CEOs need to get out of their own way. Here’s why.

charles pfeffer leadership

To be successful in business and life, you need to get out of the way.

As CEO, your business is an expression of yourself. It is the extension of your talents, visions, weaknesses, and blind spots. Throughout your tenure as CEO, you live and die in the large and small dramas of customers, employees, suppliers, regulators, bankers, and business partners. You hope that the strategy you have created is clever enough to keep the business viable in the harsh competitive environment in which you operate. At the same time, you know that someone smarter, younger, or hungrier than you is poised to displace you in the rapidly evolving ecosystem. You know you are vulnerable. You know you are mortal. This is what makes you better. This is what makes you noble. This is what makes you human.

To build a viable business that can last beyond your time in charge, you need to get over yourself and design the business such that it is not dependent on you. You need to design the business as a system of value creation that engages customers with your offerings and service processes in ways that can be managed by people other than you, at prices customers want to pay, and at costs that enable economic profit. 

This sounds simple until you ask yourself these questions: 

  • If I walked out tomorrow, how long would this business remain viable?
  • Does my business produce economic profit today (economic profit is your operating profit after taxes minus your cost of capital)? 
  • Who are the two to three people in the company who are ready to step into my role and lead the company into its next phase?

If you don’t have answers to these questions, you are not just not over yourself; you are in the way. 

You are not just in the way of the success of your business, but you are also in the way of your future – of what is next for you: retirement, another career, a bigger contribution to your favorite cause, more time with your family, or whatever you dream of doing when you allow yourself time to dream. 

To succeed in business and life, you need to get out of the way. You need to start thinking about how to build a business that will thrive long after your tenure and what you want your future to look like. 

Are you over yourself? Or are you standing in the way of your business and your future?