Business Growth & Strategy

Are You Working on Your Business, or FOR Your Business?

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Too often, CEOs’ time is spent on everything but what it should be spent on — working on the business. Our tendency — especially for smaller to medium-sized businesses — is to do the work of the business in addition to trying to work on the business.

Certainly, there are good reasons for doing this in those very early years as you are trying to get the business off the ground and you have limited staff; but I’ve seen this occur even when the CEO has other executives on board to manage key areas of the business. Let’s assume for this article that the issue is not that you can’t tear yourself away from overseeing every part of the business, but rather, the issue is that you need to slice out more time in your day to actually work on the business.

Let’s look at some things you can do to be sure you are better able to manage your own time by delegating more effectively to others; and then let’s look at what you should be doing as the CEO.

Hire the right people. The people you hire to join your team — at any level of responsibility — must be “go getters.” While certainly training your employees is necessary, they should be individuals who are motivated to take on responsibilities and get things done without constant handholding or oversight.

Develop your employees — from senior leaders to individual contributors. Provide your employees with training and professional development opportunities. This may be anything from workshops to attending conference to participating in, or leading, strategic projects to help the business meet its goals.

Clear roles and responsibilities. Ensure that all employees have very clear roles and responsibilities. Too often, we do not provide clear roles and responsibilities to our employees. Without this information there is no clarity around expectations. Roles and responsibilities should include decision-making authority levels (for example, the ability to make a decision to refund an unhappy customer up to $x dollars.)

Autonomy to do their jobs. It’s hard to let go of aspects of the business — there is a feeling of wanting to be involved in everything simply because it is your business. But you need to learn how to let go. Provide employees autonomy to do their jobs. Set an end goal — they can get to the end goal as they see fit. Feel free to put parameters around how they get there if that makes you more comfortable; but there is no need (and certainly you can’t spend the time!) to tell an employee every step they need to take to get from point A to point C.

Now let’s discuss how you should be spending your time as the CEO.

Setting strategy for the organization and communicating vision. Your strategy shouldn’t be set once and then tucked away. You’ll need to revise your strategy on a regular basis to keep up with changes in the industry, with your competitors and to meet customer needs. Have key employees take the lead in updating components of your organizational strategy, with you being responsible for setting strategy and communicating your vision to them.

Being the spokesman for the organization. You are the face of the organization! On a regular basis you should be meeting with partners, vendors, customers and others to communicate your vision for the organization, understand the impression they have with your organization, and determine how to better serve their needs. This helps you in developing an appropriate strategy for the business.

Serving on boards. Serve on boards — whether for private companies or non-profits. Share your knowledge, be seen and establish strong relationships with other business owners.

Keeping up to date with the industry. Regardless of your industry, there are always changes to keep up with. Keep up to date with what is happening in your industry and others through conferences and industry events. By understanding what is happening in your industry you are better positioned to be prepared for when changes occur without being in reactionary mode.

Finding partners for the business. You should be looking at ways to grow your business and continue to find ways to serve your customers. On a regular basis, be on the look for partners, vendors and others who can help you in this endeavor. You’ll meet potential partners in a variety of places, including Chamber meetings, networking at Vistage CEO meetings and through conferences and industry events.

Keeping tabs on the global economy and its effect on your business and strategy. In today’s world just knowing what is going on nationally is not sufficient. Every business — no matter how small — is impacted by the global economy. On a regular basis know what is going on in the world around you, and consider how it may impact your strategy and business plans. Certainly through Vistage, Chambers of Commerce and industry groups you’ll be able to share information with others and plan for managing your business in a global environment.

The bottom line: You must be focused on your business — its strategy, vision, growth potential, partnerships, and products and services offered to meet the customers’ needs. You can only do this effectively if you are working on the business and not in the business. You set strategy and provide the vision; tactical operations are the responsibility of your employees.

This topic and more are included in the Vistage Connect™ peer advisory sessions. Learn more.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is part of a series by Gina Abudi exploring the challenges and realities of time management and leadership issues for CEOs. See also:

Gina Abudi is president of Abudi Consulting Group, LLC; providing strategy around projects, process, people and technology to businesses of all sizes. Gina can be reached via her website,

Category: Business Growth & Strategy Leadership Competencies

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About the Author: Gina Abudi

Gina Abudi is president of Abudi Consulting Group, LLC, providing strategy around projects, process, people and technology to businesses of all sizes. Gina can be re…

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  1. Sandra Lee Williams

    January 23, 2012 at 1:41 am

    Finding the right people and then trusting their judement is critical.  Otherwise, why bother – you’re basically going to end up being your own assistant.


  2. Great thoughts as always Gina.  If the CEO is busy running the railroad, who’s planning the trip?  Most people can’t be great at both at the same time no matter how much they multitask.  Unfortunately many prioritize their leadership time by focusing on operations over strategy, culture and talent and it hurts their ability to be successful in the future.

  3. Ana

    May 27, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Recently, we have realized that the study on how CEOs spend their time has really suspicious conclusions – it is full of errors and mistakes!

    To an excellent critique of this study please visit Lies, Damn Lies, and Survey Results – how CEOs do not spend their time.

    Link text: Lies, Damn Lies, and Survey Results – how CEOs do not spend their time


  4. Purslane

    June 25, 2012 at 7:43 am

    The recent study about how CEOs spend their time had a large number of errors in it. It’s being repeated everywhere when its conclusions are very suspect.

    There’s a good critique of the study at Lies, Damn Lies, and Survey Results – how CEOs do not spend their time.

    Link text: Lies, Damn Lies, and Survey Results – how CEOs do not spend their time

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