Lessons Learned about Startup CEOs

The most popular post on my blog is one I wrote about a year ago called The Differences between Founder and CEO Titles. It was inspired by the work I was doing at the time creating The Junto Institute, which is focused on developing startup founders into effective leaders.

Since our launch in January, we’ve learned some important lessons about the CEO role, especially as it relates to other executive/co-founder roles.

CEOs come in different colors and shapes. In our cohort, there is a single founder for one startup so he’s the default CEO. In another with three co-founders, the CEO is a passive operator, focused on business development and being the face of the company; the other two co-founders perform day-to-day executive functions. Another Junto startup has two co-founders who are old friends, neither of whom technically has the CEO title, but one of whom fills the role when necessary. And in the other companies, the role is that of a prototypical CEO: chosen or self-selected, with the chief executive responsibilities.

Startup CEOs carry a different burden. Not just because of their job responsibilities but because they effectively stand on the shoulders of everyone else, including the other co-founders. In other words, the CEO often takes the impact and pressure of the team’s dynamics to a different extent. When there are conflicts, performance issues, role changes, etc., the CEO tends to feel and take greater responsibility, deserved or not.

Co-founders want the CEO to lead. They understand the importance of that role to the company and their team. They appreciate when the CEO leads assertively, acknowledge when he is not, and enjoy watching him grow and develop. Co-founders get inspired by the CEO, just like others on the team. They look to the CEO as a role model, mentor, and friend. But most importantly, as a leader.

One comment

  1. Ellen Malloy (@EllenMalloy)

    Great post, which I am forwarding (along with the link to the earlier article) to my CEO, who I look to as a role model, mentor and, friend. It’s interesting, without any formal plan to do so, we have specifically worked to ensure that he takes on the pressure of “responsibility.” He is good at it — responsibility — and seems to thrive under the weight of it, whereas I may tend to feel more burdened by it. For me, that word, even more than “leader,” which can be vague and open to interpretation and style, represents the idea of CEO most.

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