Know your job

A few months ago I had breakfast with a founder. I had recently announced that I was stepping down as CEO of Kickstarter. That morning I learned he was considering stepping down from his company too.

Business is good, he begins. He’s been at it for almost a decade and it’s arguably the best it’s been. The metrics are up. People are happy.

But he’s not happy. He doesn’t feel useful. Things are growing but it’s not from his ideas. Instead new leaders are doing well. When he lets them drive, things grow. When he takes the wheel, things stall.

I’m not meant for this job anymore, he says.

I listen. Then I ask a question.

Why are we talking about the failure of your ideas and not the success of the team you’ve put in place?

He raises an eyebrow.

The CEO’s job is to build an organization that succeeds. How do you do that? By knowing where you want to go and hiring people who can get you there. It sounds like you’ve hired the people. Now you need to make sure you know where you’re going.

Getting perspective takes conscious effort. You have to create space for it. Regularly. It means spending less time in the office and in the weeds. It means letting the team do their job while you do yours.

Your job is to see the matrix. There are many ways to start seeing it: talking to peer CEOs, meeting customers, reading books, a weekend of solitude, taking drugs in the woods. All involve time, space, and separation.

Seeing the matrix means you learn to see the world through the lens of where you’re going. You learn to communicate, guide, and decide as if your future successful self is looking back on current events. It’s not every step and every detail. It’s colors, shapes, a direction.

Everything else comes from the team as you talk through the vision together. It’s a constant conversation. And when the team and vision come together, the sky’s the limit. That’s when the future becomes real.

Now’s not the time to quit. Now’s the time to grow into your new job.

He is smiling. He likes this new way of seeing things. We walk outside. It’s a beautiful morning.

It’s amazing how different the world looks when we manage to get out of our own way.