The CEO Mindset

by | January 6, 2014

Many of us as business owners have heard the mantra:  “You should be working ‘on’ your business not ‘in’ your business and we get it.  More time running the business, less time doing the work… it’s not always easy but as you build a team that understands who you are and how to do the work, you have more time to work “on” the business.

That being said, working “on” the business isn’t as intuitive.  We know how to do the work of the business but running the business is a different story for many.   Even with a business degree, I have found certain very important aspects of shifting from Manager to CEO challenging.  To succeed in this shift usually requires some outside advice as well as some personal introspection.   Although I’m still working on many of these in my own business, I thought I’d share some of my challenges and learnings:

Focus.  To build the company, I have added great employees who are able to do much of the work.  In theory, this provides me more time to focus on vision and strategy.  To be honest, however, doing the work is a lot easier, so it’s easy to default back to doing the work because it’s something I know how to do (and love).   Running the business is much harder because there usually aren’t “right” and “wrong” ways to do it.   Outside perspectives and help are necessary to learn what’s been done by others and to keep me on track as CEO.

Delegation and letting go.   Along the same lines as my comments above, a great team provides the bandwidth to step away from “doing work.”   However, as a business owner, we are used to knowing everything that’s going on.  It’s hard to not be the center of activity and to find out something went wrong (or right) and you didn’t know about it until after the fact.   Letting go of the work is one of the more challenging aspects of moving into the CEO role.

Leadership vs. management.   I have found this aspect to be the most important and difficult of business growth.  As you add more people to the team, you have a responsibility to lead.  As the founder, you are the only one who really knows the vision and can describe it to others – and your team looks to you to provide that vision for them.   Even when you may not feel the vision is even clear to you, it’s your job to be sure others get on board and execute.   The shift of time from managing projects and managing people to listening and leading can be subtle but is the most impactful role you have as CEO.

Measuring success.   Another mantra:  “What gets measured, gets done.”   We know it’s true but figuring out what “success” looks like and defining the right things to measure to drive that success is not easy.   With small businesses, it’s easy to chug along, looking at sales figures and profit and loss statements – but for growth, you must understand drivers, measure results and shift gears in response to results.

As Equinox has grown and I have developed as a business owner, I’ve learned the importance of these areas.  I continually try to stay on task as a CEO providing vision, leadership and metrics to continue our business’ growth.   What I’ve learned most, though, is that I cannot accomplish this alone.   I must rely on my team for certain activities, my CEO group for learnings, and my trusted advisors for best practices and honesty.   Without these valuable resources, my effectiveness as CEO would plummet.