How To Turbo-Charge Your CEO Skill Set
Any entrepreneur can build a 10x business with the right focus on growth and skills development. Here's how.
If you’re planning to 10x your business, don’t have a ten plus-year career in corporate management behind you, and want to avoid Sid’s fate, you have four options.
First, you can bootstrap your business and avoid investors, boards and people telling you what to do. Many good businesses have been bootstrapped, but it’s very, very difficult to achieve 10x growth in this way.
You can be the boss and stay the boss, but you also run the very real risk of getting stuck in No Man’s Land, a place that we often term the Bermuda Triangle of growth, where businesses are too small to be big, but too big to be small, and die a very slow death.
This happens for all of the reasons raised by Ralph. 70% of the top 1% of scale-up entrepreneurs land up there. You might be an exception, but it’s not a safe bet. You’ll then spend years in a quagmire of constant firefighting, quite likely burn out, destroy many relationships, and almost certainly hate your business. But at least if you do, you won’t have anyone saying ‘I told you so’.
Option two is to stay small. Avoid growing so that you never reach ‘No Man’s Land’. Simply choose to run a nice, small business and make it as profitable as you can without growing at more than 10% a year. This path is right for most entrepreneurs. Don’t let ego get in the way if it suits your lifestyle choices.
The third option is to hire a CEO. If you’re intent on 10x-ing and you’re not sure you have the skills to do it, get a skilled CEO. Take on a key role that suits your skills (for example, head of marketing) and learn from the CEO. Then become CEO in five years’ time.
Your fourth option is to learn lightning fast. If you’re intent on 10x-ing and know you have a lot to learn on the way, you need to turbo-charge your CEO skill set by adopting an accelerated learning system that builds your CEO skillset at five to ten times the speed that day-to-day experience will teach you.
Here are the top five principles and top 12 tools of an accelerated entrepreneurial CEO learning system.
Top 5 principles
1. Just-in-time, on-the-job
You learn fastest through a ‘just-in-time’ system that connects you to the cutting edge of knowledge and tools, when you need it, so you can learn by solving problems on the job.
2. Problem first
You learn new tools and knowledge fastest when you need them to solve real world problems that really matter to you. So start by prioritising business problems you need to overcome; then go after the tools and knowledge needed to solve them.
The problem with learning is you don’t know what you don’t know, and you don’t know which tools and knowledge are good, bad, or brilliant. That’s why one of the most important tools in a ‘just-in-time’ learning system is experts: Humans (consultants, coaches, industry experts, and so on) who act like an interactive and intelligent library giving you just the cutting-edge knowledge and tools you need, when you need them.
4. Action and feedback
You learn fastest by doing; getting immediate and accurate feedback on how to improve, and then repeating the cycle. CEOs have few and poor feedback loops because people are afraid to give candid criticism. This is a huge liability if you want to learn fast. So you need to build quality feedback loops by getting experts to critique you brutally.
A critical enabler of the above principles is having an A-Team. You will learn how to be a great CEO by having an A-Team of senior managers you can fully rely on, so you can be focused on learning your job, not theirs.
Top 12 tools
1. Mentoring chair
Appoint a Chairman who has scaled businesses before, and is committed to mentoring you into the CEO role. This requires you to be vulnerable and teachable. Give them permission to tell you where you suck, and action their advice.
2. Strong Exco
Hire experienced managers in your three most important functional areas (these can be production, sales, marketing, finance or any areas that affect your business’s growth and success). Hire A-players with a lot of experience who know how to build and manage high performing functions with great management systems. If you get the hiring right, you can learn from your team.
3. Accelerator/growth coach
Think of them as expert guides in your new terrain. A good business growth coach or accelerator will have scaled several businesses before. They’ll know the path and pitfalls and provide ‘just in time’ guidance on what new steps to take, and when. Most importantly, it won’t be theory.
4. Amazing consultants
Particularly when you start scaling beyond 20 people, huge gaps will start emerging between the level of executive leadership you need in key areas, and what you can afford. One of the best ways to bridge the gap is to hire seasoned leaders in a part time consulting capacity (one to two days per week) to lead the function, while retaining your less senior full time manager. Use specialist consultants to deliver critical projects where your team lacks the skills (like business process optimisation, or marketing strategy) and use every interaction to learn the ‘how to’. Use them as mentors to your full-time team, coaches to you, and consultants to get the job done.
5. Advisory board
Build an advisory board that can advise on your top three business issues. Your board should change periodically, as your top three issues do, so that you can tap into the most relevant expertise.
Go big: Shoot for senior executives or leading specialists in the critical domains.
6. Top three learning goals
Maintain a list of your top three learning goals, with a focus on business management and leadership. Focus 80% of your learning energy on these three goals. Ask your board, advisors, team and peers for input. Most importantly, get over the need to look like you’ve got it all under control.
7. Quarterly RAP
Take two hours once every 90 days to review and plan (RAP) your top three priorities. Then stick with your priorities until your next quarterly cycle.
8. Soundboarding summary
For each of your top three business issues, create a simple two-page summary of your current plan to solve that problem, then share it with people who can give you valuable, critical input. Keep updating the document as you learn. Think of this as your ‘assignment’, but your goal is to actually solve a real world problem that matters to you.
9. 5+25 book list
Leaders are readers. Virtually all the great CEOs are avid consumers of management, leadership, and domain knowledge know-how. You need to consume 20+ books a year. Most of those can be summaries. At least five should be entire books you plan to implement. Focus specifically on books that give practical tools and advice on how to scale a business, management systems, high performance team and operations management principles, and the various functional disciplines key to your business (marketing, etc). Prioritise books that explain the ‘first principles’, and give practical tools. Use tools like Audible.com to turn dead time into learning time.
10. Book summaries
Subscribe to Getabstract or Summary.com to accelerate your consumption of great business leadership insights. A summary takes 20 minutes to read, and 40 minutes to reflect on how to apply to your business. You can manage at least one summary every
11. Scale up boot camps
Join intensive business management training sessions that are focused specifically on Scale Ups, which provide practical tools that you can implement immediately.
When hiring, use interviews with your top three candidates to ask great questions about how they would tackle the specific challenges your business faces today. You get first hand consultations with functional experts, for free, using time you needed to use for interviewing anyway.
Becoming an enterprise CEO is a hairy ride, but with these tools you can 10x yourself so that you can 10x your business. Happy scaling.