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Why Founders and CEO's Can't Stand People (Problems)

I love vision, I love strategy, I love mankind… I just can’t stand people (problems)

- Entrepreneur and CEO who preferred not to be named

I do bi-weekly teleconference calls with a group of entrepreneurial founders and CEO’s to help them improve their non-technical skills. Ironically rather than develop them to be more effective at work, they are more interested in developing them to have a better relationship with their spouses and children because they don’t want to get divorced for a first or second time (since business single minded entrepreneurs have a high divorce rate).

In a recent call, one entrepreneurial founder owned up to so disliking having to deal with people issues (and by that he meant people with people who are always making excuses or “yes butting” him) in his company, that instead of developing the skills to do so, he was instead rushing to hire either a COO or HR head to deal with them.

Sheepishly, others on the phone call agreed with him. None of them truly wanted to develop their people skills at work, and only developed them hesitantly because they saw them as necessary.

Why would CEO’s choose others rather than becoming better able to deal with people stuff? After all, the link between strategy and execution is people. CEO’s design strategy, their people execute it. You’d think they want to learn to be better at dealing with their people.

What I have discovered is that for a company or organization or any enterprise to succeed, it’s leader must have a clear vision of success, a clear strategy for realizing that vision, and most importantly the discipline to keep the company fulfilling that strategy to realize that vision.

Vision + strategy + discipline when developed is like a prized work of art to the CEO and also like a jealous mistress. The archenemy of vision + strategy + discipline and the pigeon crap that threatens to despoil such a work of art is people stuff.

But it is not this pigeon crap that triggers such animosity in CEO’s.

The real culprit is that to some of the smartest founders and CEO’s, vision + strategy + discipline represent their highest core of competence which translates to confidence which translates to feeling in control. Alternatively and the polar opposite, dealing with people stuff – as characterized by excuses, finger pointing, blaming, naysaying, arguments, bickering, etc. – represents their greatest level of incompetence, greatest lack of confidence and greatest feeling of being out of control.

Just as competence + confidence + control bring out the best in founders and CEO’s, feeling incompetent + deeply doubtful + not in control brings out the worst.

And the solution?

It’s a simple choice. Either CEO’s can learn to be as competent, confident and in control of people stuff (from an executive coach such as me) as they are developing a vision, strategy and discipline to stick to it or delegate it to others who have the skills to effectively deal with people stuff.

To succeed, Cook your Apple

The quintessential example of this is Apple and specifically the partnership Jobs had with Tim Cook. Jobs like few others had a prescient vision for Apple products and a strategy (i.e. “Just build what I see”) and discipline (i.e. “Stop building what I don’t want to see”). And it seemed the clearer he saw that vision, the more intolerant he was of people stuff.

Enter Tim Cook. You can only execute strategy through people. And since fearful, angry, abused, intimidated, screamed at people don’t make for the most motivated workforce, Tim Cook was brought in NOT to make Steve Jobs less of an a-hole or less of a tyrant, but to calm, soothe, reassure and tend to the wounds that Jobs inflicted.

What should you do if you’re a CEO and the tenacity with the vision + strategy + discipline is causing you to either wreak havoc among your people a la Jobs or alternatively completely avoid dealing with it which invites a host of other problems?

Unless you’re f— you brilliant like Jobs (and even he needed a Tim Cook to make it work, so will you), you really can’t get away with having a f— you attitude toward your people.

So you’re left with two choices.  Get better at those skills, or bring in a Tim Cook to run interference.

To find out more about how we can help you complement your vision skills with your people skills contact us at:

To hear how we’re presenting these ideas to CEO groups see: Grokking Steve Jobs - How to See Into and Creat the Future.

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