CEO Confidential: Put a Cap On Your Leadership Gaps



If you line up five CEOs in the same industry and look at their statistics like baseball trading cards, on paper, one might have more experience, one might be more creative, and one might be a better leader. Inherently, there are numerous gaps on individual levels. I learned this lesson very early in my career.


“What the heck is he doing?” My dad spent most of the time scratching his head when I first took over as a 26-year-old CEO of our family-owned food redistribution company. I was leading people 20 to 30 years my senior who had decades of experience. I couldn’t begin to grasp how many leadership gaps I possessed.


There was a deep chasm of not quite understanding what it took to run, grow, and compete in a dynamic industry. I also had to deal with the gaps that came alongside a second-generation family business run by my dad as a solo entrepreneur and founder. Going from father-son to a peer-to-peer relationship was tricky on both the personnel and family dynamics sides.


How does one create a vision, a culture, a strategy where you can adapt quicker, better, smarter, and more creatively, while understanding where your gaps are located within your organization compared to the competition. I quickly discovered the fastest way to close a leadership gap is to fail a few times, however it’s a strategy I don’t recommend.


Get In Touch With Reality

Fortunately, there are many avenues besides failure to navigate complex, volatile, and ever-changing businesses and industries. Start by asking questions to uncover dysfunction such as what does our leadership team look like and are they equipped to do the job? How do we work together? How are we creating the point to where people want to do business or buy from us?


You may be feeling like the growth of your business is strong, but you haven’t quite hit the level where you want to take the company. If you have a large leadership gap, most likely there is a bottleneck. You’ve got somebody getting in the way of progress and that somebody might be you. Then the gaps and bottlenecks conversation becomes more about what you’re doing internally to develop from a leadership perspective.


A good first step is seeking opportunities for growth and an environment where you can develop as a leader and gain different perspectives as you try to achieve higher success. I know finding the right forum saved me. I joined the Family Business Network (FBN) and heard the struggles other family-owned businesses faced, how they overcame them, and how to apply those lessons to my own company.


I found the peer-to-peer space so impactful that I decided to launch my own Vistage CEO groups in Charleston. Vistage is a confidential space to navigate the complexities of growing a business.


The biggest leadership gap I hear from my new Vistage members is they have their hands in too many things. That’s when you’re most susceptible to becoming a bottleneck and growth is stymied. In my case, I needed to shift my thinking from managing the business to actually leading it. That meant figuring out how to build a team of people that could manage the business for me. The goal is eventually getting to the point where these managers are helping lead the business too. You’ll feel most confident when you find people that have a greater level of expertise than you to take over activities you shouldn’t be doing.


Bridging the Gap

One of my Vistage members is a chef who owns a restaurant group with a lofty goal of opening a new location every year. He is a great example of making a mind shift from having to manage everything to becoming a leader. He got to a point where he couldn’t grow because he was doing everything in the back and front of house. Our Vistage group encouraged him to expand by building a strong team and the formula worked. Today, he is in his third year as a member, and opening the sixth location next year.


The biggest change for him was realizing he wasn’t going to be able to grow on his own. He moved away from the “I need to control it all” mindset to focus on where he created the most value from an organizational standpoint. He even found working with and through others more rewarding than anything he did independently. The Vistage process fueled his goal to open more restaurants with more success than he could have had on his own.


People don’t join Vistage and say, “How can I do more things in my business?” Our organization helps members streamline their work while having a much bigger impact.

It’s important to note gaps are not a hindrance if you’re a solo entrepreneur happy doing your own thing or growth is not important to you. If your intention is to scale the business and do something great for your family, and community, then you must pay attention to leadership capacity.


My ultimate pro tip is seeking environments where different perspectives challenge the status quo, present fresh ideas, and create an arena of collaboration to find greater success. I wouldn’t have grown our company’s annual sales from $2 million to $75 million or negotiated its acquisition without my peers’ help overcoming my limitations.

About the Author:

I am a Vistage CEO Peer Group Chair and Founder of PeopleSurge, a business advisory company. I strive to elevate business leaders and enrich their journey to pave a path forward. I can be reached Kirk.McMillan@VistageChair.com.

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Kirk McMillan

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©2019 Kirk McMillan