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Making the Jump to CEO

Earlier this month Frazier & Deeter CPA and the law firm of Morris, Manning and Martin offered a panel event featuring three highly accomplished women CEOs from diverse backgrounds. Panelists Dr. Amy Baxter, Founder and CEO of MMJ Labs, Mary Hester, CEO of LAN Systems and Shannon Russo, Founder and CEO of Kinetix generously shared their insights and “lessons learned” with over 100 senior executives.

These CEOs had successful careers in finance, engineering and medicine before deciding they wanted to run their own companies. The jump to CEO brings several lessons that entrepreneurs and executives should note before making the leap.

What are some of the key takeaways about reaching the highest level of leadership?

1. Communicate your vision. Explain both “why the business” and “why we’re doing this thing right now.” Explain why you make the decisions you do, so that people will learn to make similar choices to move the organization in the right direction.

This is not as easy as it sounds…how you communicate must evolve as the organization gets bigger and adds complexity, like remote employees and different generations, who consume information differently.

2. Be authentic; model behaviors. Be upfront about your weaknesses, as well as your strengths. When you make a mistake, don’t deny it, own it and use it as a teaching opportunity. Inspire your team with your passion for your business and model the behaviors you would like exhibited by your employees. In any business culture is critical and culture is the result of collective behavior. If you see your direct reports aren’t modeling the behaviors you want as the company culture, do something about it.

3. Don’t be a bottleneck. Let people do something, even if they will not do it as well as you would. They will learn from the experience and the team will get stronger. Coaching them rather than doing it yourself sets the stage for growth for both the individuals and the company.

4. Think about team dynamics. Make the time to think about where the team and its members are, versus where you need them to go. What are strengths, weaknesses and personality traits of the individuals? Invest in DISC or Meyers Briggs assessments and training to help people understand how to work together and make differing styles an advantage, rather than a constraint. Ask your star performers “How can I help you do more like that?” and really listen to the answer.

Finally, think about what skills should be outsourced. What is strategic and needs to be in-house, versus what can an outside specialist do better and faster?

5. Find a sounding board of peers. As leaders rise in the scope of their responsibility their peer group naturally becomes smaller. A peer group of other business owners offers an immensely valuable resource for everything from finding quality providers for services to providing insight about major strategic decisions. Happily today there are traditional groups like Vistage, as well as online communities, to help business leaders find peers who can provide meaningful advice, based on similar experiences.

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