Right about now, you’ve made the discovery that if you intend to push your company beyond its current plateau, you will have to change the way you relate to your work. You have doubtlessly concluded this next level mandates you to let go of things like hiring, product design, perhaps even day-to-day sales – many things you handled in the past – and focus yourself on your role as CEO.
There are three stages to making the transition from chief cook and bottle washer (CC&BW) to CEO (source of the management and direction of the business).
- Understanding your highest value contribution to your company and focusing on that role.
- Recognizing your position as a leader and owning the job.
- Delegating everything else, and holding others accountable.
My last article, Time Well Spent, deals with transition one. This article will examine transition two – recognizing your position as leader and owning the job. Next month I will cover the third transition, Giving it all away.
As CEO of your company – you are no longer the “head of everything”. It is up to you to provide leadership. That’s the job. No ifs, ands, or buts. The sooner you recognize it the better. Being the leader entails certain responsibilities which cannot, under any circumstances, be delegated.
By the way, much has been written about the qualities of leadership. But leadership is not about qualities, such as “strength of character” or “integrity”. While those things are useful, if you aren’t already imbued with “a winning personality”, it can take half a lifetime to develop one.
The core responsibilities of corporate leadership – which you cannot delegate – include:
- Owning the vision and the strategy to realize the vision;
- Communicating the vision to insiders and outsiders;
- Enabling others to act to realize the vision;
- Developing new leaders.
- Owning the Vision
Vision is our concept of the future of our business. Owing to a quirk of human cognitive physiology, most of us experience our mental representations as images. When we think, or imagine, or conceive, what the future will be like, we tend to see it. Hence “vision”.
Vision is simply how we perceive and experience the future of our company right now, in the present. We “see” the company being a particular way – as front-runners in our industry, as serving a particular class of customers, or perhaps as being located internationally, or generating a certain level of revenues, or even as causing breakthroughs for humanity. Another way to describe the vision is to call it “The Future”.
A powerfully held and shared vision energizes and inspires people. By giving them a sense of their future – it provides a “place to go” or a purpose. It draws people forward like iron filings to a magnet. Vision is the vital catalyst that multiplies the efforts people put into their work, and intensifies/magnifies/ augments/ expands/enlarges the effect or those efforts.
It doesn’t matter where the vision came from. It could be have been a brainstorm between three friends over a cup of coffee. It could have been formed in a strategy seminar, or at a board meeting. It could have washed over you in the shower one morning or during the commute home one evening.
Regardless of the source – the CEO/Leader is the keeper of the vision, the “owner” of the vision. No one else in your company can play this role. Embrace the vision and make it yours. Have this vision be your animating principal.
Your vision will most likely include elements of product vision, company vision, and industry vision.
Communicating the Vision
Next, the CEO/Leader’s job is to communicate the vision and help people take it on as their own. By successfully transforming your vision into a shared vision, you empower your employees – they see themselves inside of it, to see the future described as their future.
The vision is now a source of magic – when people see themselves living an inspiring future, they take action consistent Vision 20 with transforming that vision of the future into a reality. Right now, in the present. People become self-inspiring when they own the vision.
Depending on the size of your organization, one-on-ones, round table discussions, town-hall meetings, conference calls, satellite meetings, board meetings, staff meetings, company dinners or outings, off-sites, video and audio tapes, monographs, white papers & newsletters may all be appropriate ways to communicate your vision.
Regardless of the particular venue, every time you get people talking about “the vision” they are making it their own.
The CEO also communicates the vision to all outside stakeholders – the Board, suppliers, customers or clients, investors, the media, even the government. When the outside world actively participates in your company’s future, many things which were once difficult become easy.
Enable others to act to bring the vision into reality
It is not enough to simply share the vision. The CEO/ leader provides opportunities for people to act to realize the vision. How do you do that?
First off, have people spend 100% of their time on work that is aligned with the company vision. Ask the question, “Is this or that project moving us toward our designated future?” If not, kill it – immediately.
- Creativity – Rarely will same-old thinking foster a bright new future. Get your organization looking outside the box. What new approaches can you take? What new technology can you apply?
- Risk taking – Don’t punish failure. Silicon Valley venture capitalists actually reward failure. A failed business venture is regarded as a badge of courage and a sign of experience and maturity.
- Initiative – Give people permission to do things and launch projects on their own. If you discover someone working on something promising, make sure they get the right resources and funding – and make a big deal out of it.
- Breaking with tradition. Just because you did it ‘that way’ in the past…
Eliminate the kind of thinking which says: “We don’t have the time, or the money, or the resources, to do…” Cultivate a climate where people say “How can we…” instead of “Can we…” or “We can’t, because…” This simple change fosters C.R.I.B.
Finally, ask the question, “What is in the way of committed action?”
Develop new leaders.
In some branches of the military, a senior officer is measured by the quality of the junior officers for whom he is responsible. In an entrepreneurial company, you will be ultimately successful to the degree you cultivate the leaders who follow you.
Remember, leadership is not a set of attributes, but a set of actions to take. Great leadership ability can develop through practice. If your company embraces C.R.I.B., people will naturally develop the skills of leading.
Look at your development teams as a training camp for leaders. Rotate people through key positions. Change the rules from time to time. Keep projects a little short of resources to encourage flexibility and ingenuity. Ask managers to make decisions on the spot.
Replace yourself in as many critical areas as possible. Push decision making further down your organization, and finally, let go!
Leadership is the ruby which transforms the scattered light of your organization into a focused, coherent laser beam, aimed – with tremendous power – in the direction of your declared future.