CEO privilege

Many of my clients are founders and CEOs of their companies. Sometimes, they’re inexperienced in this role, regardless of how old they are or how much education they have.

One of my common themes for some of these folks is the “you’re the boss” speech. When you are the CEO, you are the captain of the ship. It is your privilege, right, and, yes, duty, to come up with a plan.

You are the CEO. You have a seat at the table, and no matter what the crisis, opportunity, decision, or option, you have the conch.Yes, the board might come up with alternatives to review or shift the plan or even ultimately vote against you. But if you abdicate your responsibility and don’t put something on the table, you have already lost. You will have ceded leadership to someone else, or, even worse, to no one. And that is the beginning of the end for you and for the company. It’s hard to gain that respect back, but you can do it. Like I tell my kids, every day is a new day. Everything’s that’s in the past has passed. Start today, now.

I also see CEOs have trouble when it comes to sorting out compensation, including equity, for the earliest team members. I can give you structures, some benchmarks, and some frameworks. I can give you typical terms that have evolved throughout the startup ecosystem for years, and if you don’t just believe me, I can explain why vesting is really something you want to insist on. I can tell you about a split that makes sense in the context of all the companies. I can’t tell you what is right for your company, or whether 5% more or less is going to change the future.

But when that candidate pushes back, you’re the one who has to decide ultimately, not us. We can explain the proposal, but you’re the one who has to either negotiate any changes or make it a bottom-line offer and deal with the consequences if that person threatens to walk. You’re the CEO: you build the team.

As an aside, my advice is to never give an ultimatum unless you’re going to go through with it. (Btw, that’s also key parenting advice — every time someone says “we’ll go home” at the store or amusement park, and then don’t, they are literally teaching their children that threats are empty.)

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