Moving From Operator to CEO – The Need to Get Out of The Day-to-day Business to Help Your Business Grow

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Operations are the foundation of any successful business. Without people on the ground floor keeping payroll, accounting, and HR running, there would be no company to lead.

I often think of it like a sailing ship, the big ones you might see a pirate crew on. Without someone hoisting the sails or pulling up the anchor, you aren’t going to get very far. However, if you spend your whole day tying knots, you won’t be able to steer your ship where you want to go.

One of the biggest challenges for startups and small businesses is getting leadership out of the operations role and into a position where they can start steering. Getting a higher-level understanding of where the company is going is critical for growth and can only happen once leadership has fully transitioned into the CEO role.


The Operator Mindset vs. The CEO Mindset 1

Challenges in Transitioning from Operator to CEO.. 1

Difficulty in Delegating and Letting Go of Control 2

Overcoming Operational Entrenchment 2

Adapting to a Strategic and Big-Picture Role. 2

Key Strategies for Successful Transition. 2

Building a Strong Leadership Team.. 2

Implementing Effective Systems and Processes. 3

Fostering a Company Culture that Supports Growth. 3

The Role of Vision and Strategic Planning. 3

Developing a Clear Vision for the Future. 3

The Importance of Strategic Planning in Scaling a Business. 3

Aligning Operations with Strategic Objectives. 3

Maintaining a Balance: Involvement in Operations vs. Strategic Leadership. 3

Conclusion. 4


The Operator Mindset vs. The CEO Mindset

It’s easy to slip into an operator position when your company starts. This is due to several factors, including knowing better than anyone else how you want things to be run. Spotting this behavior can be challenging, but there are clear signs that you’ve been down on the deck too much to sail freely.

Look at where you’re spending most of your time. Are you able to look at high-level aspects of organization development and forecasting, or are you mainly focused on day-to-day operations such as benefits, payroll, or contract management?

It may seem cliché, but a CEO should work on the business, not in it. This is because jumping from swabbing the deck to scanning the horizon is extremely difficult. The shift in perspective from minutiae to long-term strategy is nearly impossible.

Where an operator is focused on getting the daily tasks done efficiently and effectively, a CEO needs to take on a more strategic role in guiding the direction of the business. This includes setting goals, developing strategies, building relationships with key stakeholders, and making high-level decisions that impact the company’s overall success.

Challenges in Transitioning from Operator to CEO

While it sounds wonderful to be able to shift to this CEO mindset, there are several challenges that you will have to overcome. Changing how we approach our work, especially when passionate about it, is never simple.

Difficulty in Delegating and Letting Go of Control

You’ve heard it before: if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. However, this mindset can be a huge hindrance when growing and expanding your business.  Successfully delegating tasks lets you scale your company beyond what one person could accomplish.

Many business owners already know this intuitively. We hire marketers, sales professionals, and IT teams. However, operations are generally the last role to be filled. This can lead to mistakes at the operations level and stagnation at the strategic planning level.

The best way to put your mind at ease while passing these responsibilities is to hire an operations manager with diverse skills and passion.  You can rest assured that your business operations are in good hands if they are qualified and trustworthy.

Overcoming Operational Entrenchment

If you’ve been the go-to person for operations since your company’s inception, suddenly shifting that responsibility can be demanding for your entire team. Like any significant move, it is going to take time and planning.

The first step in overcoming this entrenchment is taking stock of everything operations entail. What are you spending your time doing? What is getting left by the wayside? How could things be run smoothly and equitably?

Once you have the responsibilities laid out, you can start looking for individuals with the skills to take them over. This might look like handing more responsibility to current employees or bringing in an entirely new role.

Adapting to a Strategic and Big-Picture Role

Knowing how to shift gears and focus on the big picture again may seem daunting when you spend so much time in the weeds. It can help to break things down into smaller ideas.

Start by setting measurable goals and objectives for your company. Where would you like to be in five or ten years? What specific areas would you like to grow in? This could be anything from increasing revenue by a certain percentage to expanding into new markets.

Next, identify the key strategies and actions to help you achieve these goals. These could include implementing new processes, expanding your team, or investing in new technology.

Key Strategies for Successful Transition

Even after understanding what needs to change in your organization, it can be hard to see exactly how to make those changes. I’ve found these three core strategies that can ease the transition and help you get focused on the big picture sooner.

Building a Strong Leadership Team

You need to ensure you’re leaving your operations in good hands. Building up a team with a clear and complete understanding of what needs to be done and that you can trust will help put your mind at ease as you transition to the CEO role.

This team might be people who are already within your organization, or it might be new talent with experience in BizOps. Each company will need a different approach. You’re looking for people with strong leadership skills, a clear understanding of the organization’s goals, and the ability to communicate and inspire others.

Implementing Effective Systems and Processes

Handing over the day-to-day operations will go much smoother if your systems and processes are transparent and optimized. This will ensure that the business runs smoothly without constant supervision from you.

It also ensures consistency and efficiency within the company during the changes, allowing for better decision-making and scalability as the company grows. These systems and processes should be documented and regularly reviewed so the company can expand and scale under your leadership.

Fostering a Company Culture that Supports Growth

The more your team can grow, the more responsibility they will be able to take on. Encouraging personal development, a culture of education, and an environment where people can learn from their mistakes and take risks is critical to fostering a company culture supporting growth.

This will create leaders within your organization who can support the CEO role and help guide the company forward. Additionally, a positive and inclusive work culture will help retain top talent and attract new hires aligned with the company’s values and goals.

The Role of Vision and Strategic Planning

Remember, the biggest reason you’re looking to shift the role of operations management onto someone else is to focus on your vision for your company’s future. Several factors play into this goal.

Developing a Clear Vision for the Future

Finding and articulation your goal for the company encompasses many things, including:

  • Analyzing the current state of the business, its industry, and market trends.
  • Articulating a compelling and aspirational vision that defines the direction and purpose of the company.
  • Communicating with all stakeholders, including employees, customers, and investors.

By honing this vision, you can ensure you’re steering your company efficiently.

The Importance of Strategic Planning in Scaling a Business

Strategic planning is crucial for scaling a business as it provides a roadmap for growth and helps ensure efficient resource allocation. You must identify the key drivers of growth and outline a comprehensive strategy to achieve that growth. This involves setting specific goals and objectives, analyzing market opportunities, defining target markets, and assessing internal capabilities and resources.

Aligning Operations with Strategic Objectives

Simply setting goals and objectives is not enough to scale your business effectively. You must ensure that your operations team is on the same page. This involves aligning their day-to-day activities and processes with the company’s strategic objectives.

This can be achieved through clear communication, involving the operations team in the strategic planning process, and providing them with the necessary resources and support to execute the strategy effectively.

Maintaining a Balance: Involvement in Operations vs. Strategic Leadership

Leading an organization is like a dance. Sometimes, you need to step in and take the reins on operations a bit more to ensure things are running smoothly; sometimes, you need to step back and let your team do their thing. Knowing when to do each is part of the fun.

Like your business itself, you will be growing through this experience. The more you learn and develop, the more you will be equipped to help your team and business grow.

Don’t overcorrect and completely forget about your work in operations. Instead, taking a holistic approach to leadership allows you to leverage that knowledge and build strategies that consider operations. This helps keep everyone on the same page and moving in the right direction.


While operations are the foundation of any organization, it is important to recognize that leaders must eventually shift their focus to strategic decision-making and charting the course for the company’s future.

Like a sailing ship, the crew must work together to ensure that the ship is functioning correctly, but ultimately, it is the captain who sets the direction and navigates towards success. By transitioning into the CEO role, leaders can better understand the company’s goals and steer it in the right direction. This shift allows for greater growth, innovation, and scalability, ensuring the long-term viability of the business.

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