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CEO Insider

You Run The Place. Act Like It.

Last week I had a client tell me he felt guilty if he came in late to the office. Even if it was for a business breakfast with a center of influence or longtime business associate turned friend. Then he went on to say that he felt like he needed to be “in the seat” until five even if he was at a stopping point for the day.

Why is that?

Because if he stayed in the office he could always answer more email and knock a few more items off the to-do list.

Wow. Is that the best and highest use of an owner or key executive’s time? I don’t think so, but I get it. He’s feeling the tension of working on the business and in the business and how it is getting harder and harder to do both well. Been there and done that.

Working hard and doing what’s next are what made you successful, and there is a mighty tension between leading and working. It’s easier to work than lead because the outcomes are obvious and you can measure it. Task completed equals good work. At least it did at one point in your career.

But now that the business is rolling down the tracks, what percentage of your work time should you spend leading, strategizing, and thinking about your business rather than answering emails and phones?

Most owners and CEOs I talk to say somewhere between 25-50%

How much do you spend today? Most new clients say somewhere between 0-10%.

So … business owner, what’s the barrier between what you want to do and what you actually do?


What’s up with that?

This challenge is between your ears. It’s a brain problem and not a company problem. You need to shift your thinking.

You haven’t permitted yourself to be the leader. As your company grows, you should do more “leading” and less “doing.” The doing is what got you here. The “leading” will get you there.

Perhaps you are a slave to your calendar and email and you think there there isn’t the time.

Perhaps you just haven’t thought about it, and you work on today and check the boxes off as you finish action items and create the list for tomorrow. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.


So ask yourself: Do you run the company or work in it?

Here’s a graphic to help you think about it. Let’s simplify into two big buckets. Strategy and work. When you are in the business the bulk of the time, the work makes you successful. Output matters.

As your business grows, you need to increase the time working ON the business. You were successful because you kicked out a ton of work – output. To push through to the next level and beyond, you need to modify and focus on results – outcomes. Outcomes can take 5 seconds or it could take years. Outcomes could be the new product idea or making that crucial phone call to close a deal or find an investor, or holding onto the vision you originally laid out three years ago. It’s strategy and it’s work. It just doesn’t feel like the old work because you can’t check the box as done.

So, here’s your permission slip to change your mindset and focus more on the important and not urgent strategy of the business versus knocking out action items and answering emails.

Focus on outcomes, not output. You run the place. Act like it.

So, what do I do? CEO Outcomes 

Now that you are focused on outcomes, what does that look like on a daily basis? In short:   What’s the next version of me supposed to do?

Good question.

Here’s what we’ve found in common across our community at Acumen:

  1. Culture – You have to hold on to, shape, reinforce and live by your values and culture
  2. Vision- once the five or ten-year vision is cast, you need to hold on to, shape, strengthen and make decisions that are in line with the vision and direction of the company.
  3. Leadership team-Hire, grow, and facilitate the leadership team into a well-oiled machine. If you ever want to take more than a couple of days off then you need a team you trust to run the company like you would. You won’t do that unless you are intentional about it.

Here’s where owning a business and running it gets fun.

Where are your strengths? Where do you have maximum impact?

Are you the financial guru? Does marketing light your fire? I find CEOs are builders, so they love to be in charge of building the next big thing in the company, whether that is a product, service, relationships, strategic alliance, etc.

Once you have figured out your lane, you have to name it to claim it, and then make it a part of your daily, weekly, and monthly activities.

Let’s trot out Steve Jobs as an example. The two parts of the company that he held onto were product development and marketing. Were there financial, operations, logistics, and other challenges? You bet. But where was his strength to lead the company at the highest level with maximum impact? Product and Marketing. He knew that and he claimed those lanes and stayed in them even though he was the king of the place and could have laid claim to any part of the business he wanted to.

If your answer to the what should I be doing every day question is “operating the company” in then congratulations. The company is as big as it’s going to get, and you own a job, not an asset that you are going to be able to sell someday. Owning your job is a large part of the entrepreneurial dream,  but be intentional with that decision. If you plan to ever sell the company to achieve your goals then you need to step up and into different roles to achieve that.

If you are unsure where your focus should lie, then ask your executive team and your spouse. They will most certainly have you nailed on where the best use of you will be. They know you. They have probably been waiting to be asked that question for a long time.

Hold onto culture. Set the vision. Develop your leadership team. Then put yourself in the best place to have maximum impact.

And remember: It’s not output; it’s outcomes. Create significant outcomes by stepping up into your best role as CEO.

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Insider - You Run The Place. Act Like It.
Dan Cooper And Drew Hiss
Dan Cooper and Drew Hiss are the authors of a new book, Sharpen: A Guidebook for Business Ownership and Adventures in Leadership. They are also the founders of Acumen, a Kansas City area organization that exists to give business leaders and owners a safe place to discuss their issues and find answers. Dan Cooper and Drew Hiss are opinion columnists for the CEOWORLD magazine.