CEO and CTO : United By A Different Language

Widely attributed to George Bernard Shaw is the saying that 'England and America are two countries divided by a common language'. A twist to that famous saying could be used to describe the relationship between CEO and CTO as 'two executives united by a different language' This crucial relationship is often fused by individuals with very different characteristics. The CEO is spinning numerous plates, ideas, initiatives and whilst hitting some bumps in the road, is resilient and (hopefully) achieving momentum. The CTO is traditionally more introvert, systematic and in need of structure and clarity. On the surface that's not a match made in heaven nor one you'd find generated by a dating algorithm   Star gazer meets shoe gazer. But the best teams adapt, focus on the strengths and fill in the gaps.  They learn to understand the nuances of different personalities and relationships because the CEO : CTO axis is as crucial as any in the company and their relationship is often one of the critical success factors around which the rest of the company depends. So where might some of the primary points of conflict arise?
Focus of the CEO Focus of the CTO
Driven by sales and numbers Driven by technology
Poster boy/girl for the company Poster boy/girl for the technology
Leadership and strategic direction Objectives on product and customers
Board and investor conversations Partner and customer industry conversations
Big on sales and strategy / Low on technology Big on technology / Low on sales and finance
Stretched across various areas Focused on development and operations
USP and company value Looking for edge without risk
Understanding what is wanted Understanding what can be delivered
Easy target for external parties Easy target for product blame
When you add to this contrasting mixture and the potential contrast in personality, you can see why some CEO:CTO relationships might suffer from stress and why conflict can arise from differing ideas and understandings. Effective CEOs and CTOs understand these areas of potential conflict and how to manage the strengths and weaknesses of their colleague.  CEOs will often have a good understanding of the market and need, but are not always so good on the detail or even that comfortable with the technology.  In some cases, the CTO might have to be the arch diplomat and communicator, bridging the gap between creating a sensible specification for the team, whilst still meeting the aspirations of the CEO.  Not always an easy task! To prevent conflict, CTOs need to develop the softer skills required to attune themselves to the working style of their CEO.  To understand how and where any contrasting outlooks might impact on the development and progress of the company/product and look to establish an honest and communicative relationship. Whether based on a weekly or more irregular meeting, both sides of the executive fence need to build strong communication channels driven by an understanding of the factors impacting on their respective roles. They need to appreciate and enjoy the fact that they're two people, united by a different language. Interested in finding out more about the CTO role? Find out (almost) everything you ever wanted to know about being a CTO. and visit

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