Be the CEO You Want to Be

Is your business feeling like a burden? Take a load off with these tips for living your dream within your company.

By Kristi Hedges

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Are you one of those entrepreneurs who truly enjoys your day-to-day work? I know the dream to be your own boss and build a successful business is why you went out on your own in the first place. But somewhere between "I quit" and "now I have to make payroll," what you want to do was replaced by what you have to do.

A 2004 study published in the Journal of Small Business Management found that entrepreneurs are just slightly more satisfied with their jobs than the average worker. However, what increases that satisfaction is self-efficacy--a confidence in your ability to get your work done--and success. The longer a woman is an entrepreneur, the more satisfaction she finds.

This research supports my own observations: The most satisfied entrepreneurs are the ones who use their experiences to create lifestyles they love. It may not happen in your first or second year in business, but it also doesn't have to take a decade. As soon as you prove your business concept is sound, you can start planning to create the life you want.

As entrepreneurs, though, we tend to put ourselves last. While we're go-getters in most every way, we tend to be patient about waiting for our own satisfaction. We're definitely going to make changes to our work loads, but only after we get that next big customer, land an outside investment, hire the perfect person or sell the company. But as John Lennon so eloquently put it, "Life is what happens to people while they're busy making other plans." Before you know it, years have gone by and you still don't have the life you dreamed of. And believe me, no one else is going to give you your dream.

Consider these real-life entrepreneurs who made it happen:

  • A Washington, DC-based CEO longed to raise her kids in a calmer setting, so she moved with her family to an idyllic town in northern Michigan and now runs her company by commuting twice a month.
  • A travel-industry entrepreneur started to focus her networking time on philanthropic causes for children, her personal mission.
  • The owner of a 30-person sales training firm who missed working with clients downsized her firm, hired senior consultants and actually increased her profits.
  • A marketing executive with a passion for travel started a consulting company teaching U.S. business concepts to developing countries.

The difference between these entrepreneurs and most others is they stopped waiting, developed a plan and executed it. As with any business endeavor, having a plan is the key. Here's how to create one:

  1. Figure out what your dream looks like. This takes introspection and feedback from trusted advisors. An executive coach may also help. Figure out what brings you energy in your business and what drains you of it.
  2. Determine what only you can do. In every business there are certain tasks only the owner can do, such as land large accounts or smooth serious customer concerns. These must be part of your work--even the work of your dreams.
  3. Hire around your weaknesses. Studies show that people enjoy work that emphasizes their strengths, so hire for the skills you lack. With the advances in homeshoring, offshoring and outsourcing, there are many ways to do this even for the smallest companies.
  4. Communicate your goal openly. Let your team know what you want your work load to be and by what date. Don't be embarrassed to state what you want--honesty avoids unnecessary speculation and keeps everyone, including you, moving in the right direction.
  5. Think incrementally. The first try might not work, but each step gets you closer. If you realize, for instance, you can't completely give up sales, perhaps hiring a sales assistant frees some time for corporate strategy.

Remember, happy leaders have happy companies. Think it's not important to be happy in your day-to-day work? Your satisfaction directly translates to the tone of your company. Ever work for a miserable boss? It might be why you went out on your own in the first place.

Kristi Hedges

Kristi Hedges is the founder of McLean, Va.-based The Hedges Company, a leadership development firm that gives entrepreneurs and top executives tools for motivating and inspiring others. Hedges is also the author of an upcoming book on authentic executive presence. E-mail info@thehedgescompany to be notified when it's available.

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