Even With 20 Years in Tech I Learned These Lessons as a First-Time CEO

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December 8, 2014
Gary Nakamura

After working as an executive in the high tech industry for more than 20 years, I’ve learned my fair share of lessons along the way. After completing my first year as a first-time CEO, a startup nonetheless, it’s become clear that growing, managing and running a company is no different.

However, like the old adage says, “you live and you learn.” That has certainly been a constant throughout the trials and tribulations of my first year at Concurrent, Inc. As I look back, here are the five most important lessons I’ve learned as a first-time CEO:

1. Check your ego at the door.

As CEO, I am focused on building a company around the vision of our founder and the talent of the people we put around him. This means I need to keep my ego in check everyday when I walk into the office so that the focus stays on “we the team” rather than on “me the individual”.

Related: 8 Ways Rookie CEOs Can Succeed Faster

2. Planning ahead is your job.

In my spare time, I like to garden, and I often think of a company like a garden. Sometimes the seeds you plant won’t bloom until much later, but the effort put forth is still worth it. On the flip side, plants often die – you did something wrong, such lack of or excessive watering, detrimental plant placement, etc., but you learn from your mistakes and move on.

The same can be said when an initiative or project fails at your company, and – trust me – this will happen. Great CEOs, like gardeners, seek knowledge, plan ahead, are patient, are disciplined and are persistent. As a CEO, you need to think long term and big picture.

3. I am human – therefore, I “shave the peak.”

The job demands of a CEO, at times, require superhero abilities, and with the job demands, come the pressures of the job. But it’s your responsibility to keep these situations and stress in check. Remember that we’re still human.

There are always a million things that can keep you up at night, but to survive in the long run, you need to counter that stress and anxiety by taking care of yourself. I call that “shaving the peak.” I achieve this through daily exercise, but there are many other ways to clear your head and unwind. Find your way and stick with it.

Related: Mindfulness and the Startup CEO

4. Don’t be a penny wise and a pound foolish.

Startup life is very different from life at a big company (read: big budget). You have to keep your spend in check. However, being penny wise brings a danger of focusing on the wrong things and not spending more where it really matters.

Some things are definitely worth the extra expense if it makes your product better, your customers happier and your employees feel more appreciated and more productive. Only a fool will cut back on something to save in the near term, rather than keep the big picture in sight.

5. Don’t babysit.

At any company, there’s a mixed bag of personalities, plenty of opinions and times when team members at every level don’t see eye to eye. As a CEO, it’s important to know when to step back and ensure the team works together to figure things out, rather than hold everyone’s hands as they sort through their differences.

Every CEO is different, and so are the failures and successes from which they learn. However, whether you’re just starting out or well seasoned in the position, there are new opportunities from which to grow and learn every day. Being a (first-time) CEO is hard work and challenging, but with a level head on your shoulders, a good understanding of what is important (and what is not), and strong and supportive team on your side, it is an exciting and fulfilling ride.

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