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Understanding Your Role as a CTO When Scaling

Delegate
Leadership
Scaling Team
Sharing the vision

5 June, 2019

Adam Kanouse, the current CTO at Evive and former CTO at Narrative Science, discusses the proper steps for a CTO to take to grow with the business as it scales and continue to create great products as quickly as possible.

Problem

I often hear from CEO's that "the people who got us here are not the right people to take us to the next stage." While I agree that sometimes the company's needs do not align with what an individual wants to be doing, I think it's naive to think that really smart, motivated people can not adjust to a business' changing needs, especially since that change never happens over night. What does a technology leader need to do to move into a CTO role or continue to run the technology organization at a fast scaling company?

Approach

Relinquish control. It is natural for technology leaders to want to control everything around them. Often times, that is how you made it to your current position. When things needed to get done, you took control and delivered. However, to remain in a leadership position as a company or team is scaling, you need to do the opposite. There will be too many decisions that need to be made for you to be involved in all of them, and you'll drive yourself and your team crazy if you are constantly in and out of the details trying to be involved in everything.

Specific Recommendations

  • The first thing to do is have people you trust making the day to day decisions. You need to hire and train really smart people and give them the autonomy to make decisions and make some mistakes. They do not need to think like you - the best teams have diversity of thought, but they should be accountable, responsive, and represent your company as a leader.
  • The second, equally important step is to create boundaries. At Narrative Science we defined a 3-year vision for what our platform could do which was directionally correct. Then we defined guiding principles for the specific decisions that would be made around the products. For example one of the principles was "intelligence over customization." This meant that if deciding between giving our users more control or make a smarter product that solve the problem, we'd choose the smarter product. Having 3-5 guiding principles will help the teams make better decisions
  • The third step is to embrace your role as a leader. This means many things, but ultimately tying your own success to the success of your teams and the company. Not every technology leader wants this, and that is OK. However, if you want to be that executive who scales with your business, embrace the change, reach out for help, and be open and honest with your CEO about what it means for you and your team.

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