Growth Insights for CEOs

The Accidental CEO and 5 Steps to Avoid Being the Reluctant CEO

Posted by The Chief Outsider



The Age Old Story

What to do when you find your self as the accidental or reluctant CEOYou were content in life, working to contribute in operations, sales or product/technology development. You were a master, an expert in your field and were comfortable in your skin. Then the business was rocked when the leading family member became seriously ill; or your key partner suddenly seemed to go nuts — focusing on personal enrichment at the expense of the business; or simply sudden CEO succession was needed. It is an age-old story, a company needs a competent new leader — and through no fault or desire of your own, you find yourself playing the central role of the accidental or reluctant CEO. 

Over the years, I have met countless CEOs who never aspired to the position of business leader. Some took on the three letter title at startup but never really expected to be the leader of a significant, complex and demanding business. Others were suddenly thrust into the role to save the company or replace a previous CEO. Regardless of how it transpired, these CEOs did not aspire, position or groom themselves to lead a business, but they did step up when required.

So what do you do when you find yourself as the reluctant CEO?

  1. Get comfortable with your inadequacy — You are not an expert in all functions and facets of your business. Few if any CEOs are. Stay in your stride. If your thing is operations — then drive for world class operations and efficiency. If it is sales or new business development — bring in those new accounts. Then surround yourself with great people in the areas that are not natural for you. Nothing will kill your stride and raise your stress level like trying to operate outside your core strength areas. That is why you have a leadership TEAM. If not, you need to hire the right people.
  2. Be authentic — Your team needs and deserves authentic leadership. Great leaders make the tough calls when needed, but along the way they involve, encourage and enroll others.&n They listen and are willing to change or bend as needed. They don’t need to know all, decide all or be all. Authenticity is not weakness — it is a sign of confidence and strength in one’s own self. 
  3. Look for accountability — I know this is the last thing that you think you want. But, accountability solely from your company’s P&L is a losing proposition. Often by the time tough calls are reflected in your financial returns — it can be difficult or impossible to recover. Look for safe, but honest resources that will hold you accountable.
  4. Remember what’s important — You’re a reluctant CEO, and it can be all consuming. But, it is critical that you keep life in perspective. Recognize what things are important in your life and keep them as a priority. Family, spirituality, charity, exercise — it is up to you where they land in your priority scale. Work can rule all if you allow it. A well-balanced CEO will always outlast his or her overwhelmed, give-it-all counterpart.
  5. Fire yourself — If you have given the CEO gig a good run and find that your passion and energy are not there, then get out! You do have options. You can go back to sales, product development or operations. Hire your replacement. It will not be easy, but the alternative is to be locked into a role that hurts you, your family and the business. Yes you may have o
    bligations; but there are different ways of addressing those business needs.

Most of the accidental CEOs I have met have become strong business leaders.  If they can get comfortable with who they are and embrace a strong team around them, they and the business can thrive. The key is focusing on what you do best and surrounding yourself with great people and resources.

Are you an accidental or reluctant CEO?  If so what have you learned? 

Topics: CEO Perspectives, CEO Strategies, CEO Choices