To become a CEO is to craft your ideal experience as founder and chief executive. It’s an opportunity to build your business (or your life) around your talents, your audience, and the culture you want to create, and potentially change the world.
Now you may think it’s premature to think that far ahead. Maybe you consider yourself more of a solopreneur or don’t have anybody to influence (yet), but playing big and thinking long-term is advantageous.
Thinking like a CEO can accelerate your growth and explode your potential — you are creating the future, so why not make it ideal?
Step One — Foundation
A lot of entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking credentials or experience matters most. And those things help, no doubt about it, but even more essential is a foundation of habits that will allow you to start, build momentum, and carry on to see it through.
You will be learning on the fly for the foreseeable future, so that means you’ll need to keep yourself out of the weeds, focus on the bigger picture, and take decisive, strategic, and intentional action, with the self-awareness and confidence to evaluate what’s working.
A strong foundation is equal parts process and mindset. If you can be ok with being where you are and unwavering about where it’s leading, humble but resolute, chart the course, and then rise to the occasion (again and again), you’ll get there.
Step Two — Vision
Speaking of knowing where you are going, building a business is only partly about serving your customers and audience; it’s also about creating the experience and environment of your dreams.
I’m prepared to catch some flack about that. Many think of servant leadership as the epitome of the CEO evolution: Putting the customer first, meeting an urgent need, and delivering the right product at the perfect time while exercising authority instead of power is the be end-all.
Or is it? With more connection than ever, building a business can even mean shared transformation, leading by going through it together. It’s an opportunity to package your idea, framework, or proprietary solution in a way that creates a community, a lifestyle, or even shifts what’s possible in the world by walking the talk.
I sat in on Russel Brunson’s announcement about the next Clickfunnels conference, because it’s a perfect example of how to supersede the utility of your product. His audience believes in where he’s going and wants to ride along.
Since then, Bumble CEO Whitney Herd rang the opening bell (virtually, with her baby!), marking her company’s IPO and inspiring working women worldwide with her message of new norms, barriers that can be broken, and dreaming big.
You don’t necessarily have to have a big vision, but knowing who you’re for, who will get the best results from your product or service, how you want to lead, who you want to influence, and why is shrewd. It will not only help you accomplish your business goals, but perhaps even influence systemic challenges.
To take it to that level, envision what’s possible. It’s not a theoretical exercise. Vision is seeing it all laid out clearly and irresistibly. How do you want your fans to feel about and experience your brand? How do you want to show up for them? How will you deliver on the promises you make? What belief do you have about the possibility of positive change in the world?
Step Three — Productivity
A key entrepreneurial success indicator is learning and applying the lessons simultaneously — taking your vision and ideas out of your head and putting them into the real world.
Productivity in this sense is only not about getting sh*t done; it’s taking essential steps, getting feedback, executing, revising, and creating an avalanche that picks up speed and momentum and tangibly impacts your customers, audience, or the world.
Step Four — Mentorship
Study the greats. Duh, right? Take the courses. Join a mastermind. Level up your thinking as you go, but essentially commit to finding your people all along the way. A few groups, social, peer, masterminds, endless text and message threads that meet your needs in different ways, can drive you to action, offer accountability, and inspire progress.
In a Harvard Business Review survey among CEOs with formal mentoring arrangements, 84 percent said mentorship allowed them to avoid costly mistakes and become proficient in their roles faster. I’d argue that it’s true more now than when the study came out.
Information is changing too fast to keep up with everything while you’re running your business. We have to surround ourselves with ideas and then cultivate balance: Carving time to think and do and source new information.
Step Five — Trust
Anytime someone is “stuck in the how,” they aren’t doing enough. Stalled is a symptom of inaction. It can lead to a competency or confidence issue, a disconnect between concept and execution, or hesitation that undermines your CEO effectiveness.
To get back on track, return to your vision, foundation, or mentorship and do something. Take action, pitch an idea, do the thing that directly correlates to a primary goal while letting go of the notion that there’s a right way, a best choice, or a move that will make all the difference.
The thing is, and I know you know this, if you ask someone else “how?” they will tell you what worked for them. That’s one way. But everyone says what worked for them. That’s as many ways as the number of people that you ask. Stay in motion, trust the process, and sharpen your instincts.
Step Six — Identity
Step into the CEO role and embody your future self. There are two parts to this step. The first is to be the person you’ll have to be to get the thing you want. If you’re going to be an Olympic swimmer, for instance, you’ve got to get over your fear of deep water and get in the pool every day, right?
Maybe you’re already elite, so you aren’t starting from scratch, but you don’t have the diet, training program, technique, commitment, or mindset to be the best. Level up.
Secondly, let go of your attachment to timing. When we think something is taking too much time or too far away, if we obsess about how many steps it will take, we are, in effect, future-dating our goal. It never gets closer because we are too preoccupied with the gap. That approach is exhausting, never-ending, and relentless.
It’s also unsustainable because it reinforces the distance between who we are and who we want to be.
Suppose instead, we assume we know how to be a CEO. In that case, we can permit ourselves to act while adjusting to real-time feedback and evolve faster. Plus, when we know the role is ours to own, we already are what we aspire to be.