How Not to Get Fired as an Executive

FiredAs an executive you have a strategy to increase value and drive the process of your company’s growth forward. You believe the cadence of your implementation plan is balanced. You believe that you have the support of your fellow executives, the board and VC(s). You believe you are doing all the right things to build and maintain revenue and are on target to reach $50M+. And then the rug is ripped out from under your feet. You’re out. Fired. Ouch.

From my experience in recruiting for executives within the startup community, New England executives’ abilities seem to be segmented based on revenue; $0-20M, $25M-50M, and $50M+. What is it that creates these barriers? As your company grows both in headcount and revenue, how do you safeguard against your company outgrowing you?

I connected with David Skok, of Matrix Partners, to get his take on the subject. As he points out, the nature of the job and the skills required to maintain traction changes as you move through those revenue bands- “There are quite a few examples of people that have successfully done this.” Skok continued saying: “Mike Volpe at HubSpot in the CMO role for instance. What it takes is someone that is exceptionally smart and able to learn new things – adaptable.”

From my perspective “adaptable” translates to being able to deal with change– change can be exhilarating, but when you can’t guarantee a positive outcome it can create doubt. It makes us question our abilities, our strategy, and our foresight. Part of being adaptable is having the courage to push those insecurities down and maintain a consistent vision. Here’s the thing – if we don’t change, we don’t progress. On a personal level, I have to cope with my own concerns of growing a company or changing direction when something I had hoped would work falls short. The fear of failure, of letting myself, my people and my clients down can cause resistance to change, but I don’t let that happen. Executives will fail when their insecurities become an impediment to change and that progress is stifled.

David also emphasizes the importance of strong leadership. “Executives”, he says, “need to have excellent people management skills, and the willingness to go from doer, to manager, to manager of managers”. After the years I have spent recruiting and working with executives, I have to say that to be truly successful as leader is an art, not a science. This said, I do believe you can certainly hone your craft. The most successful managers get that the people they lead have to be inspired on a personal level- they have their own insecurities and agendas. The strongest executives that I’ve worked with know the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals and don’t just lump them together as merely members of the team.

Running a stable and scalable organization within a high-growth company is hard, especially as you cross thresholds where you don’t have previous experience. Nothing great ever comes without risk and determination- such a cliché, yet true. Stifle the insecurities around change and keep a vision moving forward without the voices of doubt creeping in. For myself, I am always experimenting. As my own company grows, I have to create new roles, processes, and communication channels. I find going back and rethinking how things can work better, faster and simpler keeps my ego in check. And while I don’t have a board or investors, I do owe to the people who work for me the opportunities that a successful company affords.

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