ceo cto relationship
Andrew Weaver
April 20, 2022

CEO and CTO : United By A Different Language

“England and America are two countries separated by one language”

This quote is widely attributed to George Bernard Shaw but we’ve given it a CTO Academy twist by describing that crucial relationship between CEO and CTO as ….

‘Two executives united by a different language’

We’ve worked with hundreds of technology leaders from around the world and no matter the geography or sector, the challenges they face are often quite consistent and many revolve around communication.

And if there is one relationship which can particularly suffer as a result of poor communication, it’s that business critical relationship between CEO and CTO.

Typically these issues stem from the different perspectives and demands of the personalities and roles.

Without falling into too many stereotypes about these roles …

The CEO tends to be spinning numerous plates, ideas, initiatives, negotiating various bumps in the road whilst (hopefully) achieving the momentum required.

Whilst the CTO is driving the technology strategy but is traditionally more introvert, systematic and in need of structure and clarity.

A case of … Star Gazer meets Shoe Gazer?

But the best leaders adapt, focus on each other’s strengths, and help to fill in any of the gaps.  

They learn to understand the nuances of these different personalities so that the CEO:CTO axis can become a critical success factor around which the rest of the organization can depend and thrive.

So where is the focus (and potential conflict) for both roles?

The CEO FocusThe CTO Focus
Driven by sales and numbersDriven by technology
Poster boy/girl for the companyPoster boy/girl for the technology
Leadership and strategic directionObjectives on product and customers
Board and investor conversationsPartner and customer industry conversations
Big on sales and strategy / Low on technologyBig on technology / Low on sales and finance
Stretched across various areasFocused on development and operations
USP and company valueLooking for edge without risk
Understanding what is wantedUnderstanding what can be delivered
Easy target for external partiesEasy target for product blame

Throw into this mixture of competing agendas that fail to communicate with each other and you see why some CEO:CTO relationships (and the companies they’re leading) suffer from conflict.

Effective CEOs and CTOs understand this potential for conflict and how best to manage the strengths and weaknesses of their colleagues.  

CEOs should have a good understanding of the market and customer needs, but are not always so good at the detail or sometimes, even that comfortable with the technology.  

The CTO needs to bridge that gap between the tech and the business so that they can meet and manage the CEO’s aspirations and expectations. They also have to develop some diplomatic and communication skills, that are not always part of their natural skill set.

So it’s why CTOs need to develop the emotional intelligence to read people and situations. In doing so they will be better attuned to the working style (and secret sauce) of their CEO.  

Both need to understand how and where those contrasting outlooks might create potential for conflict that impacts the development and progress of the company/product (not to mention the stress of working together) and always look to establish an honest and communicative relationship.

Whether this is based on a weekly or more irregular meeting, both sides need to build those strong communication channels that are driven by an understanding of the factors impacting their ability to achieve the best results.

They might not become friends, but they don’t need to become enemies.

They need to understand the mutual pressures and styles of working.

They need to appreciate and enjoy the fact they’re two talented people, united by a different language.

CTO Academy

We provide online leadership courses, coaching, and community to global technology leaders.

Our latest online course The Digital MBA for Technology Leaders is for senior tech leaders or those aspiring to become one. It will help you to bridge that gap between the technical and the commercial.

If interested in finding out more, you can book a discovery call with our CEO Andrew Weaver.
Book that call here.

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