Over time I’ve observed the moments when entrepreneurs are called upon to become a CEO. I don’t mean a title change on your business card. I’m talking about that moment when the nature of your contribution needs to change.
When are these moments? It might be your first large and meaningful customer order. Or when an investor dumps cash into the business. Or when the company outgrows your kitchen table. The moment is different for each entrepreneur and each business. It’s in these moments that you need to pivot. Many of the activities that defined personal success and satisfaction shift to others. At the same time a whole new list of responsibilities and decisions get loaded on.
These moments are challenging times for entrepreneurs. Everyone is watching. Can you slide into the role of superstar CEO? Should you? Your funders are watching. Your employees are talking. And deep down, your inner critic is on overdrive.
Fear not. Many have made the successful transition and you can too.
There are seven signs that the shift is underway.
Your team is focused
As an entrepreneur, you are an idea generator. You see opportunity everywhere you look.
Problems arise when entrepreneurs share too many ideas with their teams. Wired to get excited about new things, you love to relay your latest learning. And you learn fast. As a result, many entrepreneur-led organizations suffer from the “shiny red ball” syndrome. Every new idea becomes the best idea. Along the way, teams become distracted and confused.
Superb CEOs know how to create a clear focus for their teams. They reduce distractions. They choose their brainstorming partners wisely. They clarify when an idea is mental candy and when it’s a serious and urgent priority. CEOs understand that a good idea executed exceptionally well adds value. They also know that chasing too many awesome ideas will distract their teams.
Your business can run without you
A fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to business is a necessity in the early days. You were instrumental in each decision and every sale. And now it’s time to substitute your presence with defined systems. Why? So work can be transferred, multiplied, and improved by others. Some entrepreneurs have an allergic reaction to the words “system” and “process”. I’m not suggesting that you get out your stone tablet and chisels. Only that you champion an aligned approach to running your business. One that others can own and improve.
You have an informed and aligned team
When your entire company can sit around the kitchen table, communication isn’t a concern. For the most part communication just happens. And then, almost overnight, miscommunication, misalignment and inaccurate assumptions become your greatest enemies. Once a skill that you rarely thought about, information flow is now a hurdle to success.
When in entrepreneur mode, it’s all about generating ideas and getting things done. You are usually not in get-everyone-on-the-same-page mode. Communication is a big job and not one to shoehorn between other urgent tasks. As you become an admired CEO, communication is an everyday essential. Your job is keeping the team informed, aligned, and inspired.
Delegation leads to the results you want
In the early days of entrepreneurial life satisfaction comes from personal achievements. And then, almost overnight, you have a team to manage. The need for delegation explodes. So does the disappointment when you don’t get the results you’d intended.
Strong leaders invest in learning the art and science of delegation. When you delegate, be clear about who fills what role. Who has accountability? (You and the project leader are both accountable for the outcome). And who has authority? (That’s what you delegate to someone else). Unfortunately we often get these backwards. We delegate full accountability to the other person while holding back authority. This is a recipe for disappointment and frustration.
Your team seeks your advice (but not your direction)
As an entrepreneur you have a thirst for knowledge like no other. You learn more in a year than most will absorb in a decade. It’s not unusual for you to be the smartest person in the room on a given topic. This is a recipe for frustration. When you have a problem that needs solving and the knowledge to solve it, you are inclined to tell others what to do. Or you simply do it yourself… it’s easier.
As a result, your team learns to come to you for direction. Each conversation with your team has them asking some variation of “What should I do?” Exceptional CEOs know that this isn’t scalable. Eventually there will be too many problems to solve and too few hours in the day. Coaching replaces telling. Direction is replaced by advice and guidance.
The best ideas often come from others
It’s fun to be creative. In fact, it’s an essential part of being human and a critical characteristic of successful entrepreneurs. Churning out new ideas to move your business forward is as natural as breathing. Over time, problems arise if your ideas are the only ideas that see the light of day. Creativity is vital for every member of your team. If they can’t fulfill that itch during their workday, they will begin to look for other outlets.
Superb CEOs recognize the need and benefit of tapping their teams for ideas on a regular basis. They know how to create opportunities for a free flow of thoughts.
You know what you are not good at
What are you not so good at? It can be difficult to figure out your weaknesses, bad habits, and unproductive behaviors. As an entrepreneur you’ve learned to climb over, under, or around hurdles. You don’t dwell on the things you aren’t good at. And getting helpful feedback is a challenge.
The best CEOs invest time on a regular basis to look in the mirror. They ask others to help them. They are open and transparent about those weaknesses to the benefit of their businesses. They seek coaching and advice to grow as a person and a leader.
Where are you on your journey from entrepreneur to CEO? Do you have tips for others on their journey? Take a moment to share your stories of triumph and challenge.