Your Job as CEO Is to Make Yourself Replaceable. Here's How to Create a Company That Can Thrive Without You.
These are the steps every CEO should take to hire the right people to keep the company going without them.
As a CEO, you have unique and specialized talents, but this role can also be lonely. Hopefully, you are a visionary — adaptable, motivating and receptive. You have guided your company toward success through skilled leadership and trusted decision-making. Or maybe you are the one that simply founded the company and you have the most historical knowledge. Whatever your qualities and experience may be, they are inherent only to you; and no matter how high and far you look, you won't find a leader who can do exactly what you do.
However, it's important to note that your purpose as a leader does not lie in the tasks you spend your time on. Running a company is full of strategic initiatives and these can create long task lists that include everything from administrative operations to business development, and as a CEO with these kinds of jobs on your plate, it's time to take a closer look at where you spend your time. Time is your worth, and where you spend it is important.
Your job as CEO is not to complete a to-do list — it's to make yourself replaceable.
Work on the business, not in it
Every year, I list the 10 things I spend most of my time on and think to myself, "Am I the best person for this job or is there someone out there who knows more than I do, has more experience or can execute this even better?" Then I choose the top items I spend most of my time on and work to find a leader inside or outside the company that could take on a full-time position. Our agency has grown from three to 30 to 100 to 150 by following this path of growing leadership teams with subject matter experts.
When a CEO holds onto many different responsibilities, no practice is being developed; the process is built around the CEO's time (or lack thereof). The company can only grow when you start looking at the critical parts of the business less as something that's a task and more like something that's a practice. To shed some of these responsibilities you have to get rid of ego and control, and increase trust and commitment to follow through with hiring good people. Sometimes it may seem like revenue or cash flow won't support some of these hires, but I can tell you that the reward far outweighs the risk. Working on the business instead of in it allows you to fortify and strengthen a company by diversifying skill sets and sharing responsibilities between strong leaders.
Create a company that thrives independently
As the CEO of an agency, you might want to consider asking yourself where you add the most value. For every hat you wear, whether you are working on new business development or marketing, culture or future vision, it may be worth examining whether you are actually performing those roles in a way that significantly levels up your firm or if you're actually bottlenecking your team from creating impactful results for your clients.
The point I'm making is that a great company should not be beholden to a CEO. While the CEO does cast a "leadership shadow" across the firm that influences culture and innovation, the critical components of growth should fall into the wheelhouse of the experts (and sooner rather than later). This is particularly true for service-based agencies that often pivot as customer landscapes shift in response to market changes and trends and as new agency impact products are developed in your company.
Shift from incremental to exponential growth
For leaders, the thought of exponential growth is simultaneously thrilling and anxiety-inducing. But growth does not have to be overwhelming. If strategized well, incremental changes will support a fast-growing agency. The secret to this shift lies in scalability, and scalability is rooted in mindset.
Hiring only from your organization chart limits you in terms of new faces and fresh ideas. While there are several advantages of hiring and promoting from within, you have to add outside hires from a vast talent pool of expertise that might be missing. Scalability is linked to diversity, and hiring the right people for the right jobs is an investment that will offer quick returns. In my experience, some of these leadership hires were not even on our org chart because org charts don't show possible failure points or opportunities.
If you are a CEO of an agency who is still pitching clients, running new business, handling finance, developing operational efficiencies, planning events and performing other critical responsibilities, you should give up at least two or three of them each year and hire experts instead. Make them the leaders and owners of these parts of the business and treat them as such. Support them and get out of their way. It's essential to think of this not as an expense but as an investment. Freeing up your time and mental real estate is vital to your ability to cast your leadership shadow even wider with a focus on culture and growth.
Related: 7 Ways to Go From a Boss to a Leader
Ultimately, becoming replaceable is not to say that you should strategize yourself out of a job. It only means that when something is critical, it shouldn't be on your plate. Taking this approach gives you flexibility and manageable growth. And this mindset isn't just for CEOs — leaders who join your company should focus on what they are best at and create additional opportunities by applying the same shedding tactic.
Hiring experts provides oxygen to a business, stoking the fire of innovation, culture and creativity. It also is a way to 10x your business, which oftentimes seems impossible. As a strategy, it produces more streamlined branding and greater focus than any one person juggling everything could ever be able to offer. Prioritizing investments in experts and clearing your own plate is a valuable way to enhance your company's spirit, performance and resilience.
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