How To Transition From CEO To Leader

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There comes a time in every young entrepreneur’s life – at least, ideally – where they must make the tough transition from being the CEO of their company to being a leader of their company. To do so, they will need to understand what their job currently is, and what it needs to become and map out a path to get there. Let’s get started.

What’s the Difference Between CEO and Leader

CEOs, leaders, managers, and executives. A valuable entrepreneur understands the nuanced difference between being a CEO and a leader, and they actively work on transitioning from one role to the other as their company scales. These are all terms that are used somewhat interchangeably in many parts of the business world. In reality, however, these are very different jobs that have very different needs in order to be successful.

In the early phases of a startup, in particular, CEOs tend to be a kind of manager. They make sure that everything gets done; fill in gaps on their team; ensure accountability and solve problems while pushing for change.

Leadership happens once the entrepreneurial ship is well under sail, and it helps to prepare the company for the expansion and improvement phases of its development. Leaders enable their teams to get their work done, ensure that everyone has the training they need to complete their jobs, identify team weaknesses, and either train or hire new people for the necessary roles. They identify problems for other team members to solve and discover opportunities for improvement.

Whether you’re trying to negotiate salary with a Millennial or determine which part of your supply chain is the next to be disrupted, taking steps to move from a CEO to a Leader will help your company continue to develop and grow.

Have Role Models

When you start talking to successful leaders about who inspired them, you get very diverse answers, but you absolutely always get an answer. Leaders do not come out of nowhere; they learn their skills from other experts. Their inspirational leaders might be another professional who has followed a similar path as theirs, or it might be a teacher, relative, or friend, who has shown tremendous leadership ability.

Regardless of exactly who your role model is, you should have a mentor to whom you can go with questions, concerns, or advice as you proceed along the entrepreneurial path.

Embrace Uncertainty

When you are a manager or a new entrepreneur, you have everything mapped out to a certain degree. Managers often take directives from their C-suite executives and are responsible for implementing them with their teams. Entrepreneurs, meanwhile, are working from a business plan, which should be well-researched and carefully documented. While there may be some variance from the expected, both CEOs and managers are often able to anticipate, to a certain degree, what’s going to happen next.

Leaders are generally out in front of where the organization is headed, and so they need to operate with a great deal more uncertainty. They need to look for the unexpected, expect zebras instead of horses, and identify problems that other teams don’t see. They then need to communicate those concerns clearly so that the various issues can be addressed in a timely fashion.

Leaders who need to wait until all the facts are in before making a decision will not be effective over time. Much of being a successful leader is making educated guesses, and getting the guesses right more often than not.

Nurture Talent

While CEOs are often focused on the day-to-day operations of their business, Leaders are careful to create an environment that nurtures talent. There are many different ways this can be done. The most obvious is to have on-the-job learning opportunities and value communication amongst team members, even when ideas are unpopular.

Good leaders, however, are also looking at the state of their overall industry and considering what is necessary to retain talent within that industry. Would employees be more likely to stay with the company if their student loan debt was paid off? If the company offered a more generous family leave policy?

If the company implemented a better flex time or work-from-home policy that supported young families, or chronically ill workers? By offering opportunities for employees to overcome common life situations and stay with the company, the leader is actively nurturing talent within the company by preventing the best workers from leaving.

It is important to understand that a CEO has an important and necessary function within a company. As a business gets started, it needs that person who just gets done whatever is necessary to move forward. But as the company becomes more stable and roles become more defined, successful CEOs evolve into leaders who can take their company forward into the next phase of growth.


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