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Every business should celebrate reaching the point where a CEO needs to be appointed. This means the business has scaled impressively and when a CEO is needed, it is important to make the process intentional. With the right mindset and support system, any founder can transition into the CEO your team needs.
Dorothea von Wichert-Nick is the CEO and founder of Volate, a coaching and consulting company for startups, so she had some core insights to reveal to us the steps and strategies that contributed to her own successful shift.
“I have been an intuitive leader from the beginning, people liked to be on my team. I took time to develop both the team and the individuals and I always put a great emphasis on leading with mission and strategy. To unlock your full potential as a leader, you have to commit to growth and development. No matter where you are in your leadership journey, there’s always room to grow.”
While there is no right way to navigate the transition to CEO, there are some key insights into the steps and strategies to make it more effective.
1. Realize what you don’t know, then build a team to fill the knowledge gaps
If you are going to make an effective transition from founder to CEO that will allow you to get out of the gutter and prioritize the big picture, you need the right team on the field.
A successful team starts with hiring the right people, those who value working toward a common goal, are goal-oriented, and respect the hierarchical structure that most businesses require. Bringing in crucial expertise at the beginning will set you up to build out the larger team, which can quickly expand.
2. Build your management style by seeking out feedback
If you feel overwhelmed thinking about learning all you need to know to take on the responsibilities of CEO, you’re not alone. Many founders who transition into the role don’t have management experience or leadership training.
Tap into the existing knowledge base among your team, mentors, and wider network by requesting specific feedback on issues you’re working through. You need people who can tell you where you need to grow, where your gaps are in skills or experience, and help you understand where to start and what to prioritize when it comes to growing in your role.
“Let me quote one of my clients, “I realized leadership is a ninety percent mindset and ten percent toolset and my biggest development,” he said, “was getting a new perspective on myself and on the team and this has changed everything.”
3. Leverage your time and delegate
Transitioning from the role of individual contributor and builder to leader of a team means handing over responsibility and trusting your team.
Delegating will allow you to step away from daily management of the business and prioritize the creative work of building networks and forging partnerships to grow your company.
This way, you will be able to focus on doing the things that are the highest and best use of your time and the company’s time.
4. Prioritize both mission and business goals
The first step to setting your business goals is to understand and evaluate your company's mission.
Your mission is your company’s purpose, it is why you do what you do and it should stand the test of time.
But that doesn’t mean it has to be boring or basic. In fact, the best mission statements are inspiring and help rally employees around a common good.
As you develop your mission statement, consider what makes your company unique. Is it the quality of your product or service, communication, fairness, community involvement?
When you incorporate these elements into your mission statement, it says that in every way that you approach the market, this is where your organization places value.
Once you define the mission of your company you and your employees can implement that mission, integrate it into strategy and key decisions as you plan for the long term.
5. Stay curious, reach out, understand yourself and grow
“To lead very well, first, you have to understand yourself.” Dorothea explains.
If you are going to lead, you must know yourself. Knowing yourself is the foundation of strong character, purpose, and authenticity, it requires an accurate understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, values, beliefs, motivations, and desires. Developing these personal insights provides the foundation of all successful leaders.
. . .
“Every business is the mirror of the founder. Once you start your own development, the company will follow.”
At the end of the day, the transition from founder to CEO, like so many aspects of building a business from scratch will force you to learn and adapt.
To successfully lead a team, leaders need to understand how to motivate, engage, and manage their employees. They must be able to give honest feedback, have difficult conversations, and provide support when employees need it. Employees who work under great leaders tend to be happier, more productive and more connected to their organization.
Ultimately, the best way to unlock your full leadership potential is to invest in yourself. Smart leaders understand that they are never done learning, because learning is a lifelong process. Be hungry to learn, challenge yourself, and strive to learn something new every day.
“It all comes down to growth. If you don’t grow, the business won’t grow. With that in mind, you can focus your ambition to grow into leadership and make sure your business really starts flying.”