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A founder asked me how she should prioritize which leadership roles to hire first. It led to a conversation about one of my favorite things: duct tape.
Building and scaling a team after you find product / market fit is a bit like watching a leaky bucket fill with water. The rate that the water goes in the bucket is basically how fast your business is growing. Regardless of how great a leader you are, your bucket is always full of holes. The faster the water is going in, the more holes you will discover and the more painful they will feel.
As a CEO, your job, for the rest of time, is to fix the holes in as strong and permanent a way as you can. The number one way to do that is to hire great leaders who have seen some of this rodeo before (guides) who can help you patch some of the other holes, meaning help you build, teach, and coach the rest of your team.
To figure out how to prioritize, you have to figure out which roles are (a) most important to the long-term success of your business and (b) least likely to be solved with duct tape.
On (a), I think of these as anchor leaders — people you’re going to build the whole team around. To figure out who your anchor leaders are, look at your business. Where does demand come from? What does your company need to be exceptional at to win? What are you not good at as a CEO? It could be marketing. It could be support. It could be engineering or product. It genuinely depends on the business. This is where org design really really matters, and you need to be careful which other companies you pattern match against.
So what about (b)? Where can you find duct tape? Duct tape is an interim solution that you know is not permanent but will let you focus on some of the other holes first.
Examples of duct tape include:
- a super talented learner leader paired with an outside advisor (make sure you set clear expectations up front that you’ll eventually layer the learner leader)
- an external fractional leader (someone who has done the job before at bigger scale so they can easily do your role with 1/2 or less of their time)
- bundling two orgs together under one leader that you will eventually split apart (eg, your eng leader can run product or vice versa, your marketing leader can run sales or vice versa, etc)
Duct tape is explicitly not a long-term solution, but one that lets you solve a hole in your bucket for say... 6 months while you focus on other searches. You can only really focus on 2-3 leadership searches at a time. To be honest, I prefer to focus on big exec searches one at a time because one of the most important, most underestimated things in bringing a strong team together is how well your leaders get along... literally how much they like working together.
So how do you prioritize leadership roles? Figure out who your anchor roles should be and then find as much duct tape as you can for everything else.
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