CEO = Chief Triage Officer
Our Summer@Highland teams spent the morning on Wednesday with Keith Rabois, COO of Square. Keith had many choice nuggets of wisdom for our group, and one of the teams was thankfully taking notes. I wasn’t, but I did take to heart a particularly insightful piece of advice Keith had for the young CEOs in the audience.
(Please note: these are not Keith’s direct words, but my interpretation of them. Trolls be forewarned!)
Keith compared the job of a CEO to that of a doctor in the emergency room doing triage. It’s like every problem that comes across your desk has one of these attached to it:
A good CEO is necessarily good at telling whether a problem is one that requires immediate action, or one that will resolve itself. He or she is also good at figuring out how to resolve those issues that are marked “Immediate” or, perish the thought, “Morgue.”
This qualification represents a challenge for young CEOs because, by definition, they have yet to aggregate the years of experience that inform triage decisions. It’s not uncommon for an “Delayed” situation to pass by him or her without noticing. By the time the sickness is revealed, the patient could be on death’s door.
It gets even worse, according to Keith: as a young CEO, your advisors can’t help much. They don’t work at the company, and are not likely to be around when you don’t see something you should. Board members are a bit more involved, and maybe if they’re talking to you on a daily basis they can help you bridge the gap.
At the end of the day, however, a good triage process can only be implemented from inside the company, which either means that (1) you learn how to triage or (2) you hire someone who does. Mistakes in triage are inevitable at the beginning, so the best you can do is be paranoid about making them and correct them quickly when you do.