What’s In Your Title?

Dear “CEO,”

This open-letter comes not from disgruntled employees griping about insufficient compensation. So you won’t be firing us for that. Instead, it comes from those of us who are wondering why you have anointed yourself “Chief Executive Officer.”

To be sure, we can easily come up with a few superficial reasons. For instance:

  • You’re the founder
  • It impresses people
  • Someone has to be the boss (or as you might be fond of joking, “the grownup in the room”)

Those reasons seem harmless — even reasonable — enough. You own the company you created, after all. What worries us is that you have yet to actually become a chief executive officer in the most basic sense, i.e., managing a company and not just its people. You are a great manager of people, incidentally. Otherwise, your team wouldn’t have brought you and the company this far. They believe in you!

But you are not a CEO — not yet. Not with 5 or 10 restaurants in the ground — and all in the same market, at that. Because the title demands so much more than being a good people person or a savvy negotiator when it comes to rent deals. Listen to how Dogfish Head Brewery CEO Sam Calagione describes how he sees his job:

“I obsessively notch the pages, even when I’m reading fiction . . . If it’s notched up and folded back, it means it’s an actual idea that applies to Dogfish. If it’s notched down, it’s more about the feeling — part of what’s written reflects our off-centered philosophy. Every word that I read, I filter through this Dogfish prism. It’s kind of sick in a way — that Dogfish is that prevalent in my thought patterns.”

It also boils down to your ability to instill confidence in others, especially knowledgeable investors. They inevitably want assurances that the person shepherding their capital has the gravitas that comes with the CEO title. Meanwhile, we’d like to leave you with something a private equity investor wrote a few years ago about that job title in Venture Beat:

A great CEO knows when they aren’t a great CEO. They know what they’re good at — and when it isn’t being a CEO. They’re willing to seek others more able than themselves to take the helm.

Amen.

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