Founder to CEO: 4 essential mindset changes to master

The transition from Founder to CEO is not an easy one, and the success rate is 50% at best. To improve this rate of success, Founders need to change their mindset, develop new leadership skills, and transition towards longer-term goal setting, planning and strategy. But what does this transition really look like, and how do founders actively change their mindset? In this article, we’ll be highlighting 4 key strategies that Founders can implement to develop a more effective leadership mindset and support their transition to CEO.


1. From Short-term goals to a ‘Beacon’
As a Founder you define the goals and the metrics to determine achievement and success-performance indicators that allow you to continue and prove the merit of what you are doing. The timeframe of these goals are much shorter, likely 3 to 6 month increments when starting out. As the business grows you need to start thinking as a CEO, by defining the main purpose or beacon that will guide your decision making. In other words, exchange short-term tasks for a longer-term vision that your growing team can buy into. That beacon must be clear, bright, well defined, and communicated to the organization. The intent is to create a focus, align and define priorities, lessen the noise, and stretch aspirations. Work with your staff to develop this beacon, ensuring each member of your team feels aligned to your long-term objectives.

2. From Team leader to Stakeholder manager
In the early days of running a start-up, you are the leader of a small team. You lead the direction, set the pace, define the goals and manage the hurdles, and know every detail and aspect of the work and issues that arise. You are leading that team to the next phase of funding, then the next, and so on. As the start-up moves through the growth phase and becomes a functioning small business, your employees are no longer the only vested constituents in your world. The landscape will be much bigger and more complex to navigate. These newly added constituents can be advertisers, suppliers, partners, investors, or others, but their needs and incentives must all be understood as all will play a role in the success or failure of your organisation.

As your team grows, your most valuable resources as a Founder will be your time and energy. To make an effective transition to CEO, ensure you’re distributing these resources appropriately. Identify what it is that each of your stakeholders value, what makes them tick, and how much time you’re likely going to need to commit to them. Managing their competing demands is imperative as you will need to make trade-offs.

3. From Delegating to Integrating
During the pre-seed and seed stages of a startup, resources are limited and a founder will find themselves wearing many hats. As the business begins to scale and more employees join the team, the founder must delegate and offload work to the new leaders and founding members. As a leader, understanding how and where to delegate work is an essential skill to master. However, as the business continues to grow the focus needs to shift from delegating work to integrating all the facets of the business so it can work as a unified whole. This is a vital skill for a CEO to master.

Part of successful integration lies in effective communication and onboarding of top talent that can assist and support the business. Highlight key existing staff that can fill these senior roles, or invest in sourcing candidates with the relevant experience to support your expansion. Entrusting in leaders to make decisions will allow you to focus on the bigger picture and the longer-term growth strategy.


4. From Organic Team to Authentic Leadership
At the startup stage, a founder is working so closely, day in and out with their immediate team. Trust, communication, and collaboration is forged easily. Relationships with vendors, investors and customers are likely to be familiar and a strong repour solidified. As the business grows, the chance of the founder, now CEO, knowing all constituents and stakeholders internally and externally is unlikely. The CEO’s leadership behaviors are now more important than ever. And those behaviors must be authentic. Your self-awareness, your ability to trust your own feelings and thoughts, your reaction to feedback, and your ability to resolve conflict with full transparency will enable you to effectively manage all aspects of your company strategy. Your authenticity will drive the level of engagement from your staff, helping to build a positive company culture and a clear vision that people can trust in as you scale. As it is unlikely you will be able to have oversight and interaction at every level of the company, it’s essential that you’re developing and encouraging your leadership team to replicate the same authentic behaviors. This will align your company culture and drive your vision across all levels of the business seamlessly. Ensuring your core leaders are reflecting your vision and embracing authentic behaviors is just as important as ensuring they have the skillset to do their job.

Sharing values and expecting those values from your core leaders will permeate throughout the organization. The CEO’s behaviors and expected behaviors of senior leaders include open communication, sharing headwinds and tailwinds, full transparency, truthfulness, asking for feedback and acting on it. The trust you build with employees and stakeholders is invaluable and reverberates through an organization, driving long-term success.


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