I’m involved in a bunch of young companies that are at various stages of their journey.
I think one of the hardest challenges for sure is the balance of urgency and thoughtfulness. It’s hard for CEOs and it can be tricky for board members simply because they aren’t at the company every day.
I’ve seen fellow board members get itchy (or worse) when they perceive the CEO doesn’t have a sense of urgency. I believe most of CEOs do have a sense of urgency. They are watching the balance sheet, thinking about their team, working on the plan at hand and thinking about the future. If you are a startup CEO you are trying to make things happen.
I think that many VCs (myself included at times) tend to confuse a perceived lack of urgency vs a concern that the company isn’t making enough progress given it’s resources. Those are two different things and shouldn’t be mixed up.
On the other hand, there are CEOs that move at a million miles an hour. You can feel their energy as they walk into the room. They get products out the door, they don’t let toxic employees linger. They are good at making decisions. They step on the gas and go.
And invariably the latter CEOs need to catch their breath once in awhile. I think a good board member will help them do that. Take a step back and take in all in. Ideally board meetings aren’t a formality but rather an opportunity to do just that. Take it all in - discuss what’s working great and not working.
I’ll end this post with a quote from Jerry Colonna’s most excellent recent blog post, Standing Still While Your Hair’s On Fire.
I love that first line: “Stand still.” For me it evokes the image of the kindergarten teacher, walking into a room filled with screaming five-year olds. “What’s the best way to get the five year olds to calm down?” I’d ask. “Should you scream louder?”
Of course not; the right thing to do is to shut the lights. And, if they’re especially rambunctious, make them put their heads down on the desk for a nap. It works for five year olds. It works for your employees. And, most importantly, it works for the crazy thoughts in your head.
I think that thought of lights out and heads on desk is a good one for all of us sometimes.