I had lunch today with the owner and CEO of a corporate training and executive coaching company. She brought along her new COO, and our project, over salads and iced tea, was to figure out how to shift some of what the CEO was doing to the COO’s plate. The CEO told me she was currently working 60- or 70-hour weeks and felt like she might have a stroke if something didn’t change. Her COO seemed capable and willing to take on more of the load, but they were having some difficulties transitioning.
This business owner recently had the same epiphany that so many entrepreneurs eventually have. She realized she didn’t really enjoy running the company. She loves interacting with her clients, doing the work she has spent decades learning to do better and better, being able to actually help people become stronger leaders.. But she doesn’t particularly enjoy the logistics of her company’s operations.
That may seem like a no brainer, looking from the outside in. She started the business to do the work. And now she’s spending too much of her time on the business and not enough on the work. But to an entrepreneur mired in the quicksand of too many responsibilities, that realization was huge. When she talked about finally admitting this to herself, it was clear that she felt newly liberated by the thought.
She loves being out in the world, working with clients, developing new business, building relationships. While being with people all day, especially in such an intensely involved way, would send me over the edge, this CEO says she thrives on that. The more she does, the more energy she feels. But right now she’s spending a huge percentage of her time on internal issues.
I suggested they divide their roles by considering the CEO the outside person and the COO the inside guy. This particular CEO can best serve the business by being the face of her company and interacting with people, be they clients, potential clients, the media, or just some guy in the next seat on an airplane (which is how she ended up with one of her largest accounts.) Her new COO is built for the internal stuff. She enjoys it, is excited about doing it, and might even do a better job at it than the CEO has been.
You could almost see the tension drain from the CEO’s face. Her shoulders dropped a few inches. Her energy levels surged. You could hear the excitement in her voice.
As we talked about how she could be spending her time, she became almost giddy. She told me she feels a need to always be learning, to be developing in new ways, and her current schedule hasn’t allowed any time for her to take seminars and workshops herself. She knows that constant growth and exploration of what’s going on in her field is key to being able to bring fresh ideas and methods to her clients. She said her ideal week would be four days with clients and one day learning.
There’s no reason she can’t have that ideal week. I predict that if this CEO and CEO allow themselves and each other to dwell firmly in their respective territories of external and internal, their company will grow by leaps and bounds. Maybe even more importantly, this business owner will love her work again, and have more time for her life.