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Outlier’s Path

This past week, I heard two outlier founders speak about their journey from founder to CEO: Bret Taylor at Sequoia’s Go-To-Market Workshop and Tony Xu at Stanford’s class on Entrepreneurship: Formation of New Ventures.

Every outlier founder’s journey differs, as being an outlier means taking a different path. As I listened to two very distinct founders talk about their journey from founder to CEO, there was a striking similarity. They both rejected the idea of merely identifying your strengths and concentrating on them, popularized by StrengthsFinder and the Gallup organization.

Bret shared a belief that he thinks has changed his life: “I don’t have a [fixed] perception of myself.” He didn’t assume he was just a “technical founder” and not a “Go-To-Market person.” He shaped himself to the most critical job that needed to be done rather than trying to shape the job to a fixed perception of what he was good at.

Tony shared that the most challenging part of scaling himself as CEO is constantly learning and growing, especially in areas where he could be better and which he instinctively would rather avoid. Tony worked hard not to avoid these areas. He proactively met world-class people so he could learn quickly and understand them well enough to either do the job himself or evaluate world-class talent. Tony equated doing the work in areas you want to avoid with working out and eating your vegetables. You know you’re healthier for it.

CEOs are responsible for building an enduring company. A company is more than the team, the product, the go-to-market strategy, the business, and the financials. For the company to grow, the CEO must grow across all dimensions. Bret shared a powerful framework for maintaining a growth mindset: “reject ossifying your self-perception.”

On that note, instead of optimizing your known strengths, let’s go ahead and chip away at the ossified shell you’ve been carrying for protection and uncover new areas of strength you never knew you could have.