The challenge facing any new CEO is to get the existing team, which may have a long history of working together and who were no doubt more comfortable before the CEO got there, to engage in a team building process to embrace change, accept diversity onto the team, and leverage the team’s existing talents. This always proves to be much harder that it appears.
If you ever joined an organization where the founders give up the CEO role but stay on with the company in functioning roles, you already know this is a difficult challenge. If you haven’t experienced it first hand, or perhaps read about some notable failures, if should suffice to say that it is very hard for a founder to give up control of his or her “baby.” This is a company that they have birthed, named, nurtured and financed. Giving up “control,” just because some investors say it will be for the greater good, may be acceptable in theory, but it is not easy to do. Even those founders who actually believe it may be good for the organization, historically have had a very a hard time actually giving up this control.
Many new CEOs make a precondition for their joining an organization the removal of the founders. While you lose the talents and the institutional knowledge by doing so, it often is the only way to get a clear change in direction, loyalty and leadership accomplished. Keeping founders around almost always leads to fragmented loyalty, back channel conversations, distrust of the CEO, and second guessing of the new CEO’s decisions. In fact there probably has never been a founder-CEO succession in which the founder has not believed that many of the new CEO’s decisions were flawed, misinformed or misdirected.
06 June 2006
Since this is graduation time, I thought it might be appropriate to highlight one of the highest profile founders, Steve Jobs. He gave what may have been one of the the most meaningful and relevant commencement addresses at Stanford University several years ago. If you haven't heard or read it or had your soon to be high school or college graduates read it, I recommend it. Steve is one founder that gets it (albeit he may not have earlier in his career and certainly hit some bumps along the transition he did at Apple). His address is also available from iTunes in both audio and video free of charge here.