do?

My observations and discussions with hundreds of CEOs over time resulted in the following ways that CEOs can address the loneliness issue, which also results in them being better CEOs of better companies:

Get one or two great senior management partners

Some CEOs founded their companies with one or two great co-founders. When this works, it works really well as the deep trust between co-founders that each have unique skills and experiences creates a really solid core for a young company and helps to spread the most important issues among more than just the CEO (note: clearly this does not always work and a lot has and could be written on dealing with the situations where this doesn’t work or stops working). If you don’t currently have “partners”, it is not too late. Consider the skills that you most need in the company at this point and find a person that both fills the skill gap and has the experience, character, and chemistry that would make a great partner for you. At OpenView, we encourage CEOs to get senior managers that would “fill a seat around the management table” to help our CEOs with this issue.

Recruit one or two people that could serve as partners/mentors to your board

CEOs that have one or two board members that can serve as deep sounding boards, provide some mentorship/partnership help and help to unite the company’s board tend to have better experiences, better board meetings and better companies. As with the senior management partner, the Board partner/mentor needs to have the right skill, experience, character and chemistry to make a good partner for you. At OpenView, we encourage our portfolio companies to build the best board possible with as many independent board members as possible and also encourage our portfolio CEOs to find people that fit the profile but also have the right chemistry for the CEO.

Find an outside mentor or two

Similar in nature to finding a person to fill a board seat, finding a person or two that are willing to be unofficial or official senior advisors to you personally could be of great assistance. There is also a growing group of “executive coaches” and I have heard some great feedback from a number of CEOs that believe that they have benefited greatly from their coaches. Again, experience, skill and chemistry are really important for success.

Join a group of other CEOs that you can connect with and learn from

Many CEOs view this activity as a luxury, but the CEOs that I have spoken to who are actively involved with a group report that they get great advice from groups like this. The group that gets mentioned the most is the Young Presidents Organization, but there are a lot of local CEO groups in every city to check out. I have also heard examples of CEOs connecting in online forums in places like ExpertCEO or LinkedIn groups with some success. At OpenView, we have quarterly in-person forums and workshops to both help management teams gain some great ideas, but also to network and find their counterparts at other portfolio companies that can help in a similar manner.

Find the right Venture Capital Partner

Venture Capitalists come in all shapes, sizes, personalities, characters, backgrounds and skills. If you raise capital, try to find a VC with the right experience, skill, character and chemistry that could both serve the purpose of capitalizing your company and serve the purpose of being a true partner to you and your team.

Ask a lot of questions, look for objective measures, and work hard to listen, sense and analyze to find the “truths”

As the CEO, you are most likely on the receiving end of a lot of filtered and biased information and perspectives. The larger your company, the worse this issue generally gets. Work hard to ask a lot of different people the same questions, listen hard, and try to triangulate the answers in a manner that helps you separate the signal from the noise. Also, work hard to put objective measures/metrics in place to help you. Objective measures are more difficult to filter/bias.

If you are a lonely CEO, consider the list above and determine if one or two of the ideas fit your context. Then set a goal for doing at least one of them and put some time against exploring the possibilities. Also, let your team, board, investors and network know about your goal so that they can open their networks to you and provide you some help.

Founder & Partner

As the founder of OpenView, Scott focuses on distinctive business models and products that uniquely address a meaningful market pain point. This includes a broad interest in application and infrastructure companies, and businesses that are addressing the next generation of technology, including SaaS, cloud computing, mobile platforms, storage, networking, IT tools, and development tools.