Ben Horowitz, in “The Hard Thing about Hard Things”, has a bit where he’s talking about hiring a VP of Sales; as it turns out, one of the best sales leaders he’s ever worked with. So you understand the set-up, he had interviewed dozens of candidates for the job, it was a do or die situation for the company, so he had to get it right. Mark Cranney sat across the table from Ben and when he asked him to describe his approach to training, he reached into his bag and pulled out a giant training manual that he had designed. Mark Cranney had the goods.
Today I spoke with a young leader, a friend who I’ve known a few years. He called for counsel on how to organize a game plan for his new role. My advice was simple, start building your playbook. I pointed him at a few websites to look over; I sent him frameworks. As you might imagine, I suggested that there are a few books to read, podcasts to listen to, excerpts to consume that might make a difference.
I counseled my friend to appreciate that it will take time, that you will borrow from many, test again and again until you battle harden the composite, and then one day you will have it. That time will come when you will be able to sit across the table from your future CEO or co-founder and say, do you want me to tell you how to do this, or just show you the playbook. At that point, if the content is tight, you will be able to land any VP or SVP level gig you put in your sites.
In the course of the chat, I also helped him to separate the future state from the current one, as I know his ambition. The path to c-level will be a different one entirely. If you want to sit in the seat, you have to not only have the playbooks that are best in class but you have to have imagination and incredible fortitude. One has to be able to develop a vision, you then have to find, lead and motivate humans in good and bad times to seek out that same destiny, to be drawn to it like moths to a flame. In other words, you have to create a true north and orient an entire org, yours or the whole company, to that mission.
But the good thing is, unless you jump right in the founder end of the pool, you will have a few years to craft your book, you will have time to build your roster of exceptional athletes that you want to take with you into any race, you will have a window of time to hone your judgement.
So my counsel to my friend was, breathe, take your time, break down the process and start working on the binding first. You can fill in the pages as the weeks and months (even years) pass and then, suddenly, you will find that you have a thing of weight and portent. And you too will be able to slide that book across the table and know, predictably, what the outcome will be.