If you go to my LinkedIn profile page, you’ll see that I’ve been Chief Executive Officer at Gainsight for six years and eight months.
But in some ways, it feels more like I’ve had six or seven different jobs during the span of time I’ve been lucky enough to lead. That’s because every year, our company’s strategy and needs change—and that means my job description changes every year too.
In year one of my tenure, we had to get our company on the map, figure out product-market fit, evangelize a new category. Heck—we even had to do things like get the office internet working! (Note to self: add “Office IT” to my Skills & Endorsements.) I was hired because our board believed I was the best candidate for the job (well, maybe not the wi-fi troubleshooting part of the job). But bringing a new brand to market and identifying product-market fit were both things I’d done before in my career.
But then the next step was to come up with a go-to-market that would give us early scale. For me, that meant pivoting away from my year one job description.
And the next step was to find a way to pull away from our competitors. That required a new strategy and a new kind of CEO.
And the next year we had to figure out how to sell to large companies. I needed to become a new CEO again.
Am I (still) the best candidate for the job?
This year, my company grew tremendously. We started selling multiple products and worked on building processes and financial profile for long-term sustainability.
The CEO that was on the floor troubleshooting the wi-fi router in 2013 isn’t the one my company needs now. And I say that light-heartedly, but it illustrates a larger point.
In 2013, my natural bias to action was a massive strength—whether it was fixing a router myself or going from idea to executing it in a split-second all on my own initiative. But now, if I don’t channel that instinct more methodically, with a willingness to pause, ponder, and plan, we will execute ourselves to nowhere.
Back then, my desire to just do more kept us constantly accelerating forward. Now, if I don’t complement that with a willingness to do less and to get more efficient, our company will never achieve the business results we know it can.
Before, my transparency and tendency toward “flatness” of culture was an asset in bringing everyone together at once. Now, if I don’t equally focus on team building at the executive team level, we’ll never empower our leaders to drive their own areas.
In short, I’ve figured out my company needs a new CEO every 12 months.
But am I still the best candidate?
That means I need to become the best candidate.
CEOs on the chopping block?
It’s never going to make sense for a company to fire their CEO every year, hire a new one, ramp them, and expect to get anywhere before those 12 months are up. That would be wildly unfeasible even if it was 24 months and not 12.
But if you’re a CEO, you need to fire yourself. Every year.
Okay, let’s put that in quotes—you need to “fire” yourself.
In other words, you need to become a new kind of leader—who you were hired to be in year one isn’t you who need to be in year two. And then year three will be different too. I’d encourage you even in the midst of the busy-ness of planning out the next fiscal year to put together a job description for the ideal CEO to execute on your strategy, and figure out how you can become that CEO.
And I would also generalize this to other people in leadership positions. It’s not just the CEO role that changes rapidly, on a year-to-year basis or faster.
Above “identifying product-market fit” or “enterprise leadership,” your top skills need to be self-awareness and adaptability—and those are skills, not talents. They’re learned and honed as much as or more than they are innate.
So as I plan out our strategy for our next fiscal year (starting in February), I’m contemplating what kind of CEO my company needs. And I’m hoping I get the job!