woman hands tearing contract paperAs a CEO/founder of a successful business you are likely to find yourself in the unique position of potentially having to fire yourself and hiring a replacement (crazy as this may sound. Yes, a HBR study shows that just 50 percent of CEOs remain in control after 3 years, 40 percent after 4 years and less than 25 percent were leading their company at IPO. It stands to reason, really, because the skills required to lead an early stage idea/start-up are different than what is required to manage and administer a successful going concern. And many founders/CEOs do not possess those latter stage business skills, cannot adapt and they can be a liability or limit the growth of the business as a result. This is why founders/CEOs are often forcibly removed (or coerced) as most don’t want to relinquish control. The problem is that forced founder/CEO abdication can lead to fallout, which can harm the business. This is why I think founders/CEOs should contemplate abdicating of their own volition if they feel the time is right, and they are struggling to manage the concern effectively.

This doesn’t have to mean dislocating yourself from the organization but it can mean relinquishing the supreme control that founders/CEOs often retain over every part of the business. There are several ways to do it.

For example, you could split the CEO role in two and retain control over the parts that you excel in, which could be the more technical or product related areas of the business, and perhaps an external professional could focus on operations, sales and marketing. Or vice versa.

Alternately, you could move out of day-to-day operations into a board role or perhaps more of a strategic consultant role so you can focus on what you do best, which could be ideas, innovation or thought leadership.

The beauty of it is that having built this great firm you can choose to cherry pick the role you want, to a degree, as long as it can fit into a sensible operating structure. And after it’s all done, you might even feel relieved. And of course, just because you don’t excel at something you don’t necessarily have to relinquish control as long as you can adapt and develop skills in those areas.

So, as you can see, there are many quite palatable options and scenarios around voluntarily firing yourself as founder/CEO. And if it is something you are ready to do, one of the first things you should do is take an honest look at your own strengths and weaknesses and begin to develop a range of potential abdication scenarios much like I have described above. Each scenario should constitute, at the very least, an organization chart showing your role and duties in the new structure and the role and duties of the incoming CEO and other key executives. And it goes without saying that you should try and focus your role around your strengths and relinquish areas where you are weak.

Having completed this exercise you can go to the market and search for CEO or high-level management talent. It’s vital to be flexible, which is why I suggested a range of scenarios, as you can never be sure what talent is available and you may wish to adapt your internal structure in order to fit in a particularly promising CEO candidate.

Of course, this is a highly simplified outline of the process and principles of founder/CEO abdication, and in reality, this would be a long consultative process requiring input from a range of key stakeholders.

Good luck with your enterprise.



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