How To Nail The Transition From Entrepreneur To Executive

Many entrepreneurs begin as technicians. Perhaps having never run a business, they find gaps in their systems and organization as they are still spending most of their time working in the business instead of on it. They try to fill in the gaps as they go, but are stretched too thinly to find more permanent solutions. As a result, many entrepreneurs feel stuck and overworked, with no clear path out of this phase.

After Emmet Scott started his consulting business he was stuck running the show. He was delivering client work, recruiting, making sales, marketing and doing every admin task required. Although he had other, capable team members, Scott’s entire business revolved around him. Scott realized he needed to make a change. He needed to shift from entrepreneur to executive. In 2009, he co-founded a new business, Community Dental Partners, and became its CEO. Today, the business is worth over $100 million. Scott now coaches other entrepreneurs through the process of becoming executives and covers the topic on his podcast, DSO Secrets, and in his book, DSO Secrets: The Ultimate Guide to Building Your Dental Empire.

There’s a huge difference between running a startup and running a fully-fledged company. The latter requires a new mindset and approach: of entrepreneur to executive. In the transition phase, you step back from your technician mindset and adopt one focused on defining and leading the company’s strategic direction. Here’s how to make it work for you.

1. Set the vision

As an entrepreneur, you’re focused on what you need to do this week. As an executive, Scott says your role includes charting the course for your business over the much longer term. That makes you a visionary, and it’s your responsibility to relay that vision to your team.

“You need to know where you’re leading your people and what that place looks like,” he said. “What are the rewards that everyone the business touches will reap? I like to use the analogy of taking out your telescope and looking far into the distance. What do you see?”

When that vision is in focus, you’ll be able to see a couple of things. First, you’ll see who you’re being heroes to and the changes you’re making in their lives. Then, you’ll see how you’re serving them and the ways your team is behaving in order to make this future happen.

From these details, you can create a business mantra, which is a short and memorable phrase that informs your company’s way of thinking or acting. Scott said to think of it like “a North Star that can point your people in the right direction no matter what size you grow to become.”

2. Plot your course

The next step is strategic planning, which flows from your vision. To reach the place you saw in your telescope, you may need to start acquiring certain locations or businesses, investing in research and development, improving systems and processes, or recruiting new talent.

In this stage it’s important not to lose the entrepreneurial nimbleness that got you this far. “Focusing on these goals doesn’t require a telescope so much as the shorter sight of binoculars,” Scott explains. “It’s your job to communicate what you’ve seen and supply binoculars to those who must focus on the strategies that will achieve your vision.”

That’s where your project management team comes into play. This team sits between your C-suite and the managers, directors and team heads who must execute. They decide, from the many choices your vision provides, which can and should be pursued based on ROI.

Scott’s project managers work from a simple acronym they call DOPE. First, document all ideas and potential strategic initiatives. Second, organize these ideas to better understand scope, timelines and responsibilities. Third, prioritize These ideas based on ROI and resource allocation. Finally, execute on these ideas by utilizing project management principles.

“Remember that as the executive, it’s your job to build out your team, including these project managers,” Scott said. “Once the team is in place, give them the support they need.”

3. Find the right communication balance

Entrepreneurs at the start of their journey can get away with haphazard approaches to communication. With an all-hands-on-deck mentality, they grab informal chats and squeeze meetings in at random. “But clear and structured communication,” Scott says, “is crucial to an executive’s success.” Without it, no one in your business can lead, organize, coordinate, influence, or teach. Clear and regular communication flows down from you and up to you. So, how much should you communicate?

Scott says it’s a tricky balance. Too much communication ends in micromanagement and can come across as critical. Too little communication ends in disconnect and leadership gaps.

“Part of an executive’s job is to find the right communication cadence, which is how often you’ll review your team’s feedback and keep pushing your vision and mantra,” Scott said.

There is no one “right” meeting cadence, Scott explained, because it depends on your culture. Watch, learn and improve as you go. If your team is living the mantra and your business is achieving its goals, moving toward your vision, communication is most likely on track.

Besides communication cadence, another consideration is your method of communication. Whether you use Zoom or have in-person meetings, send emails or prefer Slack, choose a method that removes the friction of having important conversations with your team.

Are you ready to make the transition?

Transitioning from a specialist whose job included driving results (an entrepreneur) to a top-level executive is difficult. Also, as Scott pointed out, it’s not for everyone. There is zero shame in remaining in that entrepreneur role, so long as you’re not holding your company back.

But if you’re ready for that next step, it’s time to become an executive.

“As an executive, if you are setting the vision for the organization, leading strategic planning and overseeing communication cadences, you can move mountains,” Scott said.

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