Over the past few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some companies that were founded on great ideas with an infrastructure that had them poised to be successful.
Unfortunately, each one of these companies also had leadership (usually the CEO) that was, for various reasons, not at all up to the task of realizing that success.
There were many reasons the leadership couldn’t get it done: unfamiliar with the space, too reactive to the data from the last hour without regard for the performance of the last week, thinking in tactics instead of mission or strategy, didn’t understand what talent they needed, to name a few.
But the overriding common trait across each company’s leadership was the worst form of micro-management: “Guess what I’m thinking” management (or GWIT management).
GWIT management is when a manager or executive tells you fairly specifically what they want you to do, without revealing that they want it a certain way.
So you bring them your work, only to be told it’s not quite right. It’s not exactly what they wanted. It’s not in the right format.
When you ask for more instruction, they’re just not sure. They’ll “know it when they see it.” After a few rounds, you’re left thinking, “why the hell don’t you just do it yourself?”
And lost in this progression is what problem are you trying to solve in the first place, and what are the goals of the project?
But I digress…
One company, in particular, had come up with a unique set of data points to solve some prominent and common injury problems. The data was groundbreaking. In this case, there was absolutely no one else doing what we were doing.
Unfortunately, the CEO had come from a completely different industry. On it’s face, the owners thought that there were similarities between the skills required in her previous role (personnel management) and the skills required for this new company (data management).
She had no experience or understanding of how a data company is structured, what talent you need, what the audience needs, or how to communicate with them. She also lacked ability to set coherent strategies or goals for the company, and the ability to communicate with her team.
(Everyone below her was very into and excited about the company prospects, and the team chemistry was great. At one point, the team got together without her to determine how they could effectively work around her while still serving the vision for the product.)
This prompted me to ask a friend, “When you have a great idea or product, and you pair it with incompetent and inexperienced leadership, can the idea overcome the poor leadership? Or does the poor leadership prevent the idea from winning out?”
Background: My friend has a fairly successful record of starting and selling companies (on a small scale), and has been both an employer and an employee.
His thought is that if you have destructive leadership that can’t motivate or build trust from the employee base, and they don’t see the potential for the product, how to build it properly, or how to sell it to the right audience, poor leadership will unfortunately beat a great product or idea.
We all knew this was the problem, but we all believed that we could overcome our CEO obstacle and reach our potential.
Unfortunately, it didn’t happen in my time, and I decided to leave. Several other key members have since left, as well, and it doesn’t seem, as of this writing, that a lot is going to come of the company.
What do you think? What’s more powerful? Does a great business idea beat a horrible CEO?