I think people are a lot like software versions.
As we grow, change, and develop, we become a different version of ourselves. We can take the best parts of v. 1.0, leave behind the worse parts, and add on new “features” for v. 2.0.
Sometimes, the change is voluntary, due to a new job, going back to school, or a new relationship. Sometimes, it can be non-voluntary. Perhaps, there’s a health crisis, a surprise divorce, or a child that has a serious need.
Regardless, change happens, whether it comes from within or is imposed from without. We can choose to adapt or struggle mightily and resist the change.
I see this dynamic in marriages. One person evolves, while the other person doesn’t. The two bundles of software can still be compatible, but there’s work to do.
I also see this dynamic with entrepreneurs. As their companies change and grow, the requirements for a founder will change, too. The challenge? The parts of you that made you and your company successful in v. 1.0 may not be the same for v. 2.0. The skills and temperament required are different.
Example: a first-time CEO who comes from a sales background. I find that good VPs of Sales are very good at motivating their teams…and threatening them, too. Many use the classic “carrot and stick” management style, which is highly dependent on charisma and fear.
The problem? When you become CEO, you stop just managing sales people. Often, engineers (particularly, the great ones) do not respond well to classic sales management tactics. So, that new CEO with a sales background has to develop a new management style. Or, fail at the job.
This all sounds easy, except for this reality that I’ve seen: When we are in crisis, we default to the same playbook that got us to where we are, whether that playbook fits or not.
For every Board I’m on, I insist that the CEO bring on an Independent Director, who can serve as a “safe place” and mentor him/her to the next version of themselves. That is for their own good and for the good of the business.
In fact, I think that the CEO usually becomes the bottleneck to a company’s prospects. If the CEO is willing to grow and change, the company will as well. If the CEO remains “stuck and stubborn,” so will the company. In my 20+ years as a VC, sadly, I’ve seen some very sad failures happen, mostly because of a CEO unwilling to evolve to a new version of themselves.
I’m thinking of all this as I read about how the President is reacting to the threat of impeachment. IMO, he is defaulting to the same playbook that had made him a celebrity: a focus on “what’s in it for me,” constant offense, doubling down on his positions, personal charisma, and saying controversial things.
I’m just not sure if that playbook is serving him well right now. And, I’m not sure if he will permit anyone around him to tell him so.
So, yes, versions. We all need to grow and evolve. And, we need that special mentor nearby to tell us, at times, those things that we do not want to hear.
It takes humility to be a great CEO. That is why I think there are very few of them. Most people, including me, default to staying in our comfort zones rather than embracing change and humility.
Often, we should ask ourselves: Am I using the right playbook for this time in my life?
Last, best wishes for a good fast today for all those doing so on Yom Kippur.