Handel’s “Messiah”-great music, but terrible leadership philosophy.

Business man standing at conference table Recruiting for fast growing, early stage companies, headed by brilliant entrepreneurs, can be a blast. Lots of energy, enthusiasm, passion for the mission and a heady sense of being on the cutting edge of something really big.

There’s a big downside- call it “The Messiah Complex”.

Entrepreneurs who are smart and motivated enough to conceive of a new product or service, start the business, arrange the financing, hire the key executive team and launch the products into the market are, of necessity, high energy, high ego drivers who are used to making things happen– and FAST.

Such people are individually responsible, when successful, for providing employment for increasing numbers of people, all of whom are swept up in the euphoria and imbued with awe at what they and their leader are accomplishing. It’s intoxicating.

If the owner is also personally charismatic, the sense of commitment and allegiance grows even deeper. Before long the Founder/CEO starts to feel that everything and everyone associated with the company flourishes because of his or her superior leadership and keen intellect. A feeling of omniscience can creep in, even if the CEO never verbalizes it and attempts to avoid it.

When the organization is successful it often experiences explosive growth, and unless the founder is a truly exceptional executive, the scope of management responsibility required to be all things to all people outstrips the entrepreneur’s ability or interest. Things start to fray, people become disgruntled, customers complain, business is lost.

At this stage, somebody, typically a board member or investor, suggests that the CEO probably needs to step back, step aside or otherwise remove himself from the day-to-day running of the company. The one-way conversation usually goes something like, “You need to do what you do best (whatever that may be), and we should bring in a COO to oversee the everyday running of the company.”

This helpful suggestion is often met with resistance, anger or resentment, but is eventually grudgingly accepted in the interest of peace in the business family and appeasement of investors.

Now that the business illness and its symptoms have been properly diagnosed, in comes the doctor (read:recruiter), to cure the patient completely. But malpractice is a real possibility in this scenario.

Entrepreneurs suffering from the messianic syndrome don’t often let go easily. While they may understand intellectually that there is a need for someone new to take over the day-to-day, the emotional integration of this understanding is another matter. The company is their baby, and you want to raise your baby, nourish it and watch it reach adulthood.

Any recruitment project at this stage is often doomed to failure, with everyone involved (board, CEO, Recruiter, candidates) resentful and unhappy about the outcome. If someone gets hired under these circumstances, they frequently are not allowed to succeed because the entrepreneur just can’t or won’t let go of the reins.

Savvy search consultants heed the warning signs associated with the messiah complex if they want to avoid becoming embroiled in a project likely to cost them money, unproductive time and ultimately, diminished reputation:

1) When pressing the CEO to describe what specific responsibilities he will be surrendering to the COO, there is vagueness, ambiguity or deadly silence. This is red flag country.

2) After inquiring what led the company to add this new new position, the answer from the owner/ CEO involves a comment like “The chairman of the board felt”, or “the investors suggested”.

3) If there seems to be fuzziness around defining what the CEO’s new role will be after the COO is hired, or the consultant hears comments such as “well, I know that I should relinquish that responsibility, but the customers expect me to continue”, or “the employees will lose enthusiasm if I pull back.”

4) If the Founder/Owner can’t adequately describe the kind of person who will make a good business partner and the personal qualities with whom he or she will mesh well.

5) The answer to the question, “how will you measure the success of the person you hire in the position?” involves comments such as, “less pressure from the board” or “not as much interference from the investors”.

No matter how effectively the recruiter performs with regard to attracting first-rate candidates to a company going through this leadership transition, there is little to no chance of success until and unless the founder/CEO enthusiastically embraces sharing the power and influence that goes along with being the father of the chil


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