I don’t know how I came to this thought process, but, from the beginning of my career, I thought it was a great idea to obsolete myself. Yeah, I know this sounds like it’s self destructive, and I guess in some organizations it is.
However, my thought process was different. My thought process was that if I do my job really, really well, then I can advance in the organization in find someone else to do the job I was doing.
The crazy thing is my thought process of obsoleting myself worked. The more I obsoleted myself and then delegated the work to the people I hired, the more I grew.
Then, I started my own company, and there was no one to delegate to, so you do the work.
When you’re starting out, it’s just you and a few others. There is no one to delegate to, so what do you do?
You and your teammates essentially divide up the work.
And you, the CEO, focus on what your expertise is. You focus on engineering if you’re an engineer. You focus on marketing if you’re a marketing expert. And, you’ll focus on sales no matter what your background is.
At the start you are an individual contributor AND the CEO. You do what’s needed. You’ll do everything from working on your core expertise to taking out the trash. And, you know what? I enjoyed every little bit of getting my hands dirty; even taking out the trash or cleaning the toilet.
Over time, you will become just the CEO.
The mistake that too many first time CEOs make is holding onto everything for too long.
Yes you absolutely have to work within a budget, but your goal is hiring employees to replace you as quickly as possible.
- Engineers typically come first, then….
- You’ll probably add a controller/finance person pretty fast (but you won’t need a CFO for a long time), then…
- You’ll add manufacturing if you’re making a physical product, then…
- You’ll add marketing as you get ready to sell your product, then…
- Perhaps some inside sales people, and finally…
- You’ll add sales people last.
Why do you add sales people last?
Let me clarify this a bit. You might add a pure sales person or two, but you’ll want to wait on adding a VP of Sales because:
It’s tough to find a really good sales VP early on.
The reality is a great VP of Sales is just not going to be interested in joining your company when revenue is low. And you’re going to be the best sales person your company has.
You are the one with the most passion about your business. You know the ins and outs better than anyone else.
So it only makes sense that you are the one selling. Plus, there’s another huge benefit you get by being the company’s first salesperson:
You know how the sales process works.
You know what the selling process looks like. And that’s huge because you will do a much better job hiring a VP Sales that fits what you truly need.
Don’t make the rookie mistake of not staying involved once you have no more line responsibilities.
Just because all the line functions in the company are filled doesn’t mean you aren’t involved in the day-to-day company responsibilities. You don’t get to sit back and watch your team work.
Yes, your team will be doing the work (freeing you up to do other work that only you can do). But they will be working based on the goals that you and the team set.
You’ll be constantly monitoring the various parts of the organization through review meetings. Plus, you’re going to be having regular 1:1’s (I used to like to do this weekly) with your direct reports.
When do you make the transition to just being CEO? A word of warning:
You are on the wrong path if you think being CEO is all about your team doing everything while you sit back and pass judgment on the work your minions are doing.
That’s not what being a great CEO is about.
Yes, you want to leverage your team as much as possible. But your goal is freeing yourself up to do the work that only you, the CEO, can accomplish. Then you can focus on the big picture issues.
The reality is you’ll be transitioning, or have a mindset of transitioning, from the day you start.
Oh. One other bit of advice is giving your team the room to make mistakes. Making mistakes and then learning from the mistakes is a key part of how people learn and grow.
The trick as a manager is letting your team make small mistakes. But, at the same time, don’t let your team make any company killing or career mistakes. You need to step in before anything that drastic happens.
Many times you are happily surprised to find that your team not only executes well, but you find your team comes up with a better way of doing things. That’s why you hire really smart people and let them run.
Now you know the tricks of effective delegation. Remember to keep the long-term goal of obsoleting yourself in mind as your company grows. Then, you’ll have the leverage you need to work on the things only you the CEO can do.