Originally published on Inc Magazine’s Process Playbook column by Chris Ronzio
Entrepreneurs don’t hesitate to put CEO on their business cards and email signatures. But earning the title requires changing your routine.
Almost a decade ago, I sat in a room with 30-40 other young entrepreneurs, and the workshop facilitator asked us a question:
“How many of you have CEO on your business card or email signature?”
Most hands went up. Except maybe for the marketing guy in the corner that insisted on calling himself a revenue ninja or something like that.
But what the presenter said next surprised me. “None of you are CEOs — yet.”
He explained that as a small business owner, most of your time is spent doing the work, or as Michael E. Gerber puts it, being the “technician” of the business.
To be a CEO, most of your time must go toward a few high level activities. You know, the corner office, big-shot stuff, like delivering inspirational keynotes and shaking hands to secure international deals.
So, I sunk back into my 600 square foot office and decided I wasn’t a CEO. If I just worked hard enough and put in enough hours, maybe I would finally earn the right to use that title.
But, what I’ve learned since then is that to become worthy of the CEO title, you need to act like a CEO before you can afford to. Here’s how I made the shift in my business.
Wake up earlier.
Presidents and CEOs don’t sleep in. A leader that sleeps in seems more like a leader that is about to be overthrown, even if they claim to be a “night person.”
I post my daily agenda on Instagram every morning, and a friend recently asked how I get so much done before 9 A.M. Easy — I wake up between 4 and 5 A.M. I go to bed early, and I wake up early. Working late either means sleeping in late or poor time management during the day. So, wake up early, stay productive, and go to bed early.
This is the simplest tip for creating more power in your day, and acting more like a CEO during business hours.
Plan and reflect daily.
My earliest morning hours start with some quick meditation and journaling. Then, I’ll review my goals for the quarter, the month and the week, and then set my goals for the day.
This isn’t a lengthy exercise, but it is a disciplined, daily act of reflecting on the present and planning for the future.
If you don’t prioritize your day, someone else will do it for you.
Learn every day.
I used to think that there were cycles of learning and doing. One month I’d read a book, the next month I’d try to execute what I learned, purposefully ignoring every other opportunity to learn.
Now, I learn every day. I’ve become addicted to podcasts, from the short and simple like EO Fire to the long and artful like Masters of Scale. I listen to audio books in the car. I play TED talks while I’m cleaning up around the office.
It’s not about consuming for hours at a time, it’s about consistent consumption. By learning every day, you may be overwhelmed with ideas, but the best ideas will rise to the top.
Push your physical limits.
Earlier this year, I wrote about how my weekend runs condition my mind to succeed. I used to neglect my health and say it was just the price of entrepreneurship. But without your longevity, how can you build a long-lasting company?
Each quarter, I try a different activity or train for a different race. Right now, I’m training for my first triathlon. Not only does training help keep me in shape, build confidence, and give me momentum for the day, I have the best ah-ha’s when I’m outside and unplugged.
You can’t meet with everyone. Our ads have millions of impressions, and if I met with everyone that wanted to grab a coffee, I would die from caffeine overdose. With each new level of success you achieve, there will be a pull of others wanting to meet with you — Students, peers, employees, vendors, mentors, investors, fans & followers. But who do you want to meet with?
Think through your big strategic goals for the next three to twelve months, and then think about which new connections could be collaborators.
You don’t build great teams through micromanagement and checklists. That was the philosophy behind my company, Trainual, and one that I’ve embraced as we have grown. By hiring the best people we can, training them on our expectations, and creating a culture of accountability, I’ve slowly been able to relinquish different responsibilities.
You might think great people are the key to becoming a CEO, but acting like a CEO is the key to attracting great people. When you make time for yourself to be clear on your vision, the people around you notice.
Today, most of my time is creating content (like this), or meeting with different members of my team. I’m not sure whether I’ve earned the CEO title based on that standard set almost a decade ago, but I know that if I wasn’t acting like a CEO intentionally, I wouldn’t be getting any closer.