One of the most difficult things I coach small and midcap business CEO/Presidents on is making the internal decision to stop being the star [fill in the blank here. I’ll use software coder for my examples] and to start wholeheartedly become the CEO of the company. (From here on out I’ll use my software coding example – but please fill in the blank with your old role in th company’s product/service because it is all the same problem)
What do I mean by this?
When you were leading the development of your brand new, disruptive software app that makes life and business more efficient, easier, and quicker to revenue than anything else on the market, you knew exactly what had to be accomplished, with what tools to use, and how to proceed. With the success you achieved once this marvelous innovation arrived in the marketplace, you are on top of the world. Of course, once launched, customers ask for tweaks here and there, and you did, but now continue to do, this because it keeps the customers happy and tied to your company.
But all is not well and good inside your own company when you do this service. As you begin to grow the company, roles begin to emerge. And yes, everyone wears many hats for a while and you will certainly be wearing your ace coder hat for a while. But to achieve long term company success, you have to write yourself out of the coder position. And here is where it gets tough…
…tough because, although you don’t admit to it, those shots of adrenaline you get when the coding works, you save the day, and you’re the hero – those are pretty addictive – and let’s face it, adrenaline runs differently in the CEO position. So, you say you’re done coding but in reality, when a customer calls, you can’t wait to be the one saving the day through code. Because you also have to wear the CEO hat – incidentally, this is the only recognized hat you have, you don’t always have time to communicate what just happened and why to your development and operations support ranks. They may love you as a person, but they’re quickly getting tired of mopping up the design and operational messes your secret coding behavior is causing.
…tough because people start hiding project work so you don’t swoop in to save the day. Your chosen internal leaders push back when what you do doesn’t follow the procedures put in place to create an organized solution that the company as a whole can put out (the stated reason you give is that you think processes are red tape and hinder growth. Hey, the company’s growing, so why is everyone on edge?)
The reason is simple: you need to code the company, not code the product
Simple reason, but difficult solution. When I left engineering to become a consultant, I could no longer solve the problems I loved solving. I had to provide insight, paths to solutions, facilitate discussion so others could develop a final solution. Believe me when I say it was tough. I loved solving those problems. But amazingly enough, when I really looked at what was going on, the problems others developed with my insights, paths to solutions, and facilitation were way better than I could have ever provided on my own. While I accepted the new position, it took time for me to internally accept my new role. Externally I did it, but for a while, internally I grieved for my loss. It was who I had been. Now, I had to be someone else.
Or did I?
As I worked at helping lead teams to solutions and company growth, I realized all the tools and solutions were still being funneled through my unique point of view. It was still me, just different. I didn’t change, just my perspective.
If you never make the decision to really become the CEO and leave your old job behind, then you will frustrate employees whose job it truly is. You’ll stagnate them as well. You’ll frustrate your chosen leadership and management teams when you’re not available to do the big picture, customer relationship, and image work required of a CEO. You’ll see this play out in flat lining revenue and customers that demand more because you’re always at the ready to jump in and fulfill the slightest demand (and that is definitely not sustainable). You’re limiting company growth even while you push others to achieve it.
Eventually, you’ll have to answer these questions: Do you want to continue doing your old job? Or. Do you want to grow a company? It’s still you, just different. There is still an adrenaline rush, just different. And the red tape? It was really never a problem, and, now you can use it to keep innovation and solutions inside a set of boundary conditions so that you stay tight to your vision and differentiation. You never lose sight of what the company is striving to really achieve and become. Even better, as CEO of your growing company, you get the joy of guiding others in maturing and innovating the growth of the company to the delight of your customer base. And that is sustainable.
Change is often just a matter of perspective.
Is it easy? No. You have to let yourself grieve the end of the old you
And then, you have to leave it behind.
Only by doing this do you get to celebrate the excitement and potential of the new you.
The new perspective you bring to the exciting perspective of a growing company.
Cynthia Kalina-Kaminsky is the president of Process & Strategy Solutions Her digital Performance Magic course for small and midsize businesses, online this Sept., helps owners, CEOs, and decision makers easily plot paths to growth by eliminating the internal chaos.