When the Problem is the CEO

I recently had a conversation with a young developer who was struggling with the sales side of the start-up he works for.

He asked me if I could tell him why they weren’t picking up sales at a faster rate. Without knowing anything about his business, I search their company on Google and asked him to give me the summary of what makes them different from their competitors.

As he talked about the start-up’s unique features, it was apparent they had a great product and filled a niche area.


As I read through Google, the problem became apparent.

They are a B2C company with minimal marketing, and what does exist was amateur at best.

With each question I asked about the marketing strategy, the answer was the same, “I feel the same way, but I can’t convince the CEO.”

You see, this start-up is a small company that developed an app. The staff consists of a CEO, a CTO, and one developer.


Do You See the Problem?

Where is the marketer?! Turns out, the CEO, convinced of his own brilliance in creating the app is also convinced of his own brilliance in all areas of the business.

Watching his one good idea come to fruition has lead him to believe all of his ideas are great, regardless of the feedback he is getting from his team.

The CEO, rather than focusing his attention on his leadership duties, spent his time on marketing. He purchased a few graphics he thought were funny and began to create the company art on what I assume to be Windows Paint. The graphics are cartoonish and in no way relevant to the technology product they are trying to launch.



With the CEO trying to be the marketer and leader, the company’s social presence is abysmal.

They have a Facebook page with 1 like. No blog. No ratings. No strategy.

The website is the best (and really only) marketing they have going for them. But even that wasn’t putting their best foot forward.

Again, the developer wanted to create a different design for the site but was overruled by the CEO. Like everything else, the website came off as amateur due to the CEO’s interference.

And unknown to the CEO, he was about to drive his developer away!


The CEO is a leader who doesn’t know how to lead.

Being a CEO doesn’t mean you are an expert in everything or a natural leader. CEO’s have the vision for the company. They have the bravery to truly gamble their idea is worthwhile. They have the drive to pursue their dreams. But this doesn’t mean they have the skills to execute the vision without a trusted team.


Successful CEOs CAN:

  • Motivate and inspire their teams.
  • Understand each facet of the business. (Understanding is not doing!)
  • Focus on their most impactful contributions to the business in strategy and operations.
  • Build deep relationships with their teams, forming trust and mutual understanding.
  • Continuously develop their self-awareness, listening skills, and communication skills.


New CEOs, particularly in the start-up environment, often do not understand how to lead. If you think of a CEO as a ship Captain, their role is to ultimately steer the ship in the right direction. They have an advisory team who report on the crew status, the weather, the route, etc. in order for the Captain to make educated and informed decisions.

If a ship Captain made operating the sails their priority, who would steer? 

I gave this young developer some marketing ideas to gain reach to their potential customers, but most importantly, I told him a hard truth…

When faced with a leader who isn’t leading, you must take matters into your hands in the areas you control. I find the most effective approach is to convince them with tangible quality. Ask for forgiveness rather than permission.

A good leader (or in this case a developing leader) will be able to see the quality once it is produced, even if they couldn’t imagine it before. By proving you are trustworthy, and excellent in your area, the CEO should let go of those reigns.

People who have been bold with their own dreams often appreciate the boldness, drive, and passion others bring to the table.

And if the CEO can’t recognize real quality…it’s time to leave the sinking ship!


The proof is in the outcome…

For this young programmer, he decided to sit the CEO down for a long, uninterrupted meeting and lay it all out. He went through everything he disliked about the website, the marketing, the strategy, and the leadership. With each criticism, he offered solutions. While his tough love conversation sent the CEO into a small existential crisis, he finally heard the words of his team.

As a team, they are building the business but also building a new leader.


Having Leaders in Leadership Roles is Key to Success. 


Braedi Leigh