Leaders of companies big and small are always learning as they go. But all too frequently, Chief Executive Officers get boxed into their job titles and are limited by the ideology of how a CEO should manage. The words “big shot” and “brass” come to mind as outdated ways to describe executives who are, in today’s world, challenged to operate successfully in a flattened landscape, as opposed to the traditional hierarchical structure of an organization. I challenge the idea of the traditional CEO: there’s no formula to being one and there are three secrets every high-level executive must know to go beyond their job title.
Release yourself from the stereotype
CEOs are wired to be completely dedicated to their company’s mission and it can be all-consuming. The onus is on you as the boss to shatter the pyramid of the hierarchical organization, break the CEO stereotype and move towards a role that’s more beneficial to your company. Rigid workplace hierarchies were implemented to reflect a business model — the product lifecycle — because in the past, mistakes were incredibly costly. Because of new technology and shortened product lifecycles, that’s no longer the case.
It’s critical to deconstruct that model so that the CEO and executive leadership are at the service of their teams. This adjustment doesn’t just save money — it will enable quicker coordination and decision making as time-to-market continues to decrease.
Build a team around your weaknesses
Understand your strengths and weaknesses, and surround yourself with contributors who can compensate for your knowledge gap. As CEO, you’re managing all departments, from operations to sales to finance. For the health of your company, you need to identify the smartest leaders for each distinct discipline.
But don’t just take my word for it. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were both just 25-years-old when they founded their company, and brought in a more experienced Eric Schmidt to fill out the management experience they lacked. When building your leadership team, don’t look for people who are exactly like you. Find those who can round you out and challenge you to grow.
Being a CEO is all about evolution
Who I was as CEO of Cloudant is not who I am now. As a startup CEO, I was laser-focused on leading by the books because I had not fully developed my own leadership skills in working alongside my peers. As I’ve grown in each role since then, I’ve learned how to take risks for the benefit of the company and myself. As a new CEO lacking experience, there were missed opportunities.
One time, we had the opportunity to acquire a company but their funding was higher than what we expected. I had a nagging feeling to just go for it, but because I was a newer CEO, I wasn’t willing to bring the company on because it didn’t quite fit what we were looking for. Fast forward a few years and the company is more valuable than we could have ever predicted. I’ve been kicking myself ever since.
You will make mistakes as CEO, but leadership is a growth process. The important thing to remember as you continue to develop your CEO acumen: how you run one company doesn’t determine how you will run your next company.
Today, the focus for startups is their product. There’s no time for the distant corner office or days spent issuing edicts to subordinates. The real work is being done collaboratively and it’s moving quickly. Believing in yourself and your capabilities as a CEO will empower you to break away from the stereotype CEO as seen on TV and guide your company to bigger business.