“What does [did] it take to be[come] CEO?” Answer: Goals / Failure / Reality

StrengthsFinder is a great way to talk about personal motivations (Learner, Activator, Strategic, Context and Input). DiSC profiles (Persuader / Inspirational) are also helpful – but this tool still feels more tailored to corporate HR. StrengthsFinder is an amazing framework for leaders to understand what tools to use in becoming CEO.

1/ A goal.


The goal was to fly.

Sometimes it is really clear what **not** to do, but not really clear what should be done. It can be obvious how to not lose, but still be hazy in understanding what ‘winning’ would look like.

Through my time in manufacturing as an operator and investor – it became clear to me what winning would look like for our technology. It was also clear that we weren’t working towards that goal – in fact we were still doing a lot of ‘obvious losing’ type activities.

Articulating a clear vision can be hard. Communicating strategy clearly in an organization can be difficult (it even says so in both of my possible DiSC profiles). Alignment is not easy to build. However, it is better for someone to have that vision, and have the constraint be communication and alignment, than for the organization to not have a clear target or definition of success.  We were the leader in our space – our goal was to grow that space and create sustainable long term business.

“Accomplishments are measured against realistic expectations.” – Jalen and Jacoby Podcast

Strategic – There was a vision of success. The business was adrift in an ocean of complexity – but it was clear that the constraint was in developing end market solutions. Without that, everything was luck.

Context – The success was defined within the reality of the market and technology we were in.

3/ Comfort with failure.

Three of us were sharing the CEO role when I was asked to take over. The previous Group CEO (I was #10 to have ‘CEO’) in my title, had left us in that spot for a year after his resignation. Any of my other colleagues could have done it. The board could have done a search, or a chairman could have stepped in. I hate losing and I was tired of it.

“I hate losing and I was tired of it.”

Better to fail at a new role, pursuing a winnable end game, rather than watch another person have to come up to speed on the needs of our customers and capabilities of our technology. As a senior in highschool I’d avoided voting for myself to be captain of the volleyball team – only to lose by one. My friend, who voted for himself, became captain with the help of my vote. Not again – any egalitarian view of leadership had been lost.

Strategic – It was clear that the time that it would take to bring someone else up to speed was too great. Either I could do it, or we would fail in leadership purgatory before someone else came on.

Activator – It was better to step into a difficult position rather than simply ‘hope’ that would everything would be okay.

3/ Willingness to talk about reality.

Our plans to achieve our goals were not robust. The financial plans did not build off of the operating plans and neither interacted with the technology plans. When this became clear it was clear our duty as management was to have this conversation, rather than hide from it. Everywhere our observations about reality were doubted – but we were the only ones doing the work.


Pirie’s book is a classic on how to frame, and deal with, problem resolution.

If a team had done no planning – they lost the right to complain about a mediocre plan that needed work (the fallacy of damning the alternative). If the sales plans failed, then I expected my colleagues to hold me accountable and identify the gaps. If the board asked for a plan – we needed to either admit problems and ask for time or be prepared to share some painful updates.

To achieve a goal, leaders need to create a map. Without defining reality, we don’t know where we are on the map.

Input – Input is all about taking the right piece of information and delivering it where it is needed. It’s like a person with an API that serves up connections / tidbits as needed. Input collects data and feeds it to the model that defines reality.

Learner – Modern education espouses multi-disciplinary learning – but this is definitely true in electrospinning and in any application of fiber science. Too often new market entrants would try to over simplify a problem – only to have it be a fundamental constraint to achieving their goal.

[The business card images came from here.]

About flybrand1976

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1 Response to “What does [did] it take to be[come] CEO?” Answer: Goals / Failure / Reality

  1. Pingback: “What does it take to be CEO?” Reflections a year after leaving. | Fred Lybrand

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