CEO Leadership Lessons – Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs

May 31st, 2011
MMM Tech Perspectives

CEO Leadership Lessons – Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs


I recently moderated a panel discussion among four of the leading CEOs from Atlanta’s technology community at a meeting of the Technology Roundtable Executives, an Atlanta-based group of tech CEOs and CFOs.  TER meets monthly and features panel and roundtable discussions on topics of interest to tech leaders in the Southeast.  The insights provided for CEOs and CFOs at our May meeting were exceptional – – I’ve highlighted them below.


1. Set Strong, Measureable Goals – The CEO needs to determine the goals to be achieved by the company and articulate them to the team. The goals must be measureable and well publicized in the company. As described by one of the tech panelists with a military background, there must be “commander’s intent” — the leader must articulate his clear intentions leaving no doubt about the goals to be achieved.


2. Choose the harder “right” over the easier “wrong” – Entrepreneurs need to make the hard decisions — and make them quickly. With limited cash resources, an entrepreneur can’t afford to delay making a decision that could be vital to the business. Also, any delay in decision-making may be perceived as a sign of CEO weakness in the eyes of investors. Another tech leader described it this way: “Think, decide and act quickly.”


3. What’s the difference between vision and hallucination? Answer: Execution. Successful leaders set the vision for their company and let their teammates implement the plan. Too often, the vision is set, but the wrong players are in place and unable to execute successfully.


4. Figure out what you don’t do well — and don’t do it – This may sound simplistic, but many CEOs and entrepreneurial leaders try to take on all responsibilities or have everyone as a direct report. There is a corollary — surround yourself with people smarter than you are. Hiring may be the most important decision made by the CEO/entrepreneur and shouldn’t be abdicated to others. Surround yourself with a talented team who can fill in your gaps — and listen to them.


5. Encourage debate and controlled dissension in decision making – The CEOs on my panel commented that founding entrepreneurs often stultify their cohorts – the team would dare not challenge the boss for fear of losing their job. Team decisions were usually made with the subconscious question “what will the CEO think?” Leaders need to encourage open discussion and controlled debate on issues to surface the important considerations in reaching a thoughtful decision.


6. Listen to your Investors — but remember the Lemonade Stand analogy – A successful CEO on my panel made the comment – “my venture investors had never run a lemonade stand — but they always knew how to run it better than I could.” CEOs often remark that their favorite venture capitalists were those with firsthand experience as operators and former senior executives. The VCs with an operating background have much greater credibility in the eyes of the entrepreneur.


7. Always be open and honest – One turnaround CEO panelist emphasized this point — openness and honesty are key to leadership. For example, a CEO hired to turnaround a company should never proclaim that “there will be no more cuts” in the workforce — and then make more cuts soon thereafter. Once the CEO’s credibility is undermined, the team loses confidence and it’s time to replace senior leadership.


For more information on the Technology Executives Roundtable and membership criteria, see

This information is presented for educational purposes and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not of Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP; see disclaimer at Contact John Yates for more information at