Wednesday was an emotional day for me as I officially handed over the CEO reins at Acceleration Partners to my long-time number two, Matt Wool. This is a transition we have been planning together for over two years, as I shared this week in a speech to the company and in a blog post.
I have been at the head of the company I founded for almost 15 years, leading it from inception to almost 270 global employees today. It’s been the joy of a lifetime and one of my proudest accomplishments. This prompts two questions: why step aside, and why now?
Over the years I’ve seen too many cases where a leader’s identity becomes intertwined with their business; this is especially common with founders. This situation creates a reality distortion field, where leaders struggle to recognize both what they actually enjoy doing and what is best for their business.
Starting and growing a business is often an entrepreneur’s greatest accomplishment outside of their family, and part of that reward is taking the coveted title of CEO. It’s a badge of achievement and validation that is tough to give up once it has been earned.
But that title, and everything it requires, can cause leaders to lose sight of what they really want. As with many things in life, it’s important to put your ego aside, pick up your head every once in a while, and ask yourself two important questions:
What do I love to do?
What does my current role or business require?
For many people, the answers are not the same.
Over the past few years, I came to realize that what I love most is building, creating and teaching. The moments I enjoy most as CEO are elevating people on my team, identifying a vision for the future of our industry, fulfilling once in a lifetime wishes for employees, helping our emerging leaders discover their whys and core values, and seeing team members reap the rewards of something they helped to build.
While these priorities might perfectly suit the CEO of a 50-person company, these are not the primary responsibilities of a CEO of a global company with over 270 employees. I have always asked my team to be objective in their decision-making and to prioritize what is best for the business, their teams and themselves, in that order. From that lens, I concluded that the current responsibilities of the CEO at AP are more aligned to the abilities of someone else on my team.
Patrick Lencioni addressed this exact phenomenon in his 2020 book, The Motive. While I had already come to this conclusion, this book really illuminated and solidified the why behind that choice.
There are a few key responsibilities of a CEO. The first is to set the organization’s strategy, the second is to be accountable for its results and the third is to build, lead and manage the team of executive officers. Lencioni argues that this last responsibility is actually the most important. The foremost responsibility of a CEO is literally to be the chief executive; yet the leadership team at the company I lead does not report to me today, by design.
As AP has grown over the past several years, I am fortunate that I have been able to focus on the aspects of the business I enjoyed most. This was possible because I had someone who complemented my skillset and had their eye on the day-to-day operations of the company.
I have many flaws as a leader, but I have always tried to hire people who are smarter than me. It makes little sense to hire talented people just to tell them what to do; it should be the other way around. Likewise, any leader who prioritizes the growth of their team should genuinely want their best people to be positioned to take their job one day. And I am happy to see that day arrive for me, on schedule.
As for the future, I will continue to be an active employee at Acceleration Partners and am looking forward to embracing my new role of Founder and Chairman of the Board. I am going to continue to focus on our culture, our M&A strategy, industry thought leadership, and developing our next generation of leaders. At the same time, I will be learning how to be a more valuable board member both inside and outside of AP.
By decoupling my identity from my title, I also expect to learn some new things about myself, find new ways to make my biggest contribution and discover unexpected sources of fulfillment and meaning. I am excited for Matt, I am excited for myself and I am excited for company.
Quote of The Week
“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”
– Sheryl Sandberg