Being a CTO…
Means working with people to create technology, not, coding. A good CTO is a CTO 100% of the time. Doing any other jobs for a company kneecaps your ability to do your job.
Many people assume a great CTO is the best technologist in the room.
Instead, this responsibility falls to the Chief Architect and Principal Engineers. Think about it this way – at some point you need to choose something to specialize in. Architects choose technology, CTOs choose people. How to communicate, how to manage expectations, how to implement process, and how to cultivate culture.
The 8 Core Responsibilities of a CTO
- Manage Expectations Make sure the expectations between the C-Suite & Board, the rest of the company, and within the team are clear to everyone. This is the most important aspect of your job. If anyone in the organization is frustrated with communication or uncertainty, it’s your job to fix it.
- Proactively Recruit Work ahead of your team to line up resources before they are needed. “Not having enough hands” to execute a vision is NOT a real thing. Not having the budget, is. You should always have developers you are warming up.
- Foster Engagement A large part of the job is getting the most out the resources you have. This means becoming a double black belt in the art of creating autonomy, mastery, and purpose for every member of your staff. Leading tech teams is NOT like managing operations, sales, or finance teams. I would know – I’ve done them all.
- Communicate Goals Goals are not lofty ideas written down on a whiteboard [link “goals”]. They are the undercurrent of all successful communication within an organization. Technical staff is hired to solve problems; your job is to make sure they are always solving the right problems. If you aren’t familiar with KPIs[link] or OKRs[link], get familiar.
- Inspire Performance Everything else on this list is for naught if your staff doesn’t feel comfortable taking risks and speaking up. You must create psychological safety and eliminate turf wars, making sure your company’s environment is one of encouragement and innovation. Remember, fear is the project-killer. [link “the two things that attract engineers”]
- Disseminate Information Teach your staff how to rapidly move insight from the top to bottom and back again daily. Prevent “rock stars” from becoming single authors that the organization is beholden to.
- Develop Options Find solutions you can buy (rather than build) and discover organizational & communication patterns you can utilize. Building and innovating the right products isn’t an “optimization,” it’s indispensable. It puts your company in first place and gives marketing more powder to attract customers.
- Cultivate Leaders Sooner or later your team will grow to the point that you have managers working for you. Working indirectly through a manager is vastly different from working directly with a team member. Your success will depend on how well you have prepared your leaders to lead. Don’t know how? Send them articles from this blog!
The Skills Needed To Be A Good CTO Are Not Well Understood
Because it is such a new career track, most CTOs are self-taught, having followed unique paths to where they are now.
I find this to be especially true in the startup world, but remember that this isn’t always a good thing.
Since so many CTOs collect experience as they go, they don’t always have a chance to receive valuable feedback from someone who knows the job. And even when they know they need to improve, they don’t know where to get the information they need.
My advice? Never be afraid to seek out a coach to help you learn and grow, read more The Outside Coach: The One Single Best Way to Keep Your Team on Track.
If you aren’t focusing MOST of your time on these eight activities (or your CTO isn’t), hire a coach or part time CTO that will. This is what happens when you don’t 16 Signals That Your Tech Team Is In Trouble.
For more tips on being a great CTO, check out my other posts.