Tag Archives: ceo

“Communication IS Leadership”

Tindell-KipIt doesn’t matter who you are, or how long you have been a Founder & CEO, there is a direct connection between your leadership development and your company’s profit development.

I was reminded of this when I interviewed Kip Tindell (Co-founder and now former CEO of The Container Store) last week.

Until this year, Kip was at the helm as CEO of The Container Store since he co-founded the iconic retail establishment in 1978. That’s a 38 year run as a very successful Founder & CEO.

He candidly revealed many of his ups and downs in his 2014 book, “Uncontainable.”

It’s one of my favorite business books. I was struck by a key section of his book. He writes on page 125, “…in August of 1988, we were plunged into a real crisis the day we opened our seventh store, in Houston.”

Kip spoke with me about this challenging growth time period during our podcast interview. We both agreed that it’s a scenario that most fast-growth Founding CEOs face.

Here is what he said in the interview. “The business had been…so successful…it was too fast…it was too many sales…we had to figure out how to get it back to the culturally high- service ,employee-first business we had always been…We realized we had to formalize our culture.”

At some point in time many of you reach that level of success. It certainly is a nice problem to have. The switch from Founder to CEO often comes with growth issues like Kip’s Houston store challenge. The team grows larger and that size requires much more intentional leadership than was ever needed in the past.

So, how did Kip choose to respond to his Houston rapid growth issues? Communication! In fact, during my interview with him he emphasized that “communication IS leadership.” He decided to codify and communicate the key principles that all employees need to understand about being a member of The Container Store team. He called them “Foundation Principles.” And, he and the organization spent a lot of time embedding these principles into the company culture.

So, when you find your team growing, when things seem to be spiraling out of control, and when confusion seems to be the new norm, communicate. Below are some key communication considerations when you experience these growth inflection points like Kip experienced:

  • GET CLARITY: As CEO, clarity is king and queen. You need clarity before anyone else can truly support your company’s mission. Get clear on where the company is at right now. Get clear about the culture you want to create. Get clear about your expectations of your leadership team. Get clear about the impact you want to have on the world. It starts with you.
  • SYNTHESIZE YOUR MESSAGE: Boil down your clarified message in a way that everyone can understand. Complexity is your enemy and simplicity is your friend. Can an eighth grade student understand your message?
  • MULTIPLE VEHICLES: Once you are clear and your message is synthesized, adapt it to multiple communication vehicles. Can you create a weekly video? Can you host a weekly podcast? Can you have a monthly e-newsletter? What about town halls or webinars? What about small group huddles? Do you have time for one-on-one meetings with key influencers? The point is to get your message out in all the different ways people respond to communication. It’s not necessarily what works for you, as much as it is what works for your team members.
  • REPETITION: Sometimes it takes 3 or 4 times before we actually hear something. It may take another 3 or 4 times before we take action on what we hear. You may want to remember this when your feelings of CEO communications boredom prompt you to stop. Just when you may be tired of what you are saying, others are hearing it for the first time. Don’t stop.

Successful founders become great CEOs when they realize, “Communication and leadership really are the same thing,” as Kip writes on page 138 of “Uncontainable.”

What works for you?

Please consider sharing your your communication practices below so your fellow Founding CEOs can learn from your successes and failures.


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The Three Signs You Are A Reluctant CEO

51-Reluctant CEO-Pic#1-08AUG2016“Our investors said I would be a better CEO than my Co-founder.”

“We flipped a coin and I became the CEO.”

“I was the only one left to be the CEO.”

“No one else wanted to be CEO.”

These are some of the things I have heard from some Founding CEOs over the years. It’s a really tough job to launch a new company…get traction…build a team…and get a new business off the ground. It’s even harder to sustain that success and scale the company as the CEO.

What exasperates this challenge? When you are a “Reluctant” CEO.

Many of you are experienced Founders and inexperienced CEOs. That fine. You may not be adept at hiring, but you are interested in learning. You may not be skillful at speaking in front of your employees, but you are interested in practicing. You may not know how to always motivate your team, but you are interested in figuring that out. You may not understand exactly what processes, procedures, and systems your company needs at each stage of its growth, but you are interested in seeking guidance.

The point is, when you are a new Founder & CEO, at some point in time you have to decide you want to get better at the CEO thing.  For some of you it’s a gradual understanding and for others it’s more intentional.

What about those of you who are “Reluctant” CEOs? You seem to embrace the thrill and excitement of your Founder duties, but as for the CEO role, you seem indifferent at best and reluctant at worse. In my experience, this is a recipe for disaster for you and your company, which I will go into greater detail at a later time.

So, how do you know if your are a “Reluctant” CEO? Here are the three signs that I have seen.

  • POOR PERFORMERS: Many of you tell me you understand the importance of building a strong team. But, when it comes to confronting poor performers on your leadership team, you seem reluctant. Your other team members see your reluctance. Don’t fool yourself. It’s challenging to be an effective CEO without confronting poor leaders on your team. You appear like a “Reluctant” CEO. Committed CEOs accept the responsibility for their team members’ performance.
  • VISION CLARITY: Someone must help the people in your company connect their individual contributions with a clear and vibrant future. But, when it comes to spending the time necessary for you to get clear and create a compelling vision, you seem reluctant. You may want to hedge your bets of success on multiple scenarios. You may be uncertain about your funding. You may worry about a competitor. You appear like a “Reluctant” CEO. Committed CEOs accept the responsibility to create and regularly communicate a clear vision.
  • CULTURE SHAPING: A culture exists in your company. It can be a default culture or one you actively shape. When you avoid or put off the development of a fair compensation plan that influences your company culture, you may be a “Reluctant” CEO. When you allow employees to treat each other with disrespect, you may be a “Reluctant” CEO. When you don’t care about your own behavior and pay little attention how you may be a poor role model for others, you may be a “Reluctant” CEO. Committed CEOs accept the responsibility to actively shape the culture of their company.

These are the three signs that I see most often. At some point in time on your journey From Founder To CEO, you have to make a decision. Do you really want to be the CEO? Do you really want to do what it takes to scale the company?

It can’t be a half-hearted decision. It calls for intention. It calls for you to leave behind the novelty of being the Founder and more fully embrace the things that call for an active CEO.

If you are a “Reluctant” CEO because you just aren’t sure about being the CEO. That’s ok. Take the time to get clear. Talk about it with other Founding CEOs, your family, or a mentor. Let that be one of your first tasks to figure out.

But, if you are a “Reluctant” CEO and you stay in this state indefinitely and muddle through, you are putting the company you founded at risk. Your past efforts, your business idea, your employees, your partners, your investors, and your customers all deserve a leader who wants to be there and who wants to scale themselves as a leader while they scale the company.

Are you a “Reluctant” CEO?


Want more productivity?

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Do founders make better CEOs?

37-FounderToCEOResearch-Pic#1-02MAY2016For me, the short answer is yes. But, don’t take my word. A growing amount of research supports this.

Here are some of the more relevant pieces.

1 – Founder-CEOs, Investment Decisions, and Stock Market Performance (Rüdiger Fahlenbrach) – published on August 8, 2009

  • “Eleven percent of the largest public U.S. firms are led by founder-CEOs.”
  • “Founder-CEO led firms not only have a higher firm valuation than non-founder-CEO firms, but also a higher stock market performance.

2 – Founding vs. Professional CEO Performance Analysis in the Software as a Service Industry (Yujin Chung, Professor David Wessels, Frank Chen) – published on April 28, 2010

  • “Based on full company tenure analysis, Founding CEO’s outperform Professional CEO’s on capital efficiency, exit time to exit, and exit valuation.”
  • “Based on full company tenure analysis, Founding CEO’s outperform Professional CEO’s on value created and return on investment.”
  • “Founding CEO’s outperform Professional CEO’s taking into account situation bias.”

3 – Founder CEOs and Innovation: Evidence from S&P 500 Firms (Joon Mahn Lee, Jongsoo Kim, Joonhyung Bae ) – published on February 17, 2016

  • “…founder CEOs are more effective and efficient innovators than professional CEOs.”
  • “…the innovations of founder CEO-managed firms create more financial value than the innovations of professional CEO-managed firms.”
  • “…recent studies on founder CEOs find that they enjoy both greater market and accounting performance than professional CEOs in large, established companies.”
  • “…founder CEO managed firms enjoy higher market performance than professional CEO-managed firms.”

4 – Founder-Led Companies Outperform the Rest – Here’s Why (Chris Zook) – published on March 24, 2016

  • “We found that the companies most successful at maintaining profitable growth over the long term were disproportionately companies where the founder was still running the business…”

In my opinion, the reason is fairly simple. If you want to build upon your idea and see it to fruition, there will never be anyone as motivated to do so as you. You bring the fire, energy, zeal, and the reason for your idea to exist. That energy is hard to replace.

You just have to decide to want to be a leader.

You have to decide to be a CEO.

Once you cross that threshold, my money is on you…and your company.

What do you think?




Want more productivity?

Try some of these 63 productivity hacks from 50 Top Founding CEOs.
Download the PDF today!

You’ll also receive our ezine full of podcast updates and tips and tricks from Todd.

Experts, Gurus, “Mentors,” and Ninjas

They are everywhere. Experts, Gurus, “Mentors,” and Ninjas, oh my! They yell at you from autoplay Facebook videos. They fill your inbox with promises of riches. They twitter bomb you with endless inspirational quotes. They fill your physical mailbox with post cards selling their “must attend” LIVE events. And, you hire them and consult with them all the time.

Dan Shapiro, CEO and Co-founder of Glowforge and author of Hot Seat: The StartUp CEO Guidebook, even pointed out a new and growing problem in a recent interview I did with him for my podcast. “Mentors tend to give a lot of conflicting advice. At Techstars they have a phrase, ‘mentor whiplash,’ for all the opposite and conflicting advice that entrepreneurs get.” Continue reading


Want more productivity?

Try some of these 63 productivity hacks from 50 Top Founding CEOs.
Download the PDF today!

You’ll also receive our ezine full of podcast updates and tips and tricks from Todd.