Who do you want running a startup: an innovator or a CEO?
I answer that question with a question: are those the only options?
I’m fascinated by a comment from venture capitalist Ben Horowitz of Andreeson Horowitz in this NYTimes.com interview. Interviewer Nick Bilton asked why he “always advocates for entrepreneurs to stay at a startup when others want to fire them.” He answers:
… in general I have found it’s easier to teach an innovator how to be a C.E.O. instead of teaching a C.E.O. how to be an innovator.
Horowitz is a thinker, an analyst, a very successful and well-known venture capitalist, a partner with Mark Andreeson, and an Internet pioneer. His opinion counts. The fact that he says he usually argues for keeping the founder on, when companies falter, is important.
Still, think about what it takes to conceive and drive forward a high-tech business. I think of domain knowledge, insight, instinct, a lot of really hard work, and quite often a bit of obsession. Or a lot of it.
Now, think about what it takes to manage a group of people. I think of empathy, listening, leadership, following up on details, insight, instinct, a lot of really hard work, and quite often a bit of obsession.
Are innovators leaders? Are they managers? And for that matter, are leadership and management usually different qualities?
I really mistrust generalizations applied to business. Everything is case by case. So is this one.