There is something inherently appealing in the letters CEO. If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s assumed you want to be the “top dog.” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is famous for the words “I’m the CEO, bitch” on his first business cards. Your reasoning for wanting to be the CEO may be different than Mark’s, but becoming the Chief Executive Officer of your own company is a powerful statement.
The question many CEOs forget to answer, though, is whether or not they’re truly meant for that role. Do you really want to be the CEO? Are you choosing those letters because you’re supposed to? Perhaps you want to be the chief of something entirely different, and the best executive to lead your company is not one of its founders.
Consider the example of fashion flash sale giant, Gilt Group. Alexandra Wilkis Wilson and Alexis Maybank founded Gilt respectively as the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Merchandising Officer. Since 2007, Alexis Maybank has served as Chief Marketing Officer, the President of multiple new business lines with the company, and Chief Strategy Officer. Alexandra has remained the Chief Merchandising Officer since the business’ inception.
In the choices Alexis and Alexandra made in leading Gilt Group, the two recognized key individual strengths. Alexandra excels in fashion partnership building and has remained in the same position since 2007. Alexis has a penchant for development and strategy and Gilt has allowed her to accept roles in the company’s new initiatives. In addition to fostering the strengths of its co-founders, Gilt Group made the addition of outside leadership a key priority, only strengthening its foundation in the process.
As an entrepreneur, ask yourself – do you want to be an Alexandra? Or an Alexis? Are your skills best utilized in one C-level role that allows you to play to your strengths long-term? Or are you best for your company in a role that allows you to strategize, build, and embark on new ventures?
You also must be willing to accept that someone else could be the best CEO for your company, which means you can be the chief of something entirely new and different. It might be a difficult concept to grasp when you think about changing the title on your business cards, but it’s worth it to take your company to the next level.