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Making the Transition From Entrepreneur to CEO

Making the Transition From Entrepreneur to CEO

SPECIAL REPORT – Small Business:

Understand Your Role and Delegate When Possible


Special to the Business Journal

Many entrepreneurs and executives play the role of chief cook and bottle washer on the job.

They think it’s their responsibility to do everything and anything to expand their business.

Although this is often appropriate in start-ups, there comes a time when the chief cook and bottle washer approach to running a high-tech/biotech company will hold it back.

At a certain stage, a company needs a chief executive , a CEO.

What is a CEO?

One definition, pieced together from assorted dictionaries, is that a CEO is the person of the highest rank, with the power to determine or settle issues, and charged with being the source of the management and direction of the business.

– The Role Played Out By The CEO

The following is a list of activities that comprise the role of a chief executive in a technically sophisticated company:

& #149; Crafting the company vision and strategy.

& #149; Communicating the vision to insiders and outsiders. This includes executives, managers, individual contributors, customers, partners, vendors, shareholders and the public.

& #149; Making the big decisions.

& #149; Inspiring people with the vision and strategy.

& #149; Delegating the work, then holding people and teams accountable for the results.

& #149; Developing new leaders.

& #149; Fostering key relationships with vendors, customers, partners and government.

– Changing Hats To Chief Executive

Making the shift from chief cook and bottle washer to chief executive requires three transitions:

& #149; Understand your highest value contribution to your company and focus on that role.

& #149; Recognize your position as a leader and own the job.

& #149; Delegate everything else, and hold others accountable. Without apology.

In this article we will focus on transition one in the process of becoming chief executive.

– Understanding The Valuable Contribution

As CEO, you make the highest value contribution to your company’s growth by acting consistently with the list defined above. Providing leadership inside and outside of a company is an act of great leverage in the truest sense of the word. Through vision, strategy, enrollment and inspiration, you provide energy and the direction to expend that energy , dramatically multiplying the effectiveness of your team.

In your organization, you may hold other roles in addition to CEO, such as head of sales, or technical guru. Such roles exist outside of the CEO role and as soon as it is cost-beneficial, you should give them up. For now, it is important to distinguish the CEO role.

& #149; Time for a bit of introspection. Considering all your roles, make a list of your top priorities.

& #149; Limit the list to no more than seven.

Your list could include priorities such as developing new leaders, coaching middle level executives, closing key sales, and working with the board. Ask yourself this, “What am I directly responsible for and what actions do I take, which make the most difference?”

& #149; Review your list and test it , are the priorities you’ve listed important and practical? Make sure the priorities you have defined are consistent with your values.

Then ask yourself this key question, “If everything I did, all day long, was something related to this list, would that move the company forward faster?”

If the answer is yes, then you’ve created the right list, and, why are you working on anything else?

– Identify How You Want To Spend Time

What do you do all day long? Most executives think they know but in fact do not. Are you ready to find out?

Keep a time log. Commit to a two-week program. Carry around a small stack of index cards or a small spiral notebook. Every 15 minutes or so, make a note of what you’ve been doing. At the end of the day, sum it up. At the end of the week, sum it up. At the end of two weeks, sum it up again.

The results will probably be surprising. Your time will fall into three categories:

& #149; Things inside the scope of your priority list. Keep doing these things. Find ways to allocate even more time to them.

& #149; Things to delegate. Find someone in the organization to do these things, or outsource them to a professional services firm or contractor.

& #149; Things no one should be doing. You will know these things as soon as you think about them.

There are two special categories of items that may show up on your list:

One is called “things I do best.” Look closely and examine if this is true. Is there someone else in the organization who might do this thing just as well?

Maybe it is time to train someone. Maybe it should be outsourced. Regardless of how well you do this thing, if it is not on your list of priorities, get rid of it.

If there is something your company counts on you, and only you, to do, particularly as part of day-to-day operations, you are a bottleneck. And if you are out on the road, or out with a client, or meeting with the governor , that thing, whatever it is , will not get done. Get out of the way.

The other special category is called “things I like to do.” These are things you really enjoy, but even you know could best be done by someone else. Give them up.

At a certain stage in your company’s development, you simply have to stop debugging programs, or handling every customer complaint, or ordering supplies. Treat this category similarly to things you do best. Stop doing them.

Use your priority list to evaluate how you spend your time. If a contemplated activity will not forward one or more priorities, do not do it. Delegate it to someone else. Period. If there is no one to give it to, don’t do it.

– Getting Down To The Bottom Line

This sounds like time management. What does it have to do with being chief executive?

Everything! As chief executive, your primary role is being the source of the management and direction of the business. Your priorities should support this role.

You are like an enzyme or an accelerant. You help other people make things happen. You are, in the words of Secretary of State Colin Powell, a force multiplier.

Discipline yourself to spend a few weeks in transition one. You won’t go back. Your company won’t let you.

Note for professionals or solo entrepreneurs: Everything said above about CEOs applies to you as well. The only difference is you will delegate to people outside of your organization.

For everything you do outside of the list of highest value contributions, consider the following: If you were to hire an assistant, a contractor, or a professional services firm, while you spent your time concentrating on your highest value activities, would your net income go up or down?

Lemberg, of Escondido-based Lemberg & Co., is futurist, strategist and executive coach.


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