What being a CEO entails these days

Top principles and tools of every business should be:


  1. Just-in-time, on-the-job: If you run a business, you don’t have time for two-week courses! You learn fastest through a “just-in time” system that connects you to the cutting edge of knowledge and tools, when you need it, so you can learn by solving problems on the job.
  2. Problem first: You learn new tools and knowledge fastest when you need them to solve real world problems that really matter to you. So, start by prioritising business problems you need to overcome, then go after the tools and knowledge needed to solve them.
  3. Experts: The problem with learning is you don’t know what you don’t know, and you don’t know which tools and knowledge are good, bad, or brilliant. That’s why one of the most important tools in a “just-in-time” learning system is experts: humans (consultants, coaches, industry experts, etc.), who act like an interactive and intelligent library giving you just the cutting-edge knowledge and tools you need, when you need them.
  4. Action and feedback: You learn fastest by doing, getting immediate and accurate feedback on how to improve, and then repeating the cycle. CEOs have few and poor feedback loops because people are afraid to give candid criticism. This is a huge liability if you want to learn fast. So, you need to build quality feedback loops by getting experts to critique you brutally.
  5. A-Team: A critical enabler of the above principles is having an A-Team. You will learn how to be a great CEO by having an A-Team of senior managers you can fully rely on, so you can be focused on learning your job, not theirs.


Mentoring Chair: Appoint a Chairman who’s scaled businesses before, and is committed to mentoring you into the CEO role. This requires you to be vulnerable and teachable. Give them permission to tell you where you suck, and action their advice.

Strong Exco: Hire experienced managers in your 3 most important functional areas (e.g. production, sales, marketing and finance). Hire A-players with a lot of experience who know how to both build and manage high performing functions with great management systems. If you get the hiring right, you can learn from your team.

Accelerator / Growth Coach / Strategist: Think of them as expert guides in your new terrain. A good business growth coach or accelerator will have scaled They’ll know the path and pitfalls and provide “just in time” guidance on what new steps to take, and when. Most importantly, it won’t be theory!

Amazing Consultants: Particularly when you start scaling beyond 20 people, huge gaps will start emerging between the level of executive leadership you need in key areas, and what you can afford. One of the best ways to bridge the gap is to hire seasoned leaders in a part time consulting capacity (1-2 days a week) to lead the function, while retaining your less senior full-time manager. Use specialist consultants to deliver critical projects where your team lacks the skills (like business process optimisation or marketing strategy) and use every interaction to learn the “how to”. Use them as mentors to your full-time team, coaches to you, and consultants to get the job done.

Advisory Board: Build an advisory board that can advise on your top three business issues. Your board should change periodically, as your top three issues do, so that you can tap into the most relevant expertise. Go big: shoot for senior executives or leading specialists in the critical domains.

Learning Goals: Maintain a list of your top three learning goals, with a focus on business management and leadership. Focus 80% of your learning energy on these three. Ask your board, advisors, team, and peers for input (and get over the need to look like you’ve got it all under control!).

Quarterly RAP: Take 2 hours once every 90 days to review and plan your top three priorities. Then stick with your priorities until your next quarterly cycle.

Summarise: For each of your top three business issues, create a simple two-page summary of your current plan to solve that problem, then share it with people who can give you valuable, critical input. Keep updating the document as you learn. Think of this as your assignment”, but your goal is to actually solve a real-world problem that matters to you.

Book List: “Leaders are readers.” Virtually all great CEOs are avid consumers of management, leadership, and domain knowledge know-how. You need to read 20+ books a year. Most of those can be summaries. At least five should be entire books you plan to implement. Focus specifically on books that give practical tools and advice on how to scale a business, management systems, high performance team and operations management principles, and the various functional disciplines key to your business (marketing, etc.). Prioritise books that explain the “first principles” and give practical tools. Use tools to to turn dead time into learning time.

Book Summaries: Subscribe to Getabstract or to accelerate your consumption of great business leadership insights. A summary takes 20 minutes to read, and 40 minutes to reflect on how to apply the information to your business. You can manage at least one summary every two weeks.

Becoming an enterprise CEO is a hairy ride, but with these tools you can implement yourself so that you can grow your business.

With thanks to: Jason Goldberg: