It isn’t easy making the shift from business owner to CEO. This is the shift from being involved in running your business day-to-day to taking a step back and up, entrusting daily operational management to a capable team while you focus on the responsibilities of a CEO.
I use the term The CEO Lens™ to help business owners understand what is involved in making this shift. I think it’s more powerful and inspirational than a position description.
All CEOs have a first time in the role. In most seven-figure companies where the founder runs the business, they have never been a CEO before, and many of them haven’t had executive roles working in other companies. As such, they don’t have reference points as they navigate from low seven figures and toward eight figures. Very few people understand what a CEO does, even those who need to step into the role in their own company.
They are used to being involved in everything and often trying to control everything. As the business grows, this approach is untenable. I heard a title for how business owners operate at this stage that I think is very apt: ‘Chief Everything Officer’.
But once your business structure and team are in place, it’s time to focus on you and what you will be looking at through The CEO Lens™.
You need the qualities that will allow you to lead your people and build culture, and steer the company and make strategic decisions that progress you toward the company’s vision. If my book, The 7% Club, you can see with the CEOs I’ve interviewed, people and culture are a priority focus for all of them - good people will help grow the business the right way.
Here are the focus areas for your CEO Lens™, that can add the most value to your business while letting your team take care of the day-to-day:
- Being the leader
- Business strategy
- Creation of value
- Key relationships
These factors speak for themselves, and I see them as the more visionary and expansive aspects of The CEO Lens™. Other people in the business may be involved in some or all of these activities, depending on their roles, but it is these activities that the CEO will focus on as the core part of their role.
The role of ‘leader’ will certainly evolve over time. What does being the leader mean?
Being the leader means that your team will follow you (and be your knights) if you enable them. You need to help them develop and grow so they can fully contribute to the development of the business and experience their own fulfilment in the process. You need to treat people with compassion and understanding. You need to respond to mess-ups with questions, not blame, to understand what happened and how so you can address it appropriately.
The CEO must understand their own core competencies and how they can best add value to the business, and then go and do that.
You need to lead by example and with integrity. You need to be reasonable and approachable, otherwise your team will try to deal with exceptional challenges (that should have been escalated to you) on their own. You need to set standards and boundaries so your team knows what is and isn’t acceptable with their own behaviours and accountability.
You can only lead when others want to follow you. It provides an interesting perspective to question whether you would follow yourself as the leader.
Business strategy and the creation of value encompass the identification of opportunities for expansion. Looking through The CEO Lens™, you will see opportunities in many places: new products and services, serving new niche markets, aligning with strategic partners to develop new business, dominating a niche through specialising in products or services for companies in that niche, implementing technology to gain a competitive advantage, identifying gaps and finding potential to remove competitors in your market. Innovation and technology are part of the company’s strategy, as are all functional areas of the business that will be central to the implementation of strategy. While the team will be responsible for execution, it is the CEO’s responsibility to drive this and always be looking through The CEO Lens™ in a strategic way to gain advantage for the business.
Culture needs to be driven and monitored by the CEO, who is the guardian of company culture. If there is a culture of the team feeling instant relief as soon as you leave the building and take the negative vibes with you, this is your problem. You cannot complain about your people if you do nothing to improve the situation.
When you look through the CEO Lens™, you will see not just individuals but the culture permeating through your organisation. This is important as it is the cohesion that binds them and your company together. Maintaining and nurturing that is your ultimate responsibility.
It is also important that the CEO role maintains a focus on key relationships. Staying close to customers and occupying a position as a valued partner not only provides potential opportunities for growth but protects one of your most important assets. Relationships with important suppliers will help protect the company’s ongoing supply of services and/or raw materials in tight markets. Strong industry relationships are important for new business opportunities and to stay across trends as they are emerging, as are relationships with competitors (as appropriate) for potential future acquisition or collaboration. For the CEO, the focus of these relationships will always be to help deliver advantage in some way to the company, as well as to position the business as a preferred employer wherever possible.
These other items you will see through your lens are more about management and steering the company:
- Monitoring and tracking company dashboards
- Cashflow management and KPIs for the company and the people in it
- Risk assessment and management
- Commercial protection
As you can see, this is a very different perspective than that of an operational business owner.
The CEO Lens™ is a tool to help you shift your focus from ‘doing’ activities to ‘leading’ activities as you grow your company. It requires a big shift to get here but, once there, you will never go back. You will have become the leader your team and your business needs.