CEO Wake Up Call: Get Out of Your Senior Executives’ Way and Lead

Is most of your success attributed to your great execution? Were you a master at getting things done? As a result of your “doing” orientation, did your company grow? Now do you have a problem with execution or growth? Is your company too big to keep up your old habits? You know that if you continue your old role as the “doer” instead of being the Leader of your Executive Team, your company will stop growing. Maybe you are not quite sure yet of what your new role requires, AND maybe your “doing” habit is harder to break than you thought. Now what?

Once you learn to work through people, you can leverage that skill and continue to grow. Here are a few pointers to make the transition from “doer” to “leader”.

What to Do:

  1. Take the time to design and define your new CEO role.  Research successful CEOs of companies that are 2-3 times your current size. What makes them succesful? Create a chart with broad categories for how you want to spend your time. Next, break the categories down into actionable goals and break those goals into short term tasks.
  2. Here is a shameless, but valuable, plug: Join Vistage. You learn how to lead not only from our expert speakers, but from your peers, who are also CEO’s, Presidents and Business Owners.
  3. Focus on making your organization healthy. Develop a plan to strengthen your Executive Team.
  4. Expect that you will feel uncomfortable. I see many CEO’s and Senior Executives who are “doing addicts”. Transforming from doing to leading (which often feels like non-doing) often causes anxiety and withdrawal symptoms.
  5. Redefine how you measure your productivity.  Change what you write on your to-do list to include items from step 1. Expect that effective leading requires 80-90% of your time to be in meetings.
  6. Learn how to ask open questions. Questions are a great way to expand the thinking of your Executives. Just make sure that you ask them without any emotional load or implied solutions.  Otherwise, your Executives will interpret your questions as disguised orders, which can also feel like manipulation to them.

Things Not to Do

  1. Revert back to your old expertise in times of stress. For example, if your last job was in operations, then avoid the temptation to jump in when you find an interesting project in operations that “needs” your attention.
  2. Micromanage. “A” players need you to stay out of their way. The minute you start doing their job, is the minute that they decide to leave. Your micromanagement sends the message that you do not trust them to do THEIR job. And the more time you spend doing someone else’s job is less time you are spending on your own role, CEO. If you neglect your CEO responsibilities long enough, your company will fail.

Taking your company to the next level starts with you learning how to effectively lead. Make it an intentional goal now before it’s too late.

Recommended reading

  1. The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business, By Patrick Lencioni

Category: Leadership

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About the Author: Cheryl McMillan

Cheryl is a Vistage Master Chair and Executive Coach. She has a passion for raising awareness in leaders about how their choices and unconscious actions impact their results. She leads two C-Suite peer advisory boards, comprised of CEO's or …

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  1. Michele Jewett

    October 15, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Acknowledging that this type of growth is uncomfortable goes a long way in helping to set realistic expectations of yourself. No profound change comes without discomfort. The question is “how will your recognize it?” and “what will you do or intentionally NOT do during those times?”. Love the idea of redefining “productivity” for the leader. Great ideas!

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