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3 Key traits of a successful leader

A brief commentary on "When to Replace Yourself as the CEO of Your Startup"

Picture of many different colored pawn shaped pieces on a board game with a single die cast on the number four.

I just read an insightful Inc. Magazine article from Alex Solomon, founder and CTO of PagerDuty.

One of the things I saw that is really fantastic was this:

I was about 7 years into leading PagerDuty when I started realizing that I should consider bringing in an experienced executive to help me scale the business.

Alex demonstrated three increasingly rare, but critical, characteristics of a successful leader:

  • Humility

  • Intention

  • Exploration

To be clear, I don’t have any relationship with Alex or PagerDuty. The conclusions I draw here are based on what I’ve read in the article.

There’s a chance I’ll be wrong about some things. But these traits are critical to company owners and leaders everywhere.



Alex demonstrated the posture of a humble leader.

By all external accounts, Alex has built a successful company. For 7 years before stepping down as CEO, Alex led a team to bring a vision to life. PagerDuty provides an extremely valuable service for technology teams around the world.

I know few leaders who are willing to step down from the “top” job as CEO. Especially in the face of success like that.

The change is even more remarkable when I consider that Alex was (very likely) still an owner of the company when the transition happened.



The next thing that stood out was this:

I had to bite the bullet and set my own ego aside: I decided to replace myself as CEO.

Aided by his posture as a humble leader, Alex decided to replace himself.

What was it that compelled Alex to take such a dramatic action? It was the recognition that he wanted to “focus on product and engineering.”

Company founders often find themselves attending to administrative needs as the business grows. Most end up doing the “fun” parts after all the company building and management tasks are done. Dabbling in engineering or service delivery on nights and weekends usually contributes more to burnout than engagement and growth.

How can a founder maintain their status as the head of the company AND fuel the passion that led them to start the company in the first place?

Intentionally focusing on what you want is a key path to personal fulfillment and company success.



Two more statements leapt off the page:

I started thinking about bringing in…


I consulted with our advisors and board members to help…

Humility + Intention lead to Exploration.

True exploration isn’t possible if we decide, in advance, and then do the things that prove our point.

Alex started out thinking he’d need an experienced COO but learned some things that meant the path wasn’t going to work as he thought. Instead of giving up, he then explored what it would like to find a CEO.

With a posture of humility and an intention to make change happen, Alex was freed from the false burden of being “the one who knows everything”. There was less risk in asking for input from others — even when he put his own job on the line.

There’s still risk. I suspect there were many people who said that bringing in a new CEO was a terrible idea. And with the wrong person, it probably would have been. But with the right framework, risk is managed and great results are possible.


The payoff

From the article, it looks like this transition happened about 3 years ago. In the time since, PagerDuty seems to be going strong. The team has accomplished many of the things Alex originally set out to do.

Alex has demonstrated that these 3 traits can lead to success.

As you reflect on the traits and a case study in success, I’m curious about these questions:

  1. Are you willing to embrace true humility, intention, and exploration for the success of your vision?

  2. How important is it for your company to flourish and thrive?

  3. How willing are you to release critical functions of the business to qualified people in order for that to happen?


One more thing...

I’d be remiss if I closed this post without acknowledging Alex for showing the way to more powerful leadership.

Well done, Alex!

Thank you for being an example of the way true leadership works!


Paravelle offers executive coaching services to founders and CEOs with big growth goals. It's a crucial support structure that helps leaders avoid the negative results that come from being lonely at the top.

We might be a good fit to work together if you're:

  • at the create (<1M ARR), build ($1-3M ARR), or grow ($3-5M ARR) stage,

  • curious and looking for ideas and answers, and

  • ready to invest in working with a collaborator that brings a co-founder's perspective (without losing half your equity).

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