Transforming from Founder to CEO – Mark MacLeod

July 22, 2020 - Mark MacLeod

Transforming from Founder to CEO

Founders are a special breed. It takes a certain kind of crazy to start something from nothing. And an even rarer, beautiful form of crazy to attempt to create or disrupt large markets in a short amount of time.

I have met many founder personas over the years. All have faced some level of struggle over how they transform and adapt as their companies grow.

In the beginning, you succeed through your own sheer force of will. By DOING. Perhaps you wrote the first version of your product. You do sales calls. Heck, you even bring out the trash.

In this early stage, founders are everywhere. Involved in every decision. They know everything about their business. They make fast decisions. They are tenacious.

Once your company is post-product market fit and you are into scaling, things start to change. This is when startups often secure meaningful capital and start to build out their leadership teams.

As you bring on senior leaders, your old, go everywhere, be everywhere behaviours will no longer serve you. You need to give room and autonomy for your new leaders. You go from succeeding through your own efforts to succeeding through your leadership team.

If you continue to meddle and get into the weeds, you will demotivate your team and harm more than help.

Many growth stage CEOs face a reality of days full of meetings. And they are not enjoying it. They miss building! They miss the flexibility of being able to just try things. They miss not knowing everything that is going on.

Many founder CEOs start to get restless at this stage and start tinkering, working on side projects, etc.

It’s easy to start something. It’s harder to finish something. To go all the way and build a large, enduring company.

There is no question that if you stick with it your role will completely transform. Many times over!

I have found it helpful for many founding CEOs to think of their company as the product once they are no longer working directly on the product itself. To work ON the business vs IN the business. To ensure the key features are in place. Features like culture, vision, values. Features like frameworks for decision making that allow the broader team to make decisions that are consistent with how the founder would think.

You can transform from founder to CEO without losing the founder magic. You can continue to be a builder and creator. You can continue to leverage all your strengths while adding new ones along the way.

Questions to consider

Have I changed my behaviour as my company has grown? Am I putting myself ‘out of a job’ and pulling myself out of areas that I used to be directly involved in?

Am I fully empowering my leadership team to run their functions? Am I showing them that I trust them?

If not, is that just a change of behaviour needed on my end or is there an issue with my team?

Do I need to be in every meeting that I attend today? Do I need to be involved in all the decisions that come to me today?

How can I harness my unique founder skills in ways that are appropriate for the business that I have today?

How can I reorganize my role and activities so that I get the most fulfillment, have the most positive impact, while empowering and strengthening my leadership team?

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

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