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Which CEO Type Are You?

Posted by Seth Elliott On February - 2 - 2010

Compass Pointing the Way to Leadership in BusinessI’ve received a number of communications lately from entrepreneurs that are in the process of (or preparing to) raise growth capital. In a number of other posts, we’ve addressed various components of the fund raising process and will continue to do so here at the Unchained Entrepreneur. Today, I want to address the role that a Chief Executive Officer plays in a company and categorize the different “types” of CEO’s.

Before we proceed, let’s distinguish between and entrepreneur and a start-up or growth-company. For our purposes, and entrepreneur is any individual that initiates a new business venture and assumes accountability for the risks and returns of that venture. Essentially, an entrepreneur is anyone that gets involved in starting a new business or building a business that is in the early stages of life. The Unchained Entrepreneur focuses on entrepreneurs and those of you who wish to operate with an entrepreneurial mindset.

Not all entrepreneurs found or run a “Start Up.” For ease of discussion, I use Start Up to mean any enterprise (along the continuum of an idea and a business plan to pre-break even) that is targeting significant future growth. What is significant? Well, other than the old phrase “I know it when I see it,” you can presume that any entity that has a plan to grow in employees (more than 15), revenues (more than $5 million) or profits (more than $2 million) will fit in this category. Any enterprise that is able to legitimately raise venture funds certainly qualifies.

If you are building a business that is designed to provide you with a comfortable annual income, you’re certainly an entrepreneur, but you’re not a Start Up. Why bother with this preamble? Well, some of the thoughts I offer at the Unchained Entrepreneur are more relevant to Start Ups than entrepreneurs as a class. This categorization of types of CEO’s is an example of that.

In my experience, the Chief Executive Officer (whether for a Start Up or a mature firm) has four primary responsibilities as the leader of a company. The CEO’s job is to FIRE up the organization, as follows:

Formulate. The CEO must formulate the core vision for the organization. It is her job to articulate the mission in a concrete fashion and to develop strategies to support that vision. Whether an enterprise is large or small, the CEO sets the tone and direction for the organization. If a firm is short on vision and strategy, the fault lies at the CEO’s doorstep.

Inspire. There are countless cliché’s you can choose from in regards to the importance of people to an organization. The second part of the CEO’s job description is to translate those cliché’s about human capital into reality. The CEO must inspire his personnel to excellence, so that people really are his most important asset.

Represent. The CEO is the face of the company to the external world. It is the CEO who must represent the firm in dealings with the media, shareholders and the investment community, Wall Street, trade analysts, etc. In this regard, the CEO also holds direct responsibility for the process of raising capital for the organization.

Engage. In a similar fashion, the CEO is the final point of engagement with customers and clients. The CEO needs to know her company’s client base and make it a point to deal directly with those clients (particularly key accounts) whenever possible.

When considering any activities that you focus on as CEO, determine how they fit into one of the FIRE categories. In one fashion or another, everything you do as CEO should key off of these. If it doesn’t, consider who the task should be delegated to (or why it has to be performed by you).

With this in mind, let’s move on to the 3 different types of CEO’s.

The Strategist. The Strategist must create, often from whole cloth, the business itself. Often from nothing, she must assemble a core team, develop or commercialize a product or service, identify a market niche or articulate a go to market plan. She is responsible for developing a coherent vision that rallies the organization from the start. The Strategist often is focused on raising the capital needed to prove the business concept or develop a commercial prototype. She is integral in securing early customers and corporate partners. The Strategist is usually involved very early in an organization’s life – either directly as a founder of the business or a senior figure recruited by the founder to become a partner in the company’s start-up phase. Creativity and innovation, combined with tenacity and persistence are hallmarks of the Strategist.

The Scout. The Scout must find the way through the confusing minefield of the business world. It is his job to discover the trail that others in the organization can then follow. Often, the Scout is focused on identifying the addressable market and showing how the company can access that market. By breaking the trail, the Scout proves that the business can work. The Scout must also analyze the company’s team and make modifications and additions as needed in order to build an operating group that can follow the trail he has blazed. The Scout is possessed of remarkable market intuition. Scouts have an uncanny knack for identifying inflection points in the market (or other companies and individuals) and determining how best to capitalize on that information. Successful Scouts combine that skill with a focused capability on building corporate teams that are able to take advantage of market opportunities.

The General. The General is, perhaps, the most common image that many have of a CEO. She must lead her team, driving by inspiration and command an organization that grows more burdened as time goes on – heavy with personnel and public responsibilities. The General must articulate a long term vision for the Company and manage a senior team who is tasked with turning that vision into reality. She must be adept at inspiring loyalty and focus both within the organization and with the company’s customers, suppliers, investors and the media. Top Generals show consistency and strength and are particularly adept at identifying how best to scale an organization in order to take full advantage of resident strengths.

It’s been my experience that successful CEO’s really do fall into one of these three categories. Of course, it’s possible to find CEO’s that are particularly effective and fall into 2 of these categories (I’ve never met one that can fulfill the requirements of all 3). In Start Ups, a Strategist-Scout becomes highly effective in growing and leading the organization to success, for example.

Naturally, these traits and categorizations don’t apply only to CEOs. Divisional heads, senior management and, frankly, anyone in a leadership role of some sort can likely be segmented in this fashion. Just because you’re not the CEO today doesn’t mean you don’t fall into one of these categories.

Of course, these are just labels for ease of conversation and convenience. I’m sure many of you have other categories or disagree with the ones I use here. Don’t hesitate to comment on those points. I’d be delighted to provoke dialogue on this subject throughout the Unchained Entrepreneur community, so please don’t hold back your thoughts.

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About the Author

I have spent the last 15 years advising entrepreneurs on starting and growing their businesses, as well as assisting in financing those growth efforts. I have also been an entrepreneur on several occasions myself. By writing this blog, I hope to provide actionable advice on how to achieve your goals and become more successful.
  • Neil

    Must they all be a “she”? This is nauseatingly PC. Acck!

  • Neil

    Must they all be a “she”? This is nauseatingly PC. Acck!