Advise Needed: As CEO, I Feel Disrespected by my CXOs

by hello_hola. Posted on Sep 13, 2020    6    15

Good day to all.


Background, I cofounded and am the CEO of a tech startup.

Started the company almost 5 years ago, with the founding CTO having to leave due to an unfortunate illness from her daughter. With her blessing and help, I rehired someone new and took it from there to grow the company in the following years. We are around 20 employees today.


The past months (year?) has been a bit difficult for I'm sure may startups out there, as it has been for us, and I have been working tirelessly with the help of my COO and CTO, not to grow, but to survive.

Unfortunately, or the past couple of months I have been feeling a lot of frustration while working with them. While in the past years they would follow my leadership and decisions, nowadays it feels like the automatically want to rebuff any idea or suggestion that I may have.

Sometime it even feels like they want to fight the most trivial decisions or suggestions I make, just to make a point.

What I feel would take a day to decide and put people to work, now feels like days of constant going back and forth to find a compromise on the little details. It even feels they tag-team against me, even though they are employees and not founders/partners.

I feel tired.

My management style has always been the participation style, where I like to take input from the parties involved, and make a final decision. I feel however that they are taking advantage of this trust, and the fact that they know that in this current (financial) times it would be impossible for me to hire a new CXO team, with such specific tech and industry knowledge.

Sometimes I dream that I would just tell them to STFU and do as they are told, but I know that they'll do with the worst intentions and it is not the best examples of leadership.

I have thought about maybe letting go the COO, as I could take on the role myself, but it would probably mean that the CTO would leave, putting us in a difficult spot.

What can I do to regain respect without taking drastic decisions?

Thank you for your help.


thelunarlemur 1

Just pull a President LBJ and throw your cock on the table during meetings

tengable 1

The general theme here has been that you might be the problem, which is definitely a possibility you should consider. Are you micro managing? These people should have a much deeper understanding than you do, and the only time you should be over ruling them is when something they are doing doesn't fit into the bigger picture. You should ask questions to understand their plan and goals as best as possible, but only offer suggestions when what their saying is conflicting with company direction. Even if they are about to make a mistake. It might be that it's actually not a mistake, and they understood something you didn'. Or they will learn from the mistake, and become that much better at their job. If you don't allow people to make mistakes, they will blame every thing that goes wrong on you. They won't feel invested in the out come, and when things go wrong: "this wouldn't have been a problem if we did it my way".

The next thing I would consider is healthy disagreements. Are these compromises healthy, and your just burnt out on them? Maybe the structure of the conversation could change so that compromise is a bit easier.

No matter what you do, I would have individual meetings, and tell them how you have been feeling about the current situation, and what is going to be changing. Make sure to set clear expectations.

LavenderAutist 1

Do you have to make all of the decisions?

Or could that be delegated to the CTO or COO?

Could you promote the CTO to COO / CTO?

Do you think your role might have changed after you got a new CTO and COO?

Silent_Scholar 2

The nuclear option: sell your share to the rest of them and watch them drive themselves into the ground :D

oholymike 2

I think no matter what happens, you absolutely need to sit down with them either individually or together and have a frank and honest conversation with them about your leadership, the direction of the company, etc. . .just continuing with this big split at the top of the company is not a formula for success, especially now. Ultimately, you need to either forge them together with you in a unified team all pulling in the same direction, or if one or both just aren't willing to do that, you need to find new people who will. But I don't think you should wait on this--time's a wastin', especially when so many outside forces are squeezing companies now and for the foreseeable future.

Analyst-Suspicious 5

You do realize that as a CEO you're not a foreman at a plantation that tells slaves what to do and whip them until they do what they are told? Right?

They are C-level executives for fucks sake. If they are dumb and incompetent, fire them. If they aren't, stop making their jobs harder and start trusting them and valuing their input.

Stop telling people what to do, stop trying to make all the decisions and overrule everyone on everything, stop trying to micromanage everything.

Hell, I got military officer training and even there you're not supposed to just bark orders and tell people what to do. You're supposed to lead by example. You're supposed to explain the situation and what are the goals (if there are disagreements on the goals, find a consensus) and work together to achieve those goals. If the whole team thinks you should do A but you feel like you should do B... then swallow your pride and go with the flow. Vote if you have to or lock the doors of the conference room until you reach a consensus (better option).

likwid07 4

If I was you, I would do the following:

  1. Have a candid conversation with them. Understand where they are coming from. Be open about the fact that the company has nowhere to go but down with this type of dynamic.
  2. Hire a coach. Someone that excels in this area, and that can work with you on an ongoing basis and give you an outside perspective.
  3. Be open about your expectations for the people you feel disrespected by. Follow up regularly (weekly). Understand how to give good feedback grounded in examples of behavior.
  4. Be open to letting them go. You'll find others who can fill those shoes. Keeping things as they are is just a recipe for disaster anyway. Letting them know they can disrespect you with no repercussions is just going to leave them with even less respect for you anyway. Other CXOs with less industry knowledge but a better dynamic is a better situation than what you have now.
Cultural_Beyond8851 19

Have you considered the idea that perhaps you are the problem? We are only getting your side. It could be they don’t think you are a good leader in a crises. Can you give an example of a problem you had to go back and forth on?


Agree with this. Often times when “everyone else doesn’t get it”, it’s you that doesn’t get it. If you have some unique experience or insight that gives you a more informed perspective, share it with them. Over and over again in many different ways until they get it.

One thing I have had to constantly clarify with the younger folks who are steeped in blog posts about “data driven decision making” and the “perils of trusting your gut”. My opinion on what to do is not merely my “gut” and it does in fact warrant more consideration than the opinion of many others. Decades of specific experience leads to specific knowledge which is the result of many reams of data and is why, presumably you are in charge. Wield it carefully for often others may have more relevant experience.

But in the “data driven decision making” world of today, I have engineers with zero experience second guessing my decisions because they are “highest paid person decision from the gut”. No, sir, they are the result of thousands of reps that are hard earned.

Experience matters. If this is part of the problem then explain why your experience matters.

Otherwise consider that you might be too close to the problem and are potentially wrong.

Analyst-Suspicious 3

Having experience doesn't mean you're making the right decisions.

"We've always done it this way" is the most dangerous sentence in the world according to Grace Hopper (Navy admiral that basically invented the first practical programming language and first compiler, COBOL is still used today).

Startups succeed because they are different. Startup succeed because they don't have "we've always done it this way" and they can innovate and do things in a different way that isn't the age old standard way to do it.

Whenever you're making a decision or doing things a certain way, stop and ask yourself "why". If the answer suspiciously looks like "we've always done it this way", stop and figure out whether it's actually a good way or perhaps there are better ways.

The more experienced you are, the more dumb "we've always done it this way" habits you pick up and it can straight up kill organizations as they can't innovate or find any better ways, since some old fart is blocking all change.


Yeah I’m not talking about “we’ve always done it this way”. I’m talking about a person with a decade or more of experience making decisions based on incomplete information, but pattern recognition from experience, who is fighting with a bunch of people who read a “thought leadership” article on medium about how to use something like AB testing to likely waste 3 months to learn something obvious to anyone with experience. Experience IS data. And it’s priceless.

Analyst-Suspicious 3

Plural of anecdote is not data. Experience is not data.

How do you know that you are right? Because "you've always done it that way?" and it seemed to work at the time? Did you check that it works? Did you compare it to other ways?

I've worked in scientific research and dabble as a data scientist occasionally. Experience is not a form of evidence. Without proper data extraction, classification, analysis and evaluation, it might as well be stories from a children's book.

I guarantee you, pretty much every single thing you claim on basis of "experience" is wrong. Because if it wasn't wrong, you'd have stronger argument to back it up than "I've always done it this way".

I for example am an expert in quite a lot of things. If I cannot explain in detail WHY like I'd explain to a 5 year old, then I truly don't know why. I might feel like I know, but if I can't explain it then it's a false sense of competence and I'm at a peak of Mt. Stupid (Dunning Kruger). That is when I admit that I might not know everything and the other person has a very good point that at least is worthy of investigating.