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“Ask the CEO” – Am I the Problem?

I received an interesting email from a CEO this month at thomas.tpaul@gmail.com. It went something like this: “I have started a number of companies, but they always seem to stall at a certain point. Is the problem me or the team?”

So as not to pick on this person, let me answer that question from personal experience. In every case where my company had tremendous success, I can trace it back to having a great team. In every case where my company has failed (or I failed), it was because I tried to do everything myself or didn’t build/lead/nurture a team or team environment.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to lecture you or cite those silly leadership and team posters that say things like, “There is no I in team,” or the quote from an unknown author that says, “Team means Together Everyone Achieves More.” But all sayings and posters aside, if you as the CEO, president or general manager are feeling like you are too busy, too “in the weeds,” or leading an organization that seems to have stalled, I would bet you aren’t running your organization with a team.

I’ve seen this a lot during my career. Someone smart and hard working comes up with an idea for a new product, technology or company. They bust their butt getting it off the ground and no one else helps them because they don’t share the vision or believe it is a good idea. By the very nature of being an entrepreneur, you are a risk taker and you ignore all the naysayers who tell you it won’t work. More importantly, you are the only person that will risk everything to make it succeed and make the company successful.

This willingness to risk it all to have your company take off and succeed is both a curse and a blessing. A blessing in that we would not have all the awesome technology, products and services that exist today if it weren’t for those gifted individuals who ignored everyone and pushed ahead until their idea became reality. But it is also a curse. These founders lose sight of the fact that the skill set required to start a company is very different from the skills and experience needed to grow and run a company day-to-day. What the founder remembers is that no one else believed in them or helped them and that they have some sort of gift or talent that will allow them to succeed in whatever they do. It doesn’t work that way.

So back to the CEO who emailed me, is he the problem or is it the team? In my opinion, he is the problem. He has failed to understand his ability and strengths and his companies will never grow to be as successful as they should until he learns the value of a team and a real team approach to running a company.

How can you tell if you as the CEO, president or general manager are the problem? Ask yourself these five simple questions:


  1. Am I the most important person in this company? I did, after all, start the company (or my father/mother/brother/sister did).


  1. Do I insist on being involved in every meeting and decision, especially if it involved outside vendors or contacts?


  1. Do I require that I be notified if ANYTHING is changed or altered around the office? It doesn’t matter if it is a paint color, or a shipping vendor – somebody better tell me.


  1. Do you have a poster hanging in your office or break room that mentions TEAM, TEAMWORK or something about how we are all in this together?


  1. Do you believe you are the only one who can solve the tough problems or fix what is broken?


If you answer yes to three or more of these questions, you may very well be the problem! Last month, I wrote about the importance of asking for advice. If you really want to know if you are the problem, ask your team these five questions. But, as I said last month, don’t ask if you really don’t want to know the truth or change. FBN


T Paul Thomas teaches business and entrepreneurship at Northern Arizona University and serves as Chief Entrepreneur at the NACET Accelerator. Prior to joining NAU and NACET in 2013, Paul spent 25 years as a serial CEO and president. Paul can be reached at thomas.tpaul@gmail.com.

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