“You’re a great manager. Now act like a CEO.” My intern said this to me during a one-on-one professional development meeting, trying to assuage my concern that I wasn’t the “best” manager.
Founders and CEOs are pulled in many directions; there are internal organizational needs as well as external relationships, both of which need constant care and support. CEOs of early stage startups typically do not have the luxury of hiring a manager and are thus tasked with overseeing work product and daily operations themselves. So, how does one manage and lead at the same time?
1. Assign projects, not tasks. Projects enable employees to assume more ownership over their work. Projects tend to be slightly larger in scope than tasks. Tasks require frequent check-ins and can be a huge burden on your time. If you set out the scope of a project, which encompasses many tasks, in advance, you will have more flexibility with your employees. Additionally, it has the added bonus of empowering your employees to create work product that they are proud of.
2. Identify professional development goals and opportunities with your staff. Professional development goals are areas of growth that the employee can focus on over the course of one project or an entire internship or duration of employment. By identifying clear professional development goals, you can assess their growth over a longer period and not be as concerned about providing detailed feedback on every task. I check in with my interns every other week to provide feedback and discuss the development of their professional goals. For me, this strikes a healthy balance between managing their work and investing energy into their long-term growth. Although I do a formal check-in every other week, I encourage my interns to reach out to me if they would like to discuss feedback more frequently than that.
3. Don’t be afraid to make decisions. As a CEO, you have the authority to make decisions for the company. For a first-time CEO, this can often be intimidating, as the direction of the company ultimately lies in your hands. You want to make sure you’ve considered all of your options, consulted with as many people as possible to ensure that you won’t make a mistake. That’s great, but if it keeps you from making a decision in a timely manner, you’ll be in trouble. Too much time spent on a small decision takes away from your ability to focus on what really matters: moving the company forward through tasks that only the CEO can do. And, truthfully, even with an abundance of information, you’re still likely to make a mistake. So, gather information, but don’t perseverate. Make a decision and move on.
As a first time founder and CEO, these insights guide me on a daily basis, helping me to better balance my role as a manager and a CEO.
By Rebecca Scharfstein