How to avoid being blindsided

Feedback Loop words on sticky notes to illustrate a repeating cycle of reactions, information, input and output“I didn’t understand, until it was over, just how hard the transition is from a Founder to CEO. A completely different role from getting a company off the ground…few people know how to teach it, even less think about developing you…” This was Marc Barros, former CEO of Contour, in 2013.

It seems to be a common theme I’ve heard over the past two years. If you are a first time Founder & CEO, there is no way you can predict what will happen. Many talk about that “one thing” that they didn’t see coming. Some talk about being blindsided. Others simply didn’t know what was going on, “until it was over.”

You’ve created an amazing business. You are growing. You are scaling. You may have had some bumps along the way, but those are to be expected. You are generally feeling pretty good. What possibly could go wrong? Right?

Maybe you didn’t realize…

  • That some silent investor living in Idaho, and who invested in your Series B round, is gunning for you to be replaced by a “professional CEO.”
  • That your Chief Technology Officer is sexually harassing your controller and you have to fire him.
  • That your ad hoc meeting style needed to shift months ago because major issues are falling through the cracks.
  • That your culture is being hijacked by a customer service manager who thinks she is the CEO.
  • That your public musings about strategy are confusing your leadership team and causing two of them to consider leaving.
  • That your failure to offload your pet projects is making it hard to recruit top talent because word has gotten out that you are a micro-manager.
  • That your people are yearning to hear from you but your fear of public speaking is causing some to lose faith in the future of the company.
  • That your fear of losing the company’s innovative spirit has caused you to overlook the benefits and necessities of even small amounts of structure and processes as the company has grown to 50 employees.
  • That people are questioning your ability to lead because you look and act like you are overwhelmed.

These are just some of the many things that can happen to you if you don’t know what is going on in your company and around your company.

There’s so so much to do as a Founding CEO. Your head probably spins amidst the chaos of growth. When one of the above types of things occur, they have the potential to derail the very company you have poured your heart into.

Japanese consultant, Sidney Yoshida, knew all about this. He coined the term “The Iceberg of Ignorance” as part of a study in 1989. It basically points to what you probably already know…you don’t know nearly as much as you think you do.

What can you do about this?

At the very least, you can create some “early warnings indicators.” Feedback loops.

As a Founding CEO you have an incredible opportunity to use your positional authority to create the communication feedback loops that help you avoid being blindsided. These are regular occurring opportunities to engage with people and processes that inform you earlier rather than later.

Here are some examples you might want to consider:

  1. Setup a regular occurring meeting with your investors and ask them how they think things are going.
  2. If you have a small team, consider having rotating lunches with individual team members and ask them how they think things are going.
  3. If you have a larger team, consider using regular occurring “pulse surveys” like Waggle or Sense so you can have a deeper understanding of what is happening in your company.
  4. Consider engaging in a 360 assessment of your leadership abilities and behaviors.
  5. Identify key leaders in your community or industry and ask if you can connect with them once a quarter to learn about what is happening outside your company.

Your ability to make sound and timely decisions is directly related to timely information. Be proactive. Take steps now to create regular feedback loops that keep you from being blindsided.

How do you prevent yourself from being blindsided?

Please share your thoughts below.

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