It Takes a Village to Raise a CEO
We have all heard the debate about whether leaders or born or made. I can tell you without a doubt that leaders are made. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics states that approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first ten years. Only 25% of new businesses make it to fifteen years or more.
In an article on Investopedia, Michael Deane shares that the top six reasons businesses fail are because of:
- Not investing in the market
- Business plan problems
- Not enough financing
- Bad location, Internet presence, marketing
- Remaining rigid
- Expanding too fast
While I am sure this is true, I would suggest that business failure is fundamentally a leadership problem. It is the responsibility of the CEO to be humble enough to put the right teams in place to support the business and achieve its vision.
While technically the abbreviation CEO means “Chief Executive Officer,” I truly believe it is the “Chief Everything Officer.” Not to say that the CEO needs to be an expert in everything, but they need to ensure they have the right people and resources around them to be properly set up for success.
In short, every CEO needs an ecosystem around them. There are obvious roles, such as a banker, lawyer, accountant, technology partner, insurance partner, etc. Still, a CEO needs to have partnerships with a myriad of other experts as well.
Let’s Explore What the Village Needs to Include
The Personal Coach
Everyone needs a coach. It doesn’t matter if you are a professional athlete, CEO, or frontline worker; we all need someone to challenge us, push us, and point out our areas of improvement. These can come in many forms, from paid coaches to someone that has been in the industry in a non-competing market, a local retired businessperson, or a friend who has “been there and done that.”
Meetings and conversations need to take place often and be scheduled to ensure that when you are together, you are not focused on catching up but focused on moving forward. I would suggest sending the areas on which you want to focus in advance whenever possible.
Look to answer questions such as: What are the biggest challenges that you are facing? Who can help you solve the issues in the most effective and efficient way? What resources do you need to solve them? How quickly do you need to solve the issues?
By knowing what challenges you want to solve, working with someone who has experience can help you see a clear path forward. I am a big believer that if you cannot lead yourself, you cannot lead others. Having a good coach helps you to be in the learning mindset that empowers you to focus on improving yourself so that you may provide more value to those you are responsible for serving.
I will also say a good coach helps to keep you inspired. Talking about what you have done well empowers confidence and enthusiasm for the future. Don’t underestimate the power of recognizing your own personal successes.
The People Puzzle Wizard
Every leader and CEO has “people puzzles” to solve. People puzzles are issues having to do with the personnel on your teams, including things such as retention, compensation, coaching, courageous conversations, personality conflicts, etc. By having a person to work with to help navigate these issues, a leader can get impartial feedback, ideas, talking points, or insights that they would not have otherwise.
Being amazing at solving people puzzles is critical for a CEO; therefore, working with others who have already solved many of their own or who can accelerate your time to solve them is of tremendous value. This people puzzle expert could be your coach, an experienced people leader, a board member, or a consultant. Have this person on speed dial and reach out when you need to so that you do not have to navigate these issues alone.
The Industry Oracle
Don’t recreate the wheel. In every industry, there are experts that a leader can work with to identify best practices, including consultants, leaders who have sold their business or retired, and peer groups. Leverage the knowledge that these people or groups have so that you can accelerate your success. The faster you can implement lessons already learned, the easier your life and the life of your team will be.
The Sales and Marketing Master
Unless your business is sales and marketing, you need to be able to lean on a professional or group of professionals to drive revenue into your business. If you are not growing, you are dying.
I was fortunate in my life to have incredible sales leaders around me that helped the business to power through tough times. A mentor shared with me that “Sales cure all ills.” Over the years, we modified this to be “Healthy sales cure all ills.” This is so true.
While fast growth creates its own set of challenges, they are good challenges to solve. To do this well, you have to know the promises your product or service commits to provide, who your target audience is, what their pains/triggers are, and where they spend their time so you can reach them through the right medium.
Make the investment to do this right and do it before paying for much else. The noise of the world makes getting the attention of your targets more challenging than ever before, so do not wait until you are starving for revenue.
The Promise Keeper
Each organization makes promises to its customers. These might be about quality, timeliness, coverage, outcomes, cost management, or any other thing, experience, or level you commit to delivering.
These promises must have a keeper. Someone responsible for ensuring that the customer knows and feels the value for which they have paid. In many businesses, this often starts as the CEO or owner, but over time, this must be delegated to a new keeper. Someone who understands the commitments made by sales and marketing, knows the company’s inner workings to ensure escalations can be resolved, knows how to review information to see trends and forecast the future, and knows the significance of delivering on time and on budget.
Your promises establish your brand. Ensure this person has pride in protecting that brand.
The Financial Guru
Over the years, it has been surprising to see how little some business owners know about how and where to pull the levers in the business to ensure they are making the right amount of gross margin in the right places.
Traditional income statements and balance sheets tell some of the story, but it is critical to utilize advanced reporting to know each line of business an organization has, what the costs of delivering each line of revenue are, what controls or adjustments can be made to improve margins, and then how much you have available to spend on sales and general administration.
It takes a sharp financial person to help ensure that every part of the business is properly categorized and reported upon so you can constantly improve. Industry best practices help to know where and how much you should make in your revenue lines but getting to the truth about the financial aspects of your business requires special skills. You can sell all day, but if you are not putting money aside to reinvest in the future business (and save for a rainy day), there will be tough times ahead.
All these village members help raise the CEO by providing insights and ensuring they are in a position to be effective and win. Usually, a CEO will have some of these skills and capabilities, but no one person can know everything. The balance of these pieces of expertise must be fulfilled by a stellar team committed to success and empowering the CEO.
It is up to the CEO to know the truth about their own strengths and to recognize their weaknesses so that they have the humility to ask the right people to join the village and trust them to fulfill their responsibilities to guide the leader toward the best decisions and knowledge.
Adapt or Die by Thomas H. Douglas is available now for purchase https://www.adaptordie.com/the-book/