The 4 Cs of the Startup CEO
September 10, 2014

The 4 Cs of the Startup CEO

by Brian de Haaff

There really is no secret recipe for being the big boss and sitting in the corner office. But there are plenty of ways that a strong leader can never make it to the top or can go down in a burning heap when he gets there. In today’s rapidly changing and disruptive world, the rulebook from our parents’ and grandparents’ generations is being rewritten daily.

While many folks do not aspire to be the CEO — others dream of it. It has become sort of a taboo in our society to say that you do not want to be the head honcho, but the job is not for everyone.

I have been fortunate to be the chief executive of three software companies, including now at Aha!, and have tried to absorb the challenging times with class and the triumphs with humility.

Over the last eight years, I have learned that leading an organization (especially a technology company) takes a dynamic set of skills that are unique to our generation.

The rapid pace of disruption of established industries, globalization of the workforce, repeat boom-and-bust financial cycles, and the ubiquity of connectedness requires more from CEOs than ever before. There is a new set of leadership capabilities required for success. And we are seeing those executives who embrace new approaches shine.

If you absolutely love the adrenaline of being out in front, the authority to make the big decisions, and the responsibility that comes with getting it wrong, the CEO role is for you. And if it is, I suggest that to do it well and build companies that matter, you need to embrace the following 4 Cs:

Context As a great CEO, you must establish a “goal first” approach and a true north for your company based on the best information you have. You are the one who needs to shout, “This is why we are here!” Reaffirm your strategy and tweak it as a necessary with the team, but stay grounded in what you are trying to achieve. Explain to every employee where you are headed and the value they deliver to customers and the business. If you do, your company will follow. Lose your direction or whip-saw the team back and forth and the business will suffer and morale will plummet.

Credibility CEOs need to be human and speak human. They should be genuine, spontaneous, and approachable. When you are credible, you build trust and trust is the foundation of highly productive teams. Building credibility starts with being open with humility. When you are transparent you can avoid huge blind spots and can learn from those around you. Real interactions and feedback allow you to take corrective action when you have gone astray.

Content If you are providing the context for your company internally, you should also be setting the framework so people outside your organization understand your purpose. And to do this, you should write it down, talk about it, and stand on big stages and share your thoughts with people who want to listen. If you have a thorough command of the company’s strategy and can speak in a credible manner (see the items above) it is time to tell your story. The emergence of social networks and self-publishing platforms where you make the news give you the mediums you need to share your point of view.

Careers It is simple. You need your employees more than they need you. This is especially true when it comes to highly specialized jobs like product managers or software developers. But I would argue that as the worldwide economy has rebounded, leverage has shifted back towards all employees. Companies are still figuring this out and continue to underestimate the cost of training employees and making them productive. It hurts when they leave. Superstar CEOs understand that employment is an exchange of value, and employee appreciation and career development mean as much or more than fatter paychecks.

People like to be on a winning team led by a strong leader. The new-age CEO understands the new world order and how to break through by embracing the 4 Cs.

The notion of leadership is evolving and new opportunities have emerged for CEOs to lead their teams to greatness. What type of CEO do you want to be or work for?

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Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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