Simply put, people with enormous technical talent do not always excel at attracting and motivating others. That is why so many startups replace their founders with more experienced CEOs if the founder can’t keep the company growing.
But replacing the founder can cost the company tremendous talent. Not only might the founder’s departure eliminate a source of technical genius and vision, but also the team that the founder recruited might follow the founder to their next destination.
In many cases, I see two possible solutions to this dilemma, neither of which are easy to accomplish.
The first is to hire a chief operating officer (COO) with the people skills to hire and motivate a leadership team that performs activities well where the CEO is weak. This is a great solution only if the COO and the CEO get along well.
The second solution is to teach the founder how to be a great leader. This may not be as far-fetched as it seems. Often people with great technical skills are great at attracting and motivating the best engineers and scientists, who are inspired by the opportunity to learn from such a leader.
Building off such strengths, an effective founder-CEO must know four things about people.
1. People strive to be recognized.
People are motivated by the pursuit of recognition from others whom they respect. At the moment when people feel recognized, my guess is that they receive a powerful dose of the brain chemical dopamine–the chemical of reward.
Leaders ought to harness this power to the benefit of their employees and the company. You can hold annual company meetings that bestow rewards on people who best exemplify a value, such as customer-focused innovation. You can also hold monthly all-hands meetings where you discuss the company’s values, and tell stories about employees who acted in ways that brought those values to life.
If your company has limited capital, it is particularly important for leaders to know that recognizing peoples’ accomplishments costs very little and is powerfully motivating.
2. People want to learn and achieve their goals.
A leader must recognize that workers want to rise in their careers and have a meaningful life outside of work. The companies that attract and motivate the best talent, particularly in the midst of a pandemic where demand for talent exceeds supply, offer the most compelling blend of learning and scheduling flexibility.
The CEO can make a big difference in achieving this balance. As I wrote in Goliath Strikes Back, Hubert Joly–the CEO who turned around Best Buy–saw his purpose as helping the company’s employees to realize their purpose.
He asked his store managers to listen to employees and find ways to connect their goals to the company’s purpose. One employee in a Massachusetts Best Buy aspired to purchase a house. The store manager mapped out a training and skill development path aimed at enabling that worker to get promoted high enough to make that goal a reality.
3. People thrive in collaboration with others who share their values.
Peter Drucker famously said that culture eats strategy for lunch. By that, he meant that if you try to execute a strategy that is at odds with your culture, you will fail.
Leaders must create a culture based on values that drive the company’s growth. Use these values for recruiting and as the basis for how people collaborate. Since people thrive when they work with others who share their values, your ability to create such a culture can be a powerful contributor to your company’s success.
4. Leaders must create and keep their peoples’ trust.
Perhaps most importantly, leaders must create and keep trust. As I wrote in August, the key to doing this well is to tell people what you will do–including articulating your company’s values–and consistently do what you promised.
Every time you fulfill your commitment, you add to the well of trust. And every time you break a promise, you must apologize and fulfill a new commitment. Otherwise, people will stop trusting you and head for the exits.
Know these four things about people and you will be a better leader.