“I don’t know if I’m cut out to be a CEO… I don’t even know if I’m an entrepreneur anymore.”
These were the thoughts going through my head as I slammed the door of my office on that fateful day.
Everything in my business was a mess at the moment. I’d just been backstabbed by a partner. Key employees had walked off job sites. We were losing money left and right. A lawsuit was looming. Our insurance company was refusing to pay for multiple six figures of storm damage to our properties. Investors were even threatening to pull back funding.
The pressure was absolutely crushing.
Worst of all, I felt like it was all my fault and I was the only one to fix it.
Up to this point, I’d been a fairly visionary and optimistic entrepreneur. But as we grew, the gap between my skills and what the business needed widened.
At the time, my title was CEO but it really stood for “Chief Everything Officer”! I knew something had to change. My company and I both desperately needed clarity on my role and the right structure to support it.
My story represents a critical shift most entrepreneurs face without even realizing it: the shift from entrepreneur to CEO.
That begs the question: What is the role of a CEO, especially in an entrepreneurial company?
The fact is, most entrepreneurs and business owners who carry the “CEO” title are playing “Chief Everything Officer” just like I was. They’re wearing too many hats and spending far too much time in day-to-day management instead of owning the role of growth-focused CEO.
The good news is that this doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be the CEO of your company. A recent survey showed that 60% of CEOs ranked creativity as the most important attribute a CEO must have, which entrepreneurs typically have no shortage of.
However, if we’re ever going to stop playing Chief Everything Officer we must define what a true CEO actually does, which we’ll do below. And we’ll also reveal the Missing Link that keeps most entrepreneurial CEOs from being successful in this role.
Understanding the CEO Position
In my experience, the best entrepreneurial companies are typically led by what we call a Visionary CEO.
This type of CEO oversees and obsesses about the company vision and how to get there. They are the person who spends the majority of their time thinking and working ON the business, not IN it.
These Visionary CEOs actually DO very little themselves. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a critical role to play. In fact, there are three key roles every Visionary CEO fills to build an exceptional company.
3 Key Roles of a Visionary CEO
The role of a Visionary CEO can be boiled down to three things:
1. Chief Vision Officer
As the Chief Vision Officer, the CEO is responsible for creating and communicating clarity on where the company is going, why that matters, and what must happen in the next 1-5 years to get there.
As the old proverb goes, “Without a vision, the people perish.” Many CEOs and their teams suffer from low motivation, internal strife, and overall inefficiency simply because they don’t have a SHARED, CLEAR VISION.
This is the CEO’s responsibility to fix.
In order to do this, the Visionary CEO must take time to intentionally disconnect from the day-to-day and rise to a macro-picture, 30,000-foot view. They must envision a bigger, better future for the company and outline what the company is focused on and how to get there.
Then they must get their team and company bought into that vision, soliciting their input and best efforts to make that vision a reality for the greater good of everyone.
Using that vision as a filter, the CEO usually makes just a few key decisions per day and empowers their team to oversee the rest, with the vision as their guide.
2. Chief Culture Officer
A CEO must cultivate an effective organizational culture. More than a buzzword, culture is a true competitive advantage in today’s world. In the words of famous management consultant Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Organizations can copy strategy, structures, and technologies, but not culture. Culture is that invisible thing that defines how a company conducts business, treats its employees, and serves its customers. The question is whether your company’s culture will be intentional or unintentional, healthy or dysfunctional.
When the CEO cultivates a great culture, they harness the power of emotional connection, as business and work become a cause rather than a chore, sustaining incredible levels of team motivation.
To play Chief Culture Officer well, Visionary CEOs must take time to craft the organization's core values and cultural habits alongside their leadership team.
Then, they must lead by example, embodying these values themselves. Further, they must create systems to consistently and creatively communicate these values to their team. Most importantly, they must celebrate and reward when team members' actions embody these values.
When done correctly, these cultural values and habits become contagious, spreading to every level of the organization and influencing daily actions and decisions by every team, creating alignment, camaraderie, and health.
3. Chief Growth Officer
As a Chief Growth Officer, the CEO's job is to plan, enact, measure, and support growth-oriented initiatives. But playing Chief Growth Officer is about more than just clever marketing. To fulfill a company's strategic goals, the CEO combines experience in marketing, sales, product development, and finance.
To do this, Visionary CEOs must devote time to work on future-focused projects, like building key partnerships, PR and branding, innovation, and developing competitive advantages.
One way Visionary CEOs often do this is through product development. Whereas most of the company is focused on selling and fulfilling current products, the CEO is instead researching what new products or services the market wants and needs. They use that intel to reverse engineer a plan to market, sell and fulfill on that product profitability, before bringing it to their team for implementation.
When a true Visionary CEO is focused on growth for an extended period, an entrepreneurial company can expect exponential progress within the next 2 to 4 years.
The Missing Link
Now after reading this, you may realize you’re not spending much of your time on any of the three roles above. If so, you’re not alone!
The biggest challenge for most entrepreneurial CEOs is that they are constantly pulled in two directions. They're pulled between the future-growth activities they know they should focus on as CEO and the day-to-day management and operations of the company.
The reason for this is often because their team has a Missing Link.
That missing link is the CEO's operations counterpart: the Integrator COO.
This operations counterpart has been called many things: President, General Manager, Chief of Staff, etc. But the function is the same.
It's the person who focuses on the day-to-day management of the business. In doing so, they free the CEO up to focus on growth.
Without an Integrator COO, Visionary CEOs often doubt their leadership abilities as they struggle to play both roles all on their own. Even if the business continues to grow, it usually does so at the price of the CEO’s health and the company's culture.
But when a visionary CEO gets paired with their right-fit integrator COO, magic happens in the business.
The team is happier and healthier, and the business is set up to grow exponentially due to being led by a strong growth-focused CEO, who can play all three of their key roles.
Are You Ready to Become an Unleashed CEO?
For myself, partnering with the right-fit integrator COO changed EVERYTHING for me. It gave me more time to focus on the growth of my company, I now make fewer but better decisions to drive my company forward. I control where I spend my time. And best of all, I feel more confident and fulfilled as the CEO of my company.
If you’re like me and you’re ready to move from playing Chief Everything Officer to becoming a Visionary CEO, contact our team today. We specialize in helping Visionary CEOs define, find, onboard, and train their counterpart and take their organization to the next level.