Expansion Stage CEO – The Loneliest Position in the World

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If you are the CEO of an expansion stage company and you are lonely, then you are normal. In my conversations with CEOs from hundreds of companies over time, most find that the role is a very lonely one.

Their are several issues that lead to this:

  • The CEO has a board made up of several members, a management team and employee team that is made up of many members, and important customers and partners, many of whom were initially sold to by the CEO. All look to the CEO as being the ultimate person to rely on.
  • During the expansion stage, the company adds senior managers and other employees, and customers, all putting a toll on the organizational approaches for managing them.
  • Throughout the expansion stage, the company continues to increase the differentiation of its products and its methodologies/processes for product development, customer development, and company development, most of which the CEO is not an expert in but needs to figure out in order to ensure that all the pieces fit together into a unique and valuable offering to the market while generating viable economic results.

This Expansion stage build is extremely difficult. It was really difficult at the start-up stage and it will be difficult at the later growth stage, but the expansion stage tends to be the most difficult.

From the outside, CEOs put on a confident face to the board, employees and customers and generally appear to be superheroes. From the inside, CEOs try to put the difficulties and distractions out of their mind and stay focused on achieving their most important short term goals.

When CEOs that I work with are particularly stressed — or when we are drinking a glass of our favorite alcoholic beverage — I tell many of them my observations on CEOs, including this one. My sense is that the idea is news to them… they see the outside superhero image of the other CEOs and don’t realize that the other CEOs are struggling with the same type of issues. The knowledge that they are sharing the same types of struggles with other CEOs helps them out quite a bit.