Decision Making: Earlier, Faster, and with More Conviction

A recent Harvard study called The CEO Genome Project was conducted which attempted to understand what made successful CEOs so… well, successful, and what characteristics and behaviors really set them apart.

The too-long, didn’t-read top-line are listed out as these four findings and critical observations:

Successful CEOs have been found to:

  1. Decide with Conviction and Speed
  2. Practice Relentless Reliability
  3. Are Relationship Masters
  4. Are Proactive in Adapting to Changing Circumstances

You can read more specifics via the HBR article here.

I can confirm that the most successful CEOs that I personally know exhibit most if not all of these characteristics. Now, it’s worth mentioning that most of the CEOs that I know run early-stage startups and are new and seasoned entrepreneurs; I just don’t know that many Fortune 5,000 CEOs in my personal rolodex.

The CEO (and the founding team) in the context of an early-stage startup are the sources of energy and truth for the larger team and for getting things done.

They must relentlessly move things forward because speed and velocity and momentum are the only real competitive advantages that a startup truly has and the team either has it or it doesn’t.

Either the CEO models this behavior or they do not and if they tolerate early team members who cannot decide with speed and conviction then everyone is sunk. And then you’re sunk because everyone is directly impacted by drag.

But, again, it starts with the CEO and founding team.

This is a difficult balance, by the way, because you must hold many of these guiding principles at the exact same time, many of which seem and appear to be at odds with one another.

For instance, how can a leader act with speed and conviction and then, soon thereafter, feel okay with completely changing course based on circumstances and the rapid changes that inevitably arise?

It seems contradictory, to be honest, but, this goes back to velocity and conviction. You make decisions quickly and commit yourself to them knowing that they could change at any moment. As HBR says it best:

Good CEOs realize that a wrong decision may be better than no decision at all.

Decision making is an art and a science and regardless of the individual CEO’s personal mixology when it comes to art and science it is vastly more important that the decide in the first place, especially in early-stage ventures.

And, of course, it’s entirely okay to change one’s mind (and be ruthlessly open minded). Good CEOs do this all the time without feeling regret.

Move quickly, evolve, or die in the process. Move fast and with conviction and you’ll have the chance to fight the continual fight against the many forces that attempt to slay your new project.

This is not hyperbole, it is a fact. And, it starts with great decision making at the top that models that for the rest of the staff as it works its way downward.

In this way it’s very much a team sport and a team made of fast-moving decision makers is one worth paying attention to.

[Another take on this that’s worth reading is from Tomasz Tunguz.]