Week 5: We All Have a Role to Play

As we discussed in week 4, building a team is one of the more critical responsibilities of the founder. This week, we explore some of the challenges associated with matching the right people with the right roles. The Founder’s Dilemmas (Wasserman) points out some of the critical decisions that founders must address when deciding on executive roles. Of particular importance is the selection of the founding CEO, which is the focus of Part 1. Then, in Part 2, we will explore finding hidden talent and hiring for attitude and training for skill.

Part 1: The Role of CEO

The CEO is the top of the pyramid, meaning that final decision-making authority rests on his or her shoulders. As one of the founders, you should have an honest conversation with yourself if this is something you really want be to be responsible for (and if you can see your great idea through without that power). Some founders are great with ideas and specific technical or functional expertise required to bring a new idea to market, but don’t want the responsibility of making the tough calls when there’s disagreement among the c-suite executives.

The first CEO must be visionary in chief, working with the other founders to hone the direction of the company. This requires that he or she be what Wasserman refers to as an “idea person”, which his research shows is more likely of the CEO and usually corresponds to higher stakes in the company.

Part of that visionary role is demonstrating outstanding communication skills. He or she must communicate the vision to new hires, investors, and the public in a way that wins hearts, minds and dollars. Each of the people added to the team after the founders must understand what the bigger purpose of the organization is and how their role contributes. They must want to give their all for it, so a great communicator will help maximize their contribution. The first CEO will play a critical role in telling the story of the company to new investors, so the ability to connect with them and encourage their participation will be particularly important early on in the life of the organization.

In his Forbes article “How to Become a CEO” Christian Stadler mentions listening skills among those communication skills most important to achieve and succeed at the top job. It helps when you are responsible for the final decision if you are able to fully leverage the knowledge and experience of those around you.

Beyond these skills, the founding CEO must also be someone who has great passion for the company and its future. He or she will likely be making many personal sacrifices initially for the good of the company, so entering the job fully committed is essential. Often the first sacrifice is a willingness to give the company his or her full attention and leave the security of a full-time job to focus on the business full-time. This level of risk must be fueled by a confidence that the investment will pay off.

The top job isn’t for every founder. Choosing the right member of the founding team to assume the top job can go a long way to ensuring the long-term success of the company. Think hard as you consider the job for yourself…it is a demanding role that will call upon your skills as visionary, decision-maker and communicator for the company to succeed.

Part 2: Hire for Attitude and Train for Skill

Bill Taylor’s Harvard Business Review article “Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill” points out that hiring people with the right attitude can help differentiate your company among competitors. The assumption that hiring someone that already knows how to do a job is better than hiring someone you need to train on the surface looks like a no brainer. When you look closer, you might realize that with experience comes bias regarding “the right way” to do things. The industry standard approach may be the opposite of what your startup is going for when seeking to reinvent the experience a customer can expect.

Hiring for attitude also creates an opportunity to identify diamonds in the rough in the hidden talent pool. Herrenkohl’s How to Hire A Players suggests looking for those looking to reenter the workforce, those looking to exit corporate environments seeking more flexibility, and great people in service roles or jobs that are demanding and undercompensated who would be eager to find a place that values their hard work and great attitude.

If you are willing to think outside of the box when making your next hire, you might consider hiring someone with the right attitude and teach them what they need to succeed. This helps maximize work ethic and fit with the organization, and minimizes the challenges associated with approaching a job in the same boring way it has always been done when creating something new and different.

4 thoughts on “Week 5: We All Have a Role to Play

  1. Jeremiah,
    Not only would I rather train a good attitude, but I would rather be around a good attitude. In the past, training people to the way “we do things at company xxx” is easy when the person has the right attitude, but a complete challenge when they stick to what they know and their attitude is not flexible either.
    Enjoyed the post.


  2. I like how the CEO takes the role of the story teller and rightfully so. The founder is the one that carries the torch and the banner for the company. Always raising it high for all to see and become inspired to be a part of the story. This would be known as making history. A leaders ability to see, believe and produce makes them the authority in the company.
    Hiring for Attitude: Train for Skill is what we should be doing at this stage in developing human capital. When I was a manager, I always believed that a persons resume let me know that they were teachable. I wanted to know who they were as a person and how could they add value beyond the skill set required for the job. People do business with People, not buildings. Therefore human capital is precious and powerful.


  3. Hi Jeremiah,
    In the first part of your Role of CEO you mentioned the this individual needs to be a visionary and give it their all. You also mentioned the sacrifice CEOs give to support the company to be successful. These sacrifices are crucial in not only the success of the business, but also for the new CEO and their position. I like that you mentioned towards the end, that a person should think hard because these positions are so demanding. The second part was great and I believe in this view of hiring for the trainable instead of for experience. I have experienced this first hand when I hired someone for experience and hired someone I had to personally train for a position. The person who had no experience was able to be trained to our standard operating manual, and excelled in thier position. The person who had previous experience had difficulties following our SOP, which in the end was a difficult training experience to change. Great post!!


  4. Great breakdown of top level roles and the responsibilities of each role. Often times people don’t have or can’t meet the skill level for their title/role. Your post give some great perspective on the skill set that should meet the title. It provides a great description to work with when choosing and looking for top-level staff.


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