So, Jack Dorsey is back as CEO of Twitter. Many had predicted the result, even though the board said that it didn't want a part-time chief executive, and Dorsey still heads up Square. But, as lead director Peter Currie said in a conference call on Monday morning, Dorsey had proven himself, at least in the board's eyes, over the last three months as interim CEO.
Having a founder come back as CEO after a difficult time is not unheard of. Steve Jobs returned to Apple to become CEO for the first time and save the company after being forced out. Howard Schultz went back to lead Starbucks, although he had been chairman of the board. Larry Page took over as CEO of Google after a poor showing when he was first chief executive there. Jerry Yang had a disastrous second run at Yahoo. And we all should remember what happened after Ken Lay went back to Enron.
In short, having a founder or early CEO return to take the reins at times of trouble doesn't guarantee success. These boomerang leaders need to pay attention to a number of things if they're going to steer the company where it needs to go.
Clearly see the problems
Except for outright retirement, CEOs don't come back because they were always the natural person to lead a company. They are back because something is wrong and the company's board doesn't have a solution. If you're on the frequent leader plan, realize that you're about to step into a major mess, because unless you're an unbelievable control freak, the only reason you're back is that things have blown up under the person who was in charge.
Tamp down your ego
There are various reasons that companies have given for bringing back a former CEO: understanding of the company's culture, a specific expertise in the market, or admiration for previous work. Don't let this go to your head, because there are very, very, very few cases where no one else in the entire world might have had the skill set or managerial abilities to help a company. One example might be when Schultz took over as CEO at Starbucks again because the issue was one of preserving the company's culture. More likely, no one else who was qualified was willing to walk into a swamp of problems. You may be only the last resort, so don't assume that you walk on water. You have a lot to do and to prove.
Admit where you went wrong
Even if you left a position of your own volition, there was a reason. Maybe you felt tired or saw that you lacked certain skills that were needed at the time. Or, like Jobs, maybe you got punted because you were incapable of working with others and couldn't find a way to bring projects in on time or actually even sell the new Macintosh that was supposed to be the Next Great Thing. It doesn't matter. If you're going to become CEO at the same company, be sure you learned your lessons, whether how to effectively run an organization by working in others, realizing where you had previously taken your old company down the wrong path, or even that your ego demands being king or queen of your empire and that leaving was a mistake. If you don't take this step, then there is nothing to keep you from falling into the same trap as before.
Everything that is the same is really different
The danger of going back home, as anyone who has survived college or a stint in the military or even a stretch far away from the familiar knows, is that everything has changed. You're in a different relationship with all the people, places, institutions, and experiences. Assume that you need to relearn what the company is like and that people who knew you need to be reintroduced to find out what you are like today.
Even though you've gone through the exercise of seeing the problems in the business and in yourself, don't assume that you have all the answers. You didn't before. Find people who have insight into what the organization and the markets are like these days. Take suggestions so you can uncover the best solutions, not assume that only you know what to do.