Why Startup Founders Don’t Want to be Startup CEOs

As a Startup Founder with more than a handful of employees and a bit of traction you are quickly confronted with an obstacle.  You need to be more than a Founder. You need to simultaneously be a CEO.  But what motivates you, excites you, gives you passion as a Founder just isn’t there when you need to put on your CEO cap.  Let me share with you some of the differences in the two roles and offer one piece of advice.

In the career management literature, there are 4 career path preferences. Your career path preference is highly indicative of your overall job satisfaction. They are:

  1. Specialist
  2. Generalist
  3. Entrepreneur
  4. Manager.

These “career path” labels offer researchers a way of grouping people who share a similar set of underlying interests, values, motives and anchors.

Motivational Anchors for Entrepreneurs

As entrepreneurs, we thrive on diverse projects or problems with measurable and visible outcomes. Typical motivational anchors are:

  • Autonomy,
  • Variety,
  • Risk,
  • Challenge,
  • Change and
  • Freedom from constraints

These are the reasons we get up in the morning, get excited about what we are doing, “float our boat”.

Motivational Anchors for Managers

The research literature tells us that people who prefer a Managerial path are interested in increasing power and authority (although you’ll probably need to get them tipsy before they’ll admit it). Typical motivational anchors are:

  • Power,
  • Influence,
  • Leadership,
  • Control,
  • Status,
  • Managerial competence and
  • Directing others

These anchors are not motivating to us.  Most of us have spent our work lives and often our personal lives trying to get away from those who possess and inflict these qualities on us.  Now as a new CEO we are being told we have to demonstrate these anchors in order to be successful.  Not fun.

Motivational Anchors Are Intrinsic Motivators

Intrinsic motivators are strong predictors of what people are able to focus on over long periods of time. There isn’t a lot of overlap between the manager and entrepreneur anchors. If you’re forced to figure out ways to lead, control, direct, etc. when you really want to be doing things like working autonomously, taking risks and thinking outside the box, which set of activities are likely to win your attention?

You could say that you’re managing because you want to build a great company, change the world and be set for life in 5 years. That’s fine, but these are all extrinsic motivators. Extrinsic motivators are very, very ineffective sources of motivation over the long run.

The transition from entrepreneur to manager is made that much more difficult because of the conflict between your external motivators (you want to built a great company and create generational wealth) and your intrinsic motivators.

Even for those who have the intrinsic motivation genetic pre-disposition to be both a great manager and leader, it’s really hard to learn the new skills and behaviors and habits that are actually required to get the job done.

But what if you don’t have the intrinsic motivation?

We’ve all seen the best engineer or sales guy (specialists) who love their job and are killing it for the company, so they get promoted to management.

These “rockstars” turned managers are happy for a while because they got a fat raise and a title (extrinsic motivators), but eventually they realize how much they hate managing/influencing/wrangling others all day. Usually they start to hate life and will either burn out or leave.

Pretty much the same forces are at work when an entrepreneurial founder has no choice but to become a manager. There is a way through it. Leadership can be taught and, once you figure it out, it is rewarding.

So here is my one piece of advice.  Don’t fight it.  Accept it and get on with mastering what you need to learn.  It is the only path available to bring your great idea to life.

In the next part of the series, we’ll explore how you can get started with your own leadership development plan. It will be tough, but it’s up to you to take the first step.

This is part 3 of an ongoing series to help startup founders successfully transition to startup CEO. In part 1 I acknowledged that even though management is a weakness, but cannot be ignored. In part 2 I talked about how startup founders typically aren’t born with a taste for leadership.