Executives who can execute

Some companies need their executives to merely make good decisions; they take in information, influence budgets, and hire. 

These same companies—usually huge ones with tens of thousands of employees—are the ones who max out their headcount and hire contingent workers and freelancers, agencies and services companies, and research companies, to actually do most of the execution. 

These working environments are often highly scripted; so long as an executive has charisma and an understanding of power and structure, they can get away with starting a bunch of projects and transitioning somewhere else in the organization every 18 months. The most important thing is that they follow the script: spend the budgets, show momentum, contribute to and lead meetings, make yourself look good by constantly sharing out successes and failures (known mainly in these orgs as “lessons learned”), and pray macroeconomic conditions stay well so the company can avoid layoffs. Progress is measured quarterly.

Highly unscripted working environments, like well-funded startups in Series A, B, and C stages (which are prone to team expansion and shrinkage, experiments, pivots, mergers, acquisitions, etc.), need a different type of executive. The most important thing is that the executive can quickly produce the outcomes required to scale and adapt. Progress is measured weekly and daily, which means that the executive doesn’t have the time to just make decisions. They also need to execute.

People who can work as executives and execute are incredibly rare; they can bear high responsibility and pressure, have the depth and breadth experience to discover problems and make decisions more quickly, can recruit and hire, and also have the capabilities to ship work as a mid-level or high-level individual contributor (ideally like someone with a principal- or staff-level job title).

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