I was thinking about what Tech CEOs have to do – what does the Chief Executive Officer of a tech firm need to think about and do every day?
Imagine you’re the CEO of a company. Even if it’s the CEO of your own one person business – you’re still in charge and everyone looks to you for direction.
It’s a scary position to be in – to be so completely and totally in charge. No one else that you can point to or blame. It’s not a position you can run away from.
In some ways it’s like being a writer or an artist. Every creative person, without exception, suffers from self doubt and isolation.
You’re making something – creating words or pictures or music. And when you’re done people will see the results of your work and judge you.
You have to get beyond those worries, push through them and create and be damned. The rest of the world doesn’t matter – if you create just for you.
As a CEO, you’re creating a business. More than anyone else in the business, the responsibility for shaping and bringing the business to life rests with you.
So, I was wondering, do tech companies have to do anything different? Are tech companies different in some way? What do you need to be aware of?
1. The basics – people, process, performance
Well, clearly there are the basics – who you hire, what they do and how well they do it.
And obviously, you must have a product.
Your job is to get the most out of your team, to motivate them, to work harder than them, to show them that you care – for the product and about them.
It’s a job where you need to have a lot emotionally invested in the business. It’s not like being an adviser or consultant – you are the business. To everyone that’s interested, anyway.
2. Be careful what you say
The thing with being the boss is that people listen to what you say.
In meetings, you’ll find people positioning themselves so they can watch you but you can’t watch them. People will hang onto your words and build on your ideas – whether good or bad.
What you say will matter.
Warren Buffett writes about this – it’s example number 3 of what he calls the institutional imperative – as follows
(3) Any business craving of the leader, however foolish, will be quickly supported by detailed rate-of-return and strategic studies prepared by his troops
No one will tell you that you’re doing something stupid. Not your employees anyway. Maybe your investors – perhaps some members of an independent Board.
But, if you’re aware that your every whisper can become a shout as it moves along the organisation, you might be more careful what you say.
3. Understanding markets and trends
A big part of your job is looking outside the company. What’s going on in the market, what are the trends?
Do you understand what your competitors are doing, which new firm is trying to turn your market inside out, and are you positioned to be lifted up by a trend or battered and tossed by it?
It’s things like knowing your Total Addressable Market (TAM), Served Available Market (SAM) and the Served Obtainable Market (SOM), and how you’re going to get to them.
As a CEO, your success depends just as much on what others in your market do as what you do – and you have a lot less control over them.
4. The big one – creator of culture
As a CEO, how you behave is how everyone behaves. Culture travels top down.
And that can be a shock to some people. If you’re an accountant or lawyer, accustomed to saying no or looking for problems, you’ll need to change your mindset to one that is more visionary and that can talk about where you’re going and what the opportunities are.
The things you believe in – whether you should rule with fear, or motivate with incentives – will become policies and norms and standards.
The types of attitudes you have – to the way people dress, what you expect from people in the workplace, how understanding you are about the challenges working couples with children have – will find their way into your company.
Your company is you. And the people in there will start to act like you act. So, you must decide how best to act – all the time.
Not a tech CEO – just a CEO
When you go through this list, nothing really jumps out as specific to a tech CEO.
It’s just skills that you need to have as a CEO.
Perhaps you also need to have an understanding of tech – but it’s more important that you understand the people you have on your team that understand tech.
When it comes down to it, being a CEO is about being the company.
And you’re just got to try and be a good one.