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CxO Relations

"With great power comes great responsibility" - Voltaire

Introduction

As a CTO, mastering effective communication and building strong relationships with key stakeholders is paramount to success. Effective collaboration with other C-level board members enables you to leverage their expertise and insights. Each executive brings a unique perspective and set of skills to the table, and by working together, you can tap into a wealth of knowledge and experience.

This chapter delves into the essential skills and strategies every CTO needs to cultivate to forge solid connections with their CEO and CFO. It explores aligning technology vision with organizational objectives, and effectively translating technical concepts into business terms.

CEO Relations

Building a solid relationship with your CEO is a journey that requires dedication, collaboration, and continuous improvement. It requires consistent communication, transparency, and reliability. One way to demonstrate trustworthiness is by following through on commitments and delivering high-quality work. Another way is by being honest and upfront about any challenges or setbacks that may arise.

Building trust with your CEO is essential to a successful working relationship. It requires consistent communication, transparency, and reliability. Demonstrate trustworthiness by following through on commitments and delivering high-quality work. Be honest and upfront about any challenges or setbacks that may arise.

Understand and sympathize with your advancing CEO's primary goals and how they align with your technology vision and strategy. This requires a deep understanding of your CEO's vision and priorities and the ability to identify and prioritize their goals. Actively listen to your CEO and ask strategic questions.

"A CEO's job is to always be in motion, to always be looking for the next opportunity." - Richard Branson

Consistently manage and align your mutual expectations by having open and honest conversations with your CEO about what is feasible and what is not. There is no such thing as bad news. Owning the problem, presenting the information without emotion or blame, and standing as a team will help you navigate challenges in keeping your relationship with the CEO trustworthy.

Types of CEO

Clear and effective communication with your CEO is crucial for a successful working relationship. It's important to establish open lines of communication from the start and to be transparent about your goals and expectations. Speak the language of leadership.

You may encounter different types of CEOs and their challenges. But not all CEOs are created equal. Some come from a non-technical background, while others think they know more than they do.

  1. Non-technical: Dismissing a non-technical CEO is easy, but they should be taken seriously. They may need a handle on the technology but understand its importance to the customer. And then there are those CEOs who think they know technology but don't. It's up to you to educate them and help them understand the complexities of your work.

  2. Technical: The one who speaks your language and understands the challenges you face. But even they can forget some day-to-day challenges and quickly dismiss them as unimportant. It's up to you to remind them of the importance of your work and how it contributes to the company's success.

And then there are the rare few who truly understand the technical side of things. Translate complex technical concepts into clear, inspiring terms that resonate with the CEO. Your ability to bridge the tech-business gap can foster unparalleled collaboration.

Regular bilateral meetings with the CEO are an excellent opportunity for you to showcase your strategy and expertise. These conversations can be incredibly insightful and help you identify any changes that need to be made to your system to align with the company's long-term plans. By keeping these meetings on a regular schedule, you can build a strong relationship with your CEO and develop a deep understanding of their vision.

Narcism: Be aware that there is strong correlation between being a successful founder and having narcissistic personality traits. Narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance and think of themselves as superior to others. As an entrepreneur, you need to have confidence in your vision and be able to convince others to believe in it too. The belief themself is what keeps them going in tough times and helps you create a unique product or service.

Founders with narcissistic traits refuse to be sidetracked by distractions and setbacks because they believe that they are the best, which can be advantageous in the competitive world of entrepreneurship. Narcissism is often associated with a willingness to take risks, because narcissists tend to be impulsive and make quick decisions. However, this can also be a double-edged sword and can result in poor decision making if not kept in check.

"When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose." - Brene Brown

Managing CEO

CEOs are often optimistic and driven, which can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, their enthusiasm can inspire and motivate the team to achieve great things. On the other hand, their optimism can sometimes lead to unrealistic expectations and poor decision-making.

Knowing your CEO's personality, what motivates them, what success looks like for them, and whether they are a detailed, micromanaged, or big-picture type—knowing how your CEO ticks will help you communicate more effectively with them.

Regardless of the type of CEO you're working with, it's up to you to lead them as much as they show you. You have the knowledge and expertise to remove the logistics and headaches from their desks, allowing them to focus on the business of business. No CEO or boss likes surprises.

Knowing your CEO at a deeper level will help you communicate more effectively with them. It is perfectly okay to ask questions about your CEO's background, previous experience, what motivates them, what makes them happy or sad, what success looks like, and whether they are a detailed/micromanager or a big-picture type.

Managing your CEO is about more than just keeping them happy or meeting their demands. It's about building a solid and successful partnership that benefits you and your organization. Understanding your CEO's goals, communicating effectively, managing expectations, and building trust can create a mutually beneficial relationship that drives success and growth.

CEO Behaviors

CEOs are highly influential individuals in a company, and their actions can have a significant impact on the organization as a whole. While most CEOs are hardworking and ethical individuals, there are times when their behavior can be detrimental to the company and its employees. As a CTO, it is your responsibility to ensure that the actions of your CEO do not negatively affect the company's culture and its employees.

Being a CTO can be a challenging job, especially when you have to deal with a founder CEO who may be set in their ways and difficult to work with. It can be frustrating when your CEO tries to push you in directions you don't want to go, or when they make decisions without consulting you first. In some cases, this can even turn into disrespectful, belittling and bullying behavior.

"You cannot shame or belittle people into changing their behaviors." - Brené Brown

One of the first steps in dealing with a bullying CEO is to understand where their behavior is coming from. In many cases, it stems from a need for control or a fear of failure. Founder CEOs, in particular, may feel very invested in their company and can be sensitive to any criticism or challenges to their authority. By understanding their motivations, you may be able to approach the situation more sympathetically and find ways to work together better.

Another key to avoiding being bullied by your CEO is to communicate assertively and clearly. Don't be afraid to express your thoughts and opinions, even if they conflict with your CEO's ideas. Make sure you are conveying your points in a respectful manner, but don't allow yourself to be talked down or belittled. If necessary, practice your communication skills before meetings or important conversations to help you stay grounded and focused.

If you find that your CEO is frequently crossing lines or behaving in ways that make you uncomfortable, it may be time to set boundaries. This can include things like making it clear that you won't tolerate yelling or personal attacks, or insisting on certain protocols for communication or decision-making. Again, make sure you are approaching these conversations in a respectful and professional way, but also be firm in your stance.

Dealing with a bully CEO can be isolating and stressful, so it's important to seek out allies and support systems. This can include coworkers who are facing similar challenges, HR representatives, or even outside mentors or coaches. Having someone to talk to and share experiences with can help you stay grounded and maintain perspective, even when things get difficult.

Recognize when a situation is untenable and it's time to move on. If you've tried communicating, setting boundaries, and seeking support and still find that your CEO is behaving in ways that are unethical or harmful, it may be necessary to walk away. Your well-being and mental health are too important, and you deserve to work in an environment that is respectful and supportive.

Managing CFO

As a CTO, you understand the importance of having a holistic view of your department's operations, including its financial aspects. By understanding your department's financials, you can show the value that your team provides to the company. Every dollar you ask for should be mentally justified by the return it will bring to the company.

You must build a good working relationship with your CFO to achieve this. The CFO reports all numbers to the CEO, board, and government. By understanding what the CFO needs, you can align your department's budget with their wants and needs, making their job easier. When they can count on and trust your budgets, you will have a more robust partnership that benefits your department and the company.

The secret to a good relationship with your CFO is to avoid surprises. They want predictability and dependability on your numbers. If you can prove you can be trusted with your figures when it comes to budget approval, your life will become much more manageable. By demonstrating your reliability and trustworthiness in managing your finances, you'll be in a much better position to secure the budget approvals you need to continue driving innovation and growth.

Take the time to get to know your numbers and meet with your CFO periodically to review your expenditure sheet. This will not only help you avoid any surprises but also give you a better understanding of your burn rate. Let the finance department track your expenditures and identify areas where you may be overspending or double-counting expenses. Don't let unforeseen costs or surprises catch you off guard.

 

Summary

As a CTO, you understand the importance of building solid relationships with your CEO and CFO. By listening to your CEO and understanding their primary goals, you can align your technology vision and strategy to achieve common objectives. Being honest and upfront about any challenges or setbacks demonstrates trustworthiness and helps build a foundation of mutual understanding. Consistently managing and aligning expectations through open and honest conversations ensures that you can navigate challenges together and maintain a trustworthy relationship.

To forge a strong connection with your CEO, it is crucial to build trust and demonstrate your expertise. By following through on commitments, delivering high-quality work, and being honest about any challenges, you can establish yourself as a reliable partner. Understanding your CEO's goals and priorities allows you to align your technology vision with their vision, fostering collaboration and driving the organization forward. Actively listening to your CEO and asking strategic questions can deepen your understanding of their goals and help you identify and prioritize their needs.

Similarly, establishing a good working relationship with your CFO is vital for success. By understanding their needs and aligning your department's budget with their goals, you create a strong partnership based on trust and reliability. Demonstrating your ability to manage finances effectively and providing clear justifications for budget requests strengthens your position and secures the necessary resources for innovation and growth. Regularly reviewing your expenditure sheet and communicating openly with your CFO about financial matters allows you to avoid surprises and maintain a solid working relationship.

Reflections

As a CTO ask yourself the following:

  1. How can you effectively communicate your technology vision and strategy to your CEO, ensuring alignment with their goals and priorities?

  2. What strategies can you employ to build trust and a strong working relationship with your CEO, fostering open and transparent communication?

  3. How can you bridge the gap between technology and business, translating complex technical concepts into clear and inspiring terms that resonate with your CEO and the rest of the organization?

Takeaways

Your takeaways from this chapter:

  1. Building a solid relationship with your CEO and CFO drives your organization forward.

  2. Listen to your CEO and understand their primary goals to align your technology vision and strategy to achieve common objectives.

  3. Be honest and upfront about any challenges or setbacks that may arise to demonstrate trustworthiness.

  4. Manage and align mutual expectations by having open and honest conversations with your CEO about what is feasible and what is not.

  5. Anticipate challenges and lead with solutions to drive the whole organization forward.

  6. Speak the language of leadership and translate complex technical concepts into clear and inspiring terms that resonate with the CEO.

  7. Build a good working relationship with your CFO by understanding what they need and aligning your department's budget with their wants and needs.

  8. Demonstrate your reliability and trustworthiness in managing your finances to secure the budget approvals you need to drive innovation and growth.

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