In March, Ben Horowitz published “The Sad Truth About Developing Executives“, at Re/Code.
For me, it’s been a browser tab that I didn’t want to close. It’s because leadership – successes and failures by the senior leadership team – are really interesting. They shape products, which in turn shape people’s lives, and shape companies. Or, alternatively, they fail to do so.
In reading Ben’s piece, it’s important to distinguish between times when the CEO shares his/her detailed reasoning and the values driving a decision, vs. taking the time for one-on-one development. The former happens all the time and, in one sense, it’s a type of “development”. The one-on-one kind – what Ben is addressing – isn’t something the CEO can afford to spend time on, directly. Instead, on the issue of executive skills, the CEO’s time is better spent upstream — in hiring. (A good use of any leader’s time, to say the least.) Bold emphasis below is Ben’s.
My greatest disappointment as CEO was the day I realized that helping my executives develop their skill sets was a bad idea. Up to that point in my career, I prided myself on my ability to develop people and get the most out of them. In my jobs running product management, product marketing and engineering, developing young talent was the most rewarding part of the job. Helping them learn to manage, improve their judgment and be more effective in their domains made my organizations better, and people genuinely appreciated the effort. […]
Executives are compensated for their existing ability, and therefore should not be evaluated on their potential. While it’s common practice and a good idea to take potential into account with regular employees, this methodology does not work well for executives. When you hire an executive, he will demand around 1 percent of the company. How do you explain to a great engineer with less than one-fifth that amount of stock that you are waiting for the executive’s potential to kick in?