CEO prep. Big Red Car here in a gray and foreboding ATX, y’all. Talking CEO prep today.
Folks are not born having the skills and aptitude to become a CEO. It is a learned skill and that raises the question — how do we learn to become a CEO, Big Red Car?
Let me ‘carsplain it to y’all.
How do other professions do this, Big Red Car?
The Army develops leaders — brand new shavetail, green, butter bar Second Lieutenants to lead platoons. It is where all the Generals come from. They were all Second Lieutenants once upon a time. In combat, lots of platoon leaders get killed. It is a tough assignment.
[Fire teams make up squads. Squads make up platoons. Platoons make up companies. Battalions. Brigades. Divisions. Corps. Armies. Army groups.]
Typical platoon has 42-50 men depending on the branch (infantry, armor, artillery, combat engineers).
You get privates, PFCs (privates first class), specialists, buck sergeants, staff sergeants, sergeant first class (platoon sergeant). You report to a Captain (company commander, CO, commanding officer) who commands the company and there is an XO (first lieutenant) who is the CO in waiting.
The typical Second Lieutenant has been to a military school like West Point, VMI, the Citadel, Norwich, Texas A&M and has spent four years in a classroom and in the field preparing for his first assignment as a platoon leader. There is also a summer or two at camp and, maybe, Ranger School and Airborne School. It is a lot of preparation for their first assignment.
This is The Boss back in the platoon leader days.
When you then go out to the real Army, you get a platoon with a platoon sergeant who takes one look at you and thinks, “Another Second Lieutenant to break to the freakin’ bit. What have I done to deserve this?”
The platoon sergeant will never become your friend but he will wean you and teach you and, if you have the right attitude, he will make you into a competent platoon leader.
If you want to accelerate the learning process, you will learn these words by heart:
“Sergeant Jones, what do you advise on this matter?”
“Well, lieutenant, I’ve been in this man’s Army for about thirty years and I’ve done this about a million times and the best way to do it is thus and such.”
You will take a minute to look at him trying to look smart while posing in your wise and thoughtful countenance. You may even look at him for a second with your finger across your lip nodding sagely.
“Make it so, Sergeant Jones, and thank you for your advice.”
Whereupon Sergeant Jones will say, “Yes, sir. Good idea.”
If the platoon sergeant does his job well, six months later you are a platoon leader and if ordered to attack a hill or cross a river, you can get your platoon to obey your orders.
It is a long, tedious, hard process making a platoon leader. It is similarly challenging to make a CEO.
One night around a campfire somewhere, your platoon sergeant will look at you over a whiskey (which you likely bought for him) and say, “You’re OK, lieutenant.”
This is your graduation exercise and it is all that you will ever receive in the way of positive feedback.
What can I do to learn the CEOing business, Big Red Car?
You, budding entrepreneur, can learn to become a CEO in a similar manner.
First, after understanding what a platoon leader goes through to learn their trade, take it seriously and understand it isn’t going to happen over a three day weekend. It is hard and it will take time but you will learn. I promise you that.
[Stop for a second — The Boss was a CEO for 33 years after spending 5 years in the Army as a platoon leader and a company commander. The last company he commanded was grossly over strength and he had to command more than 400 soldiers from time to time when the TOE (table or organization and equipment) was 186 men in a combat engineer company. He was in his mid-twenties.
Any reasonably intelligent person can be taught to be a journeyman like CEO. Any reasonable intelligent person can be self-taught to be a journeyman like CEO. It is not rocket science. You can do it. It will take longer than getting a tattoo in South Beach. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.]
You need to do a handful of things — plan, learn, observe, communicate, write it down, practice, jump into the fray.
Cut the crap, Big Red Car, tell me EXACTLY what to do
The first thing is to resolve that this is truly what you want to do. In Jackson Arch at the Virginia Military Institute (pictured above) there is a saying attributed to Stonewall Jackson who taught at VMI: “You may be whatever you resolve to be.”
So, first, say to yourself, “I resolve to be a CEO and I will take my tutelage seriously. I will give it my best effort and I will overcome each and every obstacle thrown in my path. I will get up early, stay late, work hard, and come to work every day ready to bite the ass off a grizzly bear.”
Read everything you can get your hands on. Books, blogs, biographies, case studies, white papers. Be a student of the CEOing business. Listen to me, read everything but retain a healthy skepticism. [The only thing in greater supply than advice is BAD advice. Be a skeptic.]
Meet and talk to experienced CEOs — women and men with years of experience, not someone who is six months ahead of you — after first volunteering that you are looking for assistance and that you want to become a CEO. They will help you and if they don’t, then you’ve already learned a great lesson. What is it? Some CEOs are pricks.
Observe people in leadership positions in school, church, sports teams, politics, business — who do YOU want to follow? If they can get you to follow, then you can “monkey see — monkey do” that behavior in the future. What works, works. It is not complicated.
Volunteer to join organizations that will provide you with a no cost opportunity to learn and where you can master the dynamic of small groups. Take on a leadership role when you are ready.
Go to bed at night knowing that every day you will learn more but you will never, ever master it. Be OK with this. [You really have no choice, so just get comfortable with it.]
When you do become a CEO (regardless of the route to the job), create peer relationships with other CEOs and use professional organizations (YPO, TAB, Vista International) to broaden your resources. Use them.
Get a CEO coach but only when you are really ready to accelerate your learning. “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Keep a journal of your learnings. Use a Moleskine notebook and a 5mm fine tip black pen. Watch how what you learn evolves.
CEO prep, I get it Big Red Car
Know this — it is easy to learn anything if you put in the time and effort. You can do this. I promise. If you get stuck call The Boss and tell him a Big Red Car sent you.