There are few things more important in an organization than the relationship between a CEO and a COO. When it’s good, it’s great for business. Everything is easier, and the sky is the limit. When it’s bad, well…It’s bad for everyone.
So, how do you ensure that relationship at the top of your organization sets everyone up for success? Kolbe President Amy Bruske reached out to the CEO Whisperer himself, Cameron Herold, and asked him for his insight.
“The CEO-COO relationship should be a yin and yang relationship where you complement each other,” Cameron Herold, Founder of COO Alliance and Second in Command Podcast, explained. “You are each other’s balance. The COO is the brakes to the CEO’s gas. The COO shines the spotlight on the CEO, and the CEO shines the spotlight on the COO.”
Of course, a big part of that balance is finding two executives who have complementary instinctive strengths. Herold became clear on this fact when he had a Kolbe Expert walk him through a Comparisons: A to A™ Report with his VP of Operations.
“Holy s—, it was powerful,” says Herold.
When starting a project, they discovered, she instinctively needed to gather a lot of information and put a system in place. He, it turns out, naturally creates a sense of urgency and initiates lots of change.
“I used to think she was arguing with me,” Herold confessed. “And she wasn’t arguing. She just needed to ask a bunch of questions to catch up with me. And then I realized, oh my gosh, I’ve been answering the questions in my head for three months. It’s no wonder she needs more information. She hasn’t been inside my head for three months!”
This is a conative relationship that plays out with a lot of CEOs (who often share Herold’s need to innovate) and COOs (who often need to specify and/or systematize when starting projects).
Herold has a key piece of advice for COOs in these relationships.
“When your entrepreneur comes to you with a new idea, instead of asking all the questions right away, just say this: ‘I love your idea. Can I ask a few questions so I understand it more?’ They’ll say, ‘Yes. Wow. You love my idea. Let me tell you more about my idea.’ You ask a few questions and then you go, ‘I still love it, we’re going to do it, but not now. But I am going to keep it in a safe place.’ Again, it’s so powerful, because all the entrepreneur wants to do is get their idea out of their head, but they don’t necessarily want every single idea to be executed, because that might disrupt everything else.”
It’s important that your top two executives be a fit culturally and a fit conatively. As great of a COO as Herold was in his former role at 1-800-GOT-JUNK (he took them from 14 employees to 3,100 employees in 6 years), he makes it clear he would have been the wrong COO for 95% of the CEOs his current company serves.
The reason? He doesn’t balance properly with most CEOs. He’s too entrepreneurial. That’s not to say a variety in strengths isn’t a benefit. In fact, the most successful leadership teams have this diversity — and they’ve learned how to leverage it.
“It’s like a marriage,” Herold opines. “It requires the same type of trust. You want a COO that doesn’t want to work in the areas where the CEO is strong, and who is really strong in the areas the CEO is weak. That balance is critical.”