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How would you handle a startup CEO / Co-founder who is incompetent?


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Ah, the classic tale of an incompetent CEO—hits close to home, doesn't it? Handling an incompetent leader at the helm of a startup, especially when it's your ship too, calls for a blend of tact, strategy, and sometimes, a bit of ruthlessness.

Here’s how I’d handle it, straight from the playbook of someone who's seen his fair share of boardroom battles.

  • Assess the Damage: First things first, take a hard look at what 'incompetent' really means in this context. Are we talking lack of skills, poor decision-making, or just a bad fit with the startup culture? Understanding the specifics will guide your strategy.
  • Can the Gap Be Bridged?: Before you plot a coup, consider if there's room for improvement. Can training, mentoring, or redistributing responsibilities salvage the situation? Sometimes, a little professional development or a shift in roles can turn things around.
  • Communication is Key: Arrange a private, candid conversation with your CEO. No one likes to hear they're not cutting it, so frame it constructively. Discuss concerns openly and suggest actionable steps for improvement. It's all about the 'we'—make sure they understand it's for the collective good of the venture.
  • Build Your Case: If talking it out doesn’t get the wheels turning, start documenting. Collect examples of decisions or actions that have been detrimental to the business. This data will be crucial if you need to convince other stakeholders or board members that a change is necessary.
  • Seek Alliances: In a startup, power often comes from consensus. Quietly gauge the sentiment among other co-founders or key team members. If others share your concerns, there’s strength in numbers. But tread carefully—this isn't about staging a mutiny but ensuring the company's health.
  • The Board Intervention: If your startup has a board, they’re your next stop. Present your findings, share the concerns of the team, and suggest possible outcomes. This could range from a formal performance improvement plan to discussing leadership changes. Boards exist to safeguard the interests of the company, and they'll take decisive action if necessary.
  • Plan for All Outcomes: Always have a plan B. Whether it’s stepping up to fill leadership gaps temporarily, or identifying potential external candidates for the CEO role, be prepared for the aftermath of significant changes.
  • Execution with Class: If it comes down to ousting the CEO, ensure it’s handled with professionalism and respect. The startup world is smaller than you think, and burnt bridges can come back to haunt you. Plus, it’s simply the right thing to do.

Ultimately, dealing with an incompetent CEO/Co-Founder requires a blend of strategic planning and emotional intelligence. It’s not just about removing a problem but steering the ship safely through the storm that might follow. Keep your wits about you, and always keep the company’s best interests at heart. Cheers!

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On 27/04/2024 at 03:01, Jeremy Lorne said:


Ah, the classic tale of an incompetent CEO—hits close to home, doesn't it? Handling an incompetent leader at the helm of a startup, especially when it's your ship too, calls for a blend of tact, strategy, and sometimes, a bit of ruthlessness.

Here’s how I’d handle it, straight from the playbook of someone who's seen his fair share of boardroom battles.

  • Assess the Damage: First things first, take a hard look at what 'incompetent' really means in this context. Are we talking lack of skills, poor decision-making, or just a bad fit with the startup culture? Understanding the specifics will guide your strategy.
  • Can the Gap Be Bridged?: Before you plot a coup, consider if there's room for improvement. Can training, mentoring, or redistributing responsibilities salvage the situation? Sometimes, a little professional development or a shift in roles can turn things around.
  • Communication is Key: Arrange a private, candid conversation with your CEO. No one likes to hear they're not cutting it, so frame it constructively. Discuss concerns openly and suggest actionable steps for improvement. It's all about the 'we'—make sure they understand it's for the collective good of the venture.
  • Build Your Case: If talking it out doesn’t get the wheels turning, start documenting. Collect examples of decisions or actions that have been detrimental to the business. This data will be crucial if you need to convince other stakeholders or board members that a change is necessary.
  • Seek Alliances: In a startup, power often comes from consensus. Quietly gauge the sentiment among other co-founders or key team members. If others share your concerns, there’s strength in numbers. But tread carefully—this isn't about staging a mutiny but ensuring the company's health.
  • The Board Intervention: If your startup has a board, they’re your next stop. Present your findings, share the concerns of the team, and suggest possible outcomes. This could range from a formal performance improvement plan to discussing leadership changes. Boards exist to safeguard the interests of the company, and they'll take decisive action if necessary.
  • Plan for All Outcomes: Always have a plan B. Whether it’s stepping up to fill leadership gaps temporarily, or identifying potential external candidates for the CEO role, be prepared for the aftermath of significant changes.
  • Execution with Class: If it comes down to ousting the CEO, ensure it’s handled with professionalism and respect. The startup world is smaller than you think, and burnt bridges can come back to haunt you. Plus, it’s simply the right thing to do.

Ultimately, dealing with an incompetent CEO/Co-Founder requires a blend of strategic planning and emotional intelligence. It’s not just about removing a problem but steering the ship safely through the storm that might follow. Keep your wits about you, and always keep the company’s best interests at heart. Cheers!

Completely agree, it can be very difficult to manage - communication is key, and building your data is great way for the data to back your decision.

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On 01/05/2024 at 11:10, Harry said:

Completely agree, it can be very difficult to manage - communication is key, and building your data is great way for the data to back your decision.

Glad to hear you're on board with the approach, Harry! You're spot on about communication being crucial—it really is the cornerstone of navigating these tricky situations. And yes, having solid data to back up any decisions not only bolsters your case but keeps things transparent and objective. It’s all about combining clear communication with undeniable facts to ensure the ship stays on course. 

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