LEADERSHIP FORUM

The Making of a CEO: Leading Change

How do you become a real CEO, instead of a CEO-by-default? Part two of a five-part series.
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Change. Adjustments. Course corrections. Innovation. This is what entrepreneurship is supposed to be all about. If your start-up isn’t working, change it. Even if your startup is working, entrepreneurs are assumed to be at the vanguard of change. Shaking things up. Bucking the status quo.

Motivating others to buck the status quo is a powerful but difficult aspect of leadership. Generally, there are two outcomes: You either succeed and get rewarded, or you create too many enemies along the way and end up getting crushed by your adversaries.

Affecting change without ruffling the wrong feathers requires careful management.

  • Don’t bash what is in place today. Remember, many people support your company’s current incarnation, usually because they worked really hard to create it. Instead of concentrating on everything that doesn’t work, show how your change builds on the progress that’s already been made.
  • Consistently communicate to others how they can be part of making things function better.
  • Show others how to make things function better for the whole organization, as well as for themselves.
  • Don’t expect people to jump on the bandwagon until it’s clear that the bandwagon is rolling. That’s why they call it a bandwagon. Otherwise, it’s just a wagon stuck in the mud.

These tasks involve both convincing and compromise. Remember, people are not typically courageous in their work. That’s okay. Just get them up to speed and ready to join in once you’re showing some momentum. Don’t expect others to figure out which changes are required, or even to help you lead change. You can rely on them to help you refine your changes, or to help swing public support in your favor once it’s clear you’re on the right path.

When you sense resistance, look for ways to bring naysayers closer to the process. Listen carefully to their points of view and work to co-opt them. This is the time to keep your friends close and potential enemies even closer.

When you present your proposed changes to your board or other advisors, the first questions you’ll get will be “Who has bought in?” followed by “Who is leading this?” Bring a few others along with you and present the ideas as a cohesive team, with you clearly leading the charge. When your investors start asking around, people should be linking the change to your name and speaking well of both it and you.

Last updated: May 23, 2012

DON RAINEY | Columnist | General Partner, Grotech Ventures

Don Rainey is a General Partner with Grotech Ventures, which invests in early stage technology companies. He was named to the Washingtonian Magazine Tech Titans List and earned the Northern Virginia Technology Council?s Lifetime Navigator award for his support of entrepreneurs. Don blogs at VC in DC at http://startups.typepad.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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