Becoming CEO: the Mindset Shifts You Need to Get There

Being the CEO of your business isn’t what it used to be. The definition of success in business is evolving — from profit to impact — and I’m ringing it in while saying farewell to the old perception of CEO leadership.

As I’ve grown my business over the years from a virtual assistant agency to a full-force business management and marketing agency, I’ve learned that there were a few things holding me back from fully becoming the CEO I dreamed to be.

Becoming CEO required a brand new way of thinking than I was used to, a mindset shift — a big one. I learned that instead of working on my business, like a CEO should be, I kept busying myself by working in my business.

Instead of leading my company as a CEO, I was ultimately holding myself back by staying in manager mode. And in order to fully step into the definition, role, and responsibilities of CEO, I needed to stop thinking like a manager and grow into a new mode of leadership.

What does it mean to be in manager mode?

A manager oversees and manages (naturally) the execution of the vision cast over the business — the vision that is usually cast by the CEO. A manager is a vital role for any company. After all, what good does a vision do if it takes us nowhere?

But a manager has a limited view of the business’s ultimate trajectory. Where are we going? Why are we here? What impact do we make in this world and how do we accomplish it?

Once you grow and establish a sustainable business and find you’re too busy with client work to work on your business and not in your business, it’s time for a change.

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These are not the questions a manager asks or answers. The manager takes the answers and crafts a tactical, actionable plan. They turn answers into work, work, work that moves the business forward.

Once you grow and establish a sustainable business (think: recurring clients, actual processes, consistently incoming prospects) and find you’re too busy with client work to work on your business (think: strategy, networking, marketing, and product development) and not in your business, it’s time for a change.

This is where you’re at now, isn’t it?

You’re working around the clock. Doing ALL THE THINGS. Saying yes to everything. But you’re missing opportunities, feeling burnt out and overwhelmed.

In the early days of my business, I was only working in my business. Doing client work, sending invoices, delegating to my team, checking off tasks. At the end of the day, I was drained, and I hadn't had time to develop that course I wanted. Or that really helpful offering. Or to reach out to prospective clients. Or to develop my marketing strategy.

At the end of the day, instead of feeling accomplished, I would just think of the mile-long to-do list I had waiting for me tomorrow.

And I realized that as the CEO of my business, if I am only doing the "busy work" instead of relying on my team to handle those details — if I don't make the transformation from manager to CEO — my business will never grow.

What's silly about this is that's exactly what my team and I do to transform our clients' businesses!

As the CEO, you need to have the big picture in view as you work to grow your business. That means it's time for you to get out of "manager" mode. It's time to hand off the tasks keep you from seeing the big picture.

A manager’s role in the business looks like this:

  • Carry out the vision

  • Live out the culture

  • Implement the strategies for the company

  • Be boots on the ground evaluating successes and opportunities

  • Liaise between CEO, the team, and customers

  • Handle disturbances, taking corrective action to respond to previously unforeseen problems

What does it mean to be the CEO?

When you’re the CEO of your business, you get to shape what that looks like. (If you want to be a stuffy, old, white man in a suit and tie, GO FOR IT!)

You set the work hours, you set the expectations and the vision. You decide what to wear, what to focus on, what’s for breakfast, and whether you work at home, the local coffee shop, or an office building in town.

Most importantly, you decide how you are going to do business differently. You get to choose the people you hire, develop your ethical business practices, and shatter the status quo. You get to set the fair, living wage you pay your diverse team.

While the way we look and do business is different than the status quo, as the CEO, you have a general responsibility to the company.

A CEO’s responsibility in the business looks like this:

  • Cast the vision

  • Set the culture

  • Create the strategic direction

  • Make the final decisions

  • Make tough decisions based on the company’s needs, values, and goals

  • Represent the company as the face and voice of the brand

  • Increase brand visibility through strategic networking

  • Evaluate the success of the company

CEOs are building a business they could eventually sell, and that includes documented policies and procedures, services, and assets.

They lead and coach others. They take strategic steps in freeing themselves from working on a cost-recovery basis (think: not needing billable client hours to earn your salary because the business earns it for them).

They have a business plan and cash flow forecast. They are able to "talk finances" to granting and lending bodies. And, they look for and cultivate the best members for their team, rather than spend their time looking for clients.

With your eye on all of this, you’re setting your sites on a future of growth and expansion.

CEO’s have an abundance mindset. They...

  • Think BIG big because they have the wide-lens view of the business and all the possibilities

  • Take smart risks because they aren’t afraid of failing fast

  • Know there is always plenty — not just enough, but more than enough for all of us

  • Focus on the limitless possibilities and opportunities and determine which to pursue

  • Are proactive, not reactive

Not everyone is meant to be CEO, and that’s okay. Some people are meant to be managers because their skill set is best suited for that role.

For this world to evolve and move forward, we need both visionaries and implementers. Both are equally valuable. Some people function best when told where to go and how to get there, and some people function best when asked to lead the way.


Take a step as CEO:

Ask yourself the questions, “Am I the manager of my business or the CEO? Am I just working in my business or on my business? Am I meant to be a CEO?” These might be hard to answer and will take time, but doing the hard work now will pay off in the long run.


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