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When It’s Time to Step Back

When It’s Time to Step Back


How to decide when the thrill is gone—and what’s next.

During a lunch meeting, the founder and CEO of a 15-year-old company confessed, “Maybe I should think about having someone else run the company. It’s my business, and I need to make the decisions, but I just don’t want to be bothered with the daily details. It’s driving me crazy.”

He’s not alone. Stepping away from running the company you founded is a life-changer. Noam Wasserman, author of “The Founder’s Dilemmas,” estimates that four out of five founders whose companies receive venture capital funding are forced to step down as CEO. Founding CEOs who don’t have an external board or investors
often grapple with this emotionally challenging decision on their own.

While the circumstances for each founder and each company are different, there are telltale signs that the thrill is gone. Here are a few indications that it may be time to step away.

Motivating and leading employees no longer inspires you. // Employees tune in to what the company leader pays attention to and considers important—or doesn’t. If you’ve lost the ability to inspire yourself and your employees with a shared vision of the future, it may be time for a candid assessment of your own future.

You continue to make decisions, but don’t want be involved on a day-to-day basis. //Daily operations and informed decision- making go hand in hand. It’s fine to let go of the daily operations as long as you also let go of the decider’s role. Holding on to making operational decisions without the requisite operational wisdom is a red flag.

You were passionate about starting the company. You’re not as passionate about running a company. // You took an idea from concept to market, and that’s a major accomplishment. But people, management and processes aren’t your strength. Like the CEO who steers away from the daily details, you’re just not that into structure and organization.

Most founding CEOs know when the thrill is gone. Unfortunately, many hang on longer than they should because so much of their identity, as well as their worth, is tied up in the business. If you’re facing this challenge yourself, consider steps that can lead you to what’s next.

» Explore and understand your options. Do you want to continue to own but not manage your business? Sell your business? Bring in a CEO, or consider a buyout by your management team?

» Look your financials in the eye. Has the business continued to grow on your watch? Are your future expectations based on actual financial performance?

» Seek expert advice. Whether you have sole control or outside investors, get the guidance you need to navigate through your decision-making and transition.

Andy Warhol commented on his own creative process: “You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.” When you no longer have that ability in your business, it’s time to focus on the thrill of what’s next.

Elizabeth Usovicz

Written by

Elizabeth Usovicz is principal of WhiteSpace Consulting®, specializing in top-line revenue strategies, business development coaching, qualitative research and strategy session facilitation. She can be reached at elizabeth@whitespacerevenue.com or (913) 638-8693.


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