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You may burn your first professional manager.

It seems to be a rule, not an exception. The first professional senior manager that an entrepreneur hires to share the growing workload does not last more than a year.   Why?

Entrepreneurs start businesses with a strong vision of what and how, involved in every process from buying supplies to hiring and directly supervising early employees.  The culture of the company is built day by day by those actions, often centering on the founder’s vision and management style with little room for deviation.

At some point, as the company grows, either the founder’s span of control is stretched to the limit, or investors enter the picture, often with a clear idea of how they would like to

Available at and bookseller sites

Available at and bookseller sites

scale the company to grow quickly.  This happens predictably, either voluntarily in the case of the founder deciding that s/he needs help at or near the top, or involuntarily when investors insist upon the addition of professional leadership.

[Email readers, continue here…] If this new executive hire is the first for a founder or founding partners, and if the person is expected to relieve some portion of the that  executive workload, there is a predictable and great risk that the first person hired to do so will last only a short time at the company.

I’ve seen this happen so many times, it is almost a rule for me.  I warn the entrepreneur to be careful in the interview process, to expose the candidate to people at all levels of the company for buy-in, to be absolutely sure that there is a culture fit.  But most important of all, I warn the founder that s/he must be ready and able to let go, to delegate clearly, and to establish metrics for measuring the performance of the newly hired executive – but not to interfere with that person’s day to day management unless absolutely necessary.  I urge the founder to coach, but not to expect the new executive to be a duplicate in style or perceived ability.

It is an unhappy but common occurrence: the recently hired and trained professional manager is let go, and a new search started.  Luckily, in my experience, the second person hired for the job often is much more successful – usually not because the person is better at the job, but because the founder is more willing to delegate, expecting less a duplication of self.

If this is so common, is it not possible to be aware of the probability, and condition yourself to be more tolerant of someone else’s different style of leadership?  It might be a learning opportunity for the founder, often coming from one more experienced in the position and in growing company leadership.

  • Dave, this is great as I just hired a new Director of Operations and I find myself concerned about her style of management (looking for a clone as you suggest). Timely as always!

  • Jason Peterson

    I’ve found that ‘dating’ for a period of 3-6 months before hiring a senior manager is very helpful. Bring them on as an advisor or consultant first, see if they work well with the organization and grow the relationship as warranted. Most of the people you want already have jobs, so you’re trying to hire them away and this builds buy in from the prospective senior executive hire.

  • Dave, You are right on the money with this one. In my experience, the issue is most frequently with the founder’s inability to let go, to listen, and to micromanage, believing that they know best for everything. Your final question, because this is truly so common, isn’t there a way to avoid the trauma, to select better and to allow for delegation.

  • Dave, thanks for sending over all the great articles you write. What you are doing is very one of a kind.

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