CEOs like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Bill Gates all contribute to the narrative fallacy that you need to be an expert in your field to be an effective CEO. While they are all incredible leaders with deep expertise in their respective fields, I don’t believe that being an expert in what your business does is a prerequisite to being a successful CEO.
To be clear, knowing the business you’re in is important. I’m not suggesting you start a company that you know nothing about. I do, however, believe that by separating the "expert" from the "CEO," I have enabled my company, ÄKTA, a high-end mobile experience design consultancy in Chicago, to become one of the fastest growing companies in the country.
Separating "guru" from "CEO"
My secret to success is simple: Separate the CEO from the expert. Consider the position of CEO as just one of the many roles within a company, tasked with specific duties and responsibilities. It is certainly a vital role, but at the end of the day it is still just a role someone must take on.
The CEO should focus on high-level strategic goals: growth, partnerships, and fundraising. The expert, on the other hand, needs to live and breathe the product, understand it inside and out. Experts need to be completely focused on product direction, quality and management. The CEO does not need to be the expert, but does need to know enough about the business to hold the expert accountable to his or her responsibilities and goals.
Separating and defining these roles creates focus, which is crucial to the growth of a company. It is very rare that a CEO can do both jobs effectively, so unless you are confident that that’s you, separate the roles within your company.
Delegating, delegating, delegating
Once those roles are separated, the CEO needs to delegate as much as possible. This means you need to focus on hiring people you trust to actually do the job and then let them do it. While I’m not the design expert, I’ve hired the best of the best and trust their judgment. As an entrepreneur, you may be tempted to be hands-on in every detail. It’s your hard work that has built the company and you often know what’s best.
Yet, micromanaging your business limits the company’s growth, as there is only so much one person can do. Determining what your unique strengths are and finding where you can provide the most value will help illuminate what tasks are best delegated.
Growth, partnerships and fundraising
I’ve found I’m most effective when I focus on growth, partnerships and fundraising. Those are also areas that would not really make sense to delegate. CEOs' core competencies may differ, but those competences will undoubtedly have similar elements, as the staples of a CEO's role.
Often, these responsibilities require extensive travel, meetings and networking. If I had to also stay on top of each project we were working on, nothing would ever get done, and I would be stretched unsustainably thin. By focusing on what I’m best at, I can fulfill my role as a CEO longer, without burning out.
By separating roles, delegating responsibilities and focusing on my strengths, I have been able to grow a business I am proud of, and still live a life I enjoy. Unlike many of my peers, I have been able to travel extensively and push hard on larger initiatives, such as international expansion. All of this success is due to the amazing team I have built, the people I rely on every day. Without them, ÄKTA never would have gotten off the ground, and it is this trust in my team that allows me to buck the narrative of the "CEO expert."