All Articles Leadership Management How do founders decide who takes the lead?

How do founders decide who takes the lead?

You've got co-founders, and you're trying to decide who will take the lead. These 9 entrepreneurs offer advice.

4 min read



The Young Entrepreneur Council is an invite-only organization composed of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Read previous SmartBlogs posts by YEC.

If you enjoy this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter for entrepreneurs.

Q. What’s the most important consideration when deciding, among founders, who should take on which leadership role?

1. Play to your strengths

I have been involved in multiple partnerships at the founder level and have learned through experience it is always best to play to your strengths. While one person may have initially come up with the product or model, another may be more suited to lead the company as the CEO. Every role at the founder level is equally important, so assign them with the company’s best interest in mind. — Dustin Cavanaugh, RenewAge

2. Check the record

Everyone becomes more specialized in certain roles, and a secret of successful businesses is an acute self-awareness and mutual understanding concerning who is better equipped to take the lead in particular areas. Most teams naturally fall into place, but if there’s doubt, bring in outside HR expertise to assess the founders’ skills to provide the best leadership combination for a business. — Luigi Wewege, Vivier Group

3. Look at team dynamics

In every team, there are dynamics that should be taken under consideration when distributing roles. In the very early stage, everyone wants to be a C-Level, but as time goes by people should be willing to drop the CxO title and take over what they can handle best. — Yiannis Giokas, PCCW Global

4. Look at various life stages

Most entrepreneurs never weigh their personal life and the overwhelming power it has over their business. Marriage, kids, grandkids and health concerns should all be factored in when deciding on leadership positions. They should also be re-evaluated as your business and you grow and evolve. The pace you worked at two years ago may not be the pace you’re at now with differing factors in place. — Kim Kaupe, ZinePak

5. Look at proven expertise

If you have to ask yourselves which role each co-founder should have, it means that the team is likely not balanced to begin with. The co-founding team should be chosen so that the expertise of each one covers a certain aspect of the business: tech development, business development and management. It’s not about what one wants — it’s about what one brings to the table. — Daniele Gallardo, Actasys

6. Think about what you want most

As an entrepreneur, you have the opportunity to build toward the future you want to create. When deciding who should take on what role, play to each other’s strengths, but also think about what it is that you all really want to be doing. Strive to create a team and an environment where you can make that happen. You founded a company to do more of the work you love. — Lindsay Mullen, Prosper Strategies

7. Divide and conquer, then trust

Most founding teams already have complimentary skill sets (someone technical becomes the CTO, someone more business oriented becomes the CEO, etc.). The most important things is to have a delineation of roles so the founding team can get the most done, and then leave space for the other(s) to do work without micromanaging. — Fan Bi, Blank Label

8. Only partner if it’s obvious

Prior to building a company with a co-founder, I worked as half of a screenwriting team. The scripts were good, but neither of us had the chops to make a business out of it. It was a valuable lesson that two right brains — or two left ones — do not make for a complimentary team. — Michael Portman, Birds Barbershop

9. Look to performance as the primary consideration

Founders spend a lot of time thinking in the abstract about who will be the CEO, COO, etc. Ultimately, it’s all guesswork. You just have no idea until you’ve tried it. At InGenius, we gave all the founders projects typically done by the CEO, and the person who performed best took that role. It takes a little longer than just choosing, but it dramatically reduced the chance of error. — Joel Butterly, InGenius Prep