Traits of the Best CEOs: Recruiting and Motivating an Exceptional Senior Team

This is the first post in a short series on the traits of the best CEOs. Here’s the introduction to the series.

In an expansion stage company, a founding CEO is often asked to be a lot of things. They might simultaneously serve as a programmer, product developer, marketer, and salesperson. And that’s in addition to managing day-to-day business operations and executing a long-term strategic plan.

But at some point in a company’s growth, that jack-of-all-trades mentality has to end.

Because the best CEOs are really only as good as the people they’re able to hire to perform those jobs. And when a CEO is asked to identify, recruit, and motivate a talented senior team that can carry the business to the next level, it’s often a tipping point that either propels the company to new heights or sinks it to ominous depths. In my years working with and advising early stage companies, there are two things that ultimately influence a CEO’s ability to accomplish the former:

  • An intrinsic ability to identify and convince A-players to join a company that’s still in the process of being built.
  • Experience – a much bigger factor.

The bottom line is that if you haven’t recruited and managed senior managers or executives before, you won’t know how to recognize them and you won’t possess the credibility to recruit them.

That credibility is particularly important, because when highly experienced or well-respected executives are asked by inexperienced CEOs to join their company, they’re going to look at that CEO and ask three specific questions:

  • Do I want to work for this person?
  • Is this CEO the right leader for this company?
  • What am I going to learn from the CEO?

And unless the company presents a truly phenomenal opportunity, the best executives won’t sign on unless they get satisfactory answers to those questions.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you’re doomed if your CEO doesn’t have any previous experience recruiting and managing senior level executives. It just means that you need to consider one of two options:

1. Connecting the CEO with the right mentor for the moment

Before founding Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg had absolutely no experience recruiting, managing, and motivating top-level executive talent. But he was smart enough to surround himself with people who did. And, though not every decision he made was a great one, the coaching he received helped him develop as a CEO and, over time, impacted Facebook’s phenomenal growth.

For expansion stage companies, that mentor or advisor needs to be relevant for the stage of the company and the CEO’s experience. At OpenView, we typically take on that role at the early stages of the company. We then recruit more experienced former CEOs with proven success in recruiting and retaining great executives at later stage companies. For example, we’re lucky enough to have Bill Conroy, a successful former CEO and executive at companies like Initiate Systems, IBM, and Oracle, serve in that capacity with our portfolio companies.

2. Have the founding CEO pass the baton

It’s not always an easy pill for founding CEOs to swallow, but if they aren’t capable of leading the company to its next growth stage, then it may be time to for them to relinquish their post to someone who can.

When that’s happened within our portfolio, it’s typically resulted in a sudden improvement in the caliber of senior executives that are willing to join a particular company. After all, an experienced CEO not only brings a wealth of knowledge, they also tend to possess a valuable network from which they can recruit. They also have the credibility needed to convince these successful executives to leave one good thing for another.

It’s really as simple as that.

At the expansion stage, every person you hire can have a critical impact on the growth of the business — especially at the senior executive level. So, if you lack the experience to truly identify, recruit, and manage that talent, don’t let your ego get in the way of bringing someone on board that can help.

After all, all truly great CEOs have to start somewhere. And in some circumstances, that start was a personal step backward so that their business could move two steps forward.

If you have your team in place, the next step is to make sure that they are operating as a cohesive team.

The Chief Executive Officer

Firas was previously a venture capitalist at Openview. He has returned to his operational roots and now works as The Chief Executive Officer of Everteam and is also the Founder of nsquared advisory. Previously, he helped launch a VC fund, start and grow a successful software company and also served time as an obscenely expensive consultant, where he helped multi-billion-dollar companies get their operations back on track.
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