The Lonely Expansion Stage CEO: What Senior Managers Can Do

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Expansion stage CEOs are some of the loneliest people in the world at work. I wrote about the lonely CEO recently and I also wrote about what the lonely CEO can do about it. The senior managers in an expansion stage company can also help quite a lot by recognizing the issue and working hard to help your CEO build the business.

Senior managers working for the CEO should be like Alan.

Alan worked for me when I was a young manager. He wasn’t the smartest guy that ever worked for me. He didn’t work the highest number of hours. But, Alan was one of the best people that ever worked for me. What Alan did incredibly well was that he worked really hard at understanding the goals that I needed him to take responsibility for, and then he put all of his time against taking the responsibility and delivering on those needs. When he completed the goal(s), he came back, reviewed the work, and then tried hard to understand what the next goals were. Alan did this constantly without needlessly complicating my job by also taking responsibility for developing his working relationships with other managers and other departments and figuring out how to accomplish his goals rather than complicating my job with issues that he could resolve on his own or could resolve with the help of someone else.

Alan offered up great ideas and approaches and alternative goals and we had good conversations about how to attack those goals. But once his targets were locked and loaded, he was off to the races. Alan’s best characteristic was that he took full responsibility for the ultimate goals and always seemed to figure out how to realize the vast majority of them with minimal help from me.

As I wrote, Alan wasn’t the smartest guy I ever worked with. But, he was smart enough. He didn’t work the highest number of hours. But, he worked hard enough. His greatest strength was figuring out what needed to get done and then focused all of his time and attention on getting it done. And, he did this without creating a lot of extra work for me or anyone else.

If you are a senior manager working for a CEO, do you take on major goals and get them done without much help from the CEO?

Does your CEO have peace of mind that you will accomplish the goal? Or, is your goal one of the issues that keeps your CEO up at night? (if you are unsure, then ask!)

Additionally, do you create work for your CEO by bringing the CEO issues that you could resolve yourself or solve with the help of other managers? Do you bring your own personal issues to the CEO more than you need to? Do you distract the CEO with new ideas or issues that already have a forum for discussion and could be addressed more efficiently in that forum?

No doubt, the CEO that you work with is lonely (almost all are in one way or another whether they show it or not). Your CEO can really use a partner that takes things off his or her plate and gets them done with little work from the CEO. Doing this will also help move your company toward its aspirations faster and better.

One complication that you may find is that your CEO may have some “control freak” or “micromanager” characteristics (this is particularly true for many founding CEOs). These characteristics were probably beneficial to the company at its early stages. But now that you are at the expansion stage the goals need to be set and then the senior team needs to accomplish them without a whole lot of help from the CEO, given that you are trying to increase your velocity and sophistication of company development.

Your CEO may need some help with this and may need to be involved more with the first few goals that you take on yourself. You may also need to have an open conversation and figure out how the CEO can get comfortable with you taking on more without the involvement of the CEO. Yes, it is interesting that the CEO both needs you to be responsible for goals and at the same time has difficulty letting go of them. If you really want to help your CEO, you will recognize the importance of overcoming this complication and then help the CEO overcome it! With time and experience — and with a few senior managers that act like Alan — your CEO will recognize the benefits and be more and more comfortable letting go and allowing the senior team to take on more goals.

Think about it. Then, do something about it!