The 11 Characteristics That Your COO Must Have

And How to Find The Perfect COO for Your Unique Needs

By Cameron Herold | February 20, 2024

What You'll Learn...

Why does the COO matter?

When I joined 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and teamed up with Brian Scudamore, the company was making $2 million a year and had a growing franchise network. The opportunity in front of us was huge, but so were the challenges.

When I first became COO, I didn’t just manage the daily operations, which is what most people assume COO’s do. In fact, my role as COO was very public-facing. I focused on increasing franchise sales, marketing, speaking to the media, and participating in speaking events. My job was to help spread the word about our brand, a task that suited my skills and was crucial for the company’s growth stage, which naturally attracted a lot of attention. 

I had a good understanding of how to gain publicity, a skill not typically associated with COOs but one that was incredibly valuable during that period of expansion. Brian and I often worked together as a team, co-hosting speaking events where we would alternate speaking throughout the presentation, both of us sharing the stage.

Internally I focused on delegating tasks, playing to our strengths, and setting the stage for growth. We didn’t both try to do everything. Brian concentrated on vision and culture. I handled the operational challenges and scaled our systems to meet our growth goals. This division of labor based on our strengths helped us avoid burnout and become more efficient.

In short, it was a great partnership.

The decision to hire a COO can profoundly impact a company. In our case, it sparked massive growth and made 1-800-GOT-JUNK? a leading name in junk removal. 

When I was writing my book The Second In Command: Unleash the Power of Your COO, I found that a great COO isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Instead, a great COO is a match for the company’s current state, its desired future state and its culture. 

As Harley Finkelstein, COO of Shopify, said “No two COOs on the planet have the same job.” 

A great COO isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Instead, a great COO is a match for the company’s current state, its desired future state and its culture.

It’s lonely at the top

As you probably know, being a founder can be incredibly lonely. The expectation is to always be strong, always be the rock for everyone else. 

But who’s there for you?

You can’t always share your deepest worries with your board or your team, it risks shaking their confidence in you. At home, you might hold back your angst to avoid putting that stress on your loved ones.

Enter the COO, your new best friend. 

When I interviewed Jim Morrisroe, the COO of 15Five, on the Second in Command podcast, he shared his insights from his time as a CEO, and we talked about how lonely it can be. Now, as a COO, he views his role as providing companionship to his CEO, David Hassell. Jim’s past experience as a CEO gave him a deep understanding of how important the unique support a COO can offer to a CEO is.

When you hire the right COO, they become the person who gets what you’re going through, someone with whom you can be completely open and vulnerable.

This partnership is critical. With a COO you trust, you have someone to bounce ideas off, someone to offer a different perspective, and sometimes, just someone to listen. This doesn’t just benefit you; it impacts the whole company. A supported CEO leads to a stable and positive environment for everyone.

For those feeling the weight of leadership loneliness, finding your right-hand person, your COO, can change everything.

A great COO knows their job is not to fix every problem or answer every question, but rather to teach and train others so they can fix their own problems and they can answer their own questions. 

How to find the right COO

Step 1: Find somebody with the right unique skills for your company

The best COO serves as the yin to the CEO’s yang (or vice versa). Just as every single CEO has their own strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and pet peeves, they have a small group who will be in perfect balance with them.

  • Is the CEO out hitting all the trade shows? COO’s keeping the lights on at home. 
  • Does the CEO hate presenting to the board? COO jumps in to help. 
  • What if the CEO is great at inspiring the troops, but not great at developing leadership? Find a COO that knows how to train.

The search for the right COO is not about finding “a good COO”,  it’s about finding that special someone whose unique experience, skills and abilities align with the company’s needs and culture. If you don’t know how to grow into a company with franchises, hire a COO that knows how. If your marketing is great but your production can’t keep up, find a COO who knows how to organize and ramp up production. Find the person that can solve the problems you can’t.

Step 2: Find someone with the right general qualities

Finding your right-hand person, your COO, is not easy and there’s a lot of different factors to weigh in. However, I’ve found that there are some non-negotiable qualities that anyone stepping into the COO role has to bring to the table.

First, I want to start with what I think the most important quality is, and that’s the ability to delegate. A COO who knows how to train and delegate to the team will prevent your leadership team from screeching to a halt. A great COO knows their job is not to fix every problem or answer every question, but rather to teach and train others so they can fix their own problems and they can answer their own questions. 

When a COO focuses on growing people instead of directly fixing every problem, the COO can advance the organization strategically rather than becoming just another set of hands. 

The purpose of a COO taking work from a swamped CEO is not simply to have a swamped COO. 

It’s like being a parent. A great parent’s job is not to cook every meal for their kids. A great parent knows their main responsibility is to teach them how to do those tasks for themselves, so they become self-sufficient. 

In the same way, a good COO looks down in the trenches and helps coordinate what’s happening down there rather than falling into the mud by trying to do the employees’ work for them. 

For those feeling the weight of leadership loneliness, finding your right-hand person, your COO, can change everything

Developing others’ skills, competence, and confidence is how a COO moves the company forward.

In addition to the ability to delegating, I’ve found more skills and qualities every COO needs:

Adaptability: Your COO should be like a Swiss Army knife—versatile and ready to adjust strategies and tactics without blinking. The goal? To make sure the organization’s culture isn’t just preserved but also enhanced and lived by everyone, top to bottom.

Time Management: Imagine a maestro conducting an orchestra—every note, every timing perfect. That’s your COO. They orchestrate tasks, priorities, and deadlines in harmony, ensuring the company’s objectives are met with precision and grace.

Drive: This person is the heartbeat of your operation, pushing forward, never complacent. After a win, they’re already strategizing the next. They embody relentless pursuit of excellence.

Likability: Your COO needs to be someone people naturally gravitate towards. This isn’t about being everyone’s friend but about being profoundly respected and trusted. Their presence should inspire collaboration and bring out the best in everyone.

Honesty: They’re your truth-teller, someone who doesn’t sugarcoat or evade the tough conversations. Their transparency fosters a culture of trust and integrity, making it clear that honesty is the foundation upon which your company stands.

Communication: Precision and inspiration are key. They know how to deliver messages that are crystal clear and motivate action. Their words aren’t just heard; they resonate, inspire, and lead to tangible results.

Diplomacy: A master negotiator, your COO knows how to navigate complex dynamics with finesse. They balance differing viewpoints, ensuring everyone feels heard while steering the team towards common goals. Their diplomatic skills help the team stay together in the hard times.

Steadiness: In the whirlwind of running a business, they’re your rock. Their steady hand guides the company through ups and downs, ensuring decisions are made with a cool head and a clear focus on long-term success.

Entrepreneurialism: They possess the spirit of a founder—eager to explore, innovate, and take calculated risks. They’re not just executing a plan; they’re on the lookout for opportunities that align with the vision, ready to pivot and adapt as needed.

Availability: Approachable but not overextended, a great COO strikes the balance between being accessible to the team and maintaining the focus needed to drive strategic objectives forward. They’re a sounding board, a problem solver, and a guide, creating a culture of open communication and collaboration.

In essence, your COO is the linchpin of your organization—the person who translates vision into action, ensures the ship stays the course, and empowers your team to perform at their best. 

During the hunt for your COO, be clear about what you’re facing and where you’re headed. The right fit will resonate with your vision and challenges.

Step 3: Identify where to find them

First, use the steps above to define the role clearly and then write it down. What exactly do you need? Operations guru? Financial wizard? An expert in business strategy? Nail this down first so you don’t hire somebody just because you like their personality.

Here’s the harsh reality, if you’re looking for someone great, you’re most likely going to have to poach them. 

First, tap into your network, your next COO might be a recommendation away. Hit up LinkedIn, industry forums, and your circle. The gold is often in who you know. Invite the people you’re interested in out to lunch, and sell them your vision. You can also look inside your own walls, sometimes the best pick is already on the payroll. Know anyone who’s ready to step up?

If that doesn’t work, get a headhunter. They’ve got the reach and the resources to reach the people you can’t.

The magic of the right COO

Leadership is about recognizing when to lead and when to follow. Brian and I had our strengths, and by focusing on what we each did best, we didn’t just grow; we thrived. The synergy between a CEO and COO can be magical, transforming potential into reality, ideas into impact.

To those embarking on the hunt for the right COO, remember, it’s not just about filling a position. It’s about finding someone who shares your vision, complements your skills, and will work next to you to build your vision. And when you find the right one, your company will grow faster than you ever thought you could.

  • Cameron Herold

    I’m Cameron Herold. I help entrepreneurs make their visions come true. With my Group Coaching, COO Alliance, The Ops Spot, Invest In Your Leaders course, Zoom Speaking events, and my 6 books, I give entrepreneurs and their teams, the tools they need to finally grow their companies, the same way I grew 1-800-GOT-JUNK? as their COO… from $2M to $106M in 6.5 years

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