Team II: Leading an Early-Stage Team and Being CEO

22.09.2017 |

Episode #7 of the course The crash course guide to starting up by Alex Schiff


Hi all,

Today, we’re going to talk about leading the team you’ve worked so hard to create and what it means to be the CEO of an early-stage company.


Inspiring Your Team

When most people think about leadership and inspiration, they tend to conjure images of some general—usually on a horse—giving their troops a rally cry before heading into battle. As a result, many new CEOs think they need to give the business equivalent of the Braveheart speech to inspire people to their cause.

(This may come as shock to some, but if any of your employees have, at any point, even the slightest risk of death by sword from some English dude, you have made some profoundly bad decisions.)

Now, that doesn’t mean inspiration isn’t important—it’s just different. In business, as in most non-life-threatening matters, inspiration is about storytelling. It’s about filling in this equation for the people you lead:

For some, that might mean new skills they’ll gain in the role you’re offering, which will allow them to have the kinds of roles or career they think they will really want in the future. For others, it might be the connections they’ll make that could help them start their own company one day. And still others, they may simply be enthralled with the idea of being part of the startup journey. Everyone’s equation is different, and if you want to get the best out of every single person you work with, it’s up to you to understand it.


Your Role as CEO

Inspiring, however, is only half the battle. An inspired team will have the motivation to reach their potential, but that doesn’t mean they will—that’s where you come in. Your role as CEO is two-fold when it comes to managing your team:

1. Set the goals of the team, and prioritize efforts based off of the holistic knowledge of the market and customer that only the CEO has (or should have).

2. Remove any and all roadblocks that impede the team’s ability to execute on these goals.

The most important piece of advice I can provide here is that the above means being ego-less. It could mean focusing on fundraising to get more resources to lever up what the team can do. It could simply mean getting snacks for the office so you can keep others focused as much as possible on what they’re really good at. Nothing should be beneath you.

Tactically, I have a handful of useful recommendations related to your work with the team:

1. Defaults are set within an employee’s first one to three months. After this period, it’s extremely difficult to change bad habits, communication styles, punctuality, etc.

2. There are quickly compounding consequences to pushing employees beyond their limits (i.e. working late or coming in on weekends). Sometimes it’s necessary for very short-term bursts, but more often than not, you just think it is due to the pressure you are under as CEO.

3. Remember that as CEO, you are privy to way more information from the market than anyone else on your team. Don’t forget to relay new lessons and insights regularly.

4. As CEO, you will need to be the rock of the team. People look to you for guidance, support, and security. The level of existential uncertainty you have to deal with is simply not what most people want to deal with. If you can’t handle this, don’t be a CEO.

5. Be effortful about opening up the opportunities you have as CEO to meet people “above your league” to the rest of your team. They will appreciate it more than you might think.

6. Don’t overlook the value of compliments.

7. Start doing one-on-ones at least monthly.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but if you keep the above in mind, you’ll be getting more out of your team than the overwhelming majority of CEOs whose only justification for the title is that they were there first. When in doubt, abide by the tried-and-true “Don’t Be an Asshat” principle.

And to that end, tomorrow, we’ll be talking about how you can avoid getting sued. :)




Recommended book

Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott


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