By Chuck Violand

March 28, 2016

If you think the job of a CEO is tough when you’re actively engaged in the day-to-day activities of your business, wait until it’s time to think about transitioning out of the company. This is where many CEOs run into trouble and, in turn, cause a lot of unnecessary heartburn for themselves and their people.

If the intention is to set our companies up for an outright sale, either to an independent buyer or a private equity firm, then growing a healthy company by mastering the responsibilities of the CEO as discussed in this series will go a long way in helping you secure an attractive price. That’s the simple choice, but not always the desired one.

The challenge comes when we’re not quite ready to step completely away from the company we’ve grown from birth, yet we want to start enjoying some of the rewards from our years of hard work and sacrifice. How do we balance our desire to continue contributing in meaningful ways with being careful not to exhibit too much control? How do we successfully delegate responsibility and authority to trusted and competent managers without unconsciously calling the shots?

The answer to these questions starts with our responsibility to hire and develop the right people in our companies. Having people who share the same values as we do, who embrace the company’s culture, and who are constantly growing themselves enables us to take our hands off the wheel while still keeping our eyes on the road ahead. Having the right people in the company helps to clarify the picture of where we’re headed and the best way to get there.

The outdated notion that people should stop working at 65 years of age and retire to a quiet beach somewhere is just that—outdated. More and more workers in general, and business owners in particular, are realizing the fulfillment that can come from continuing to contribute to, and be a valuable part of, their companies.

Companies typically go through a maturing process as they age, and so does the role of a CEO. In the early years, a CEO’s focus is on survival: meeting payroll or getting through the havoc caused by a key employee’s departure or a non-paying customer. This is the “me” phase: inward directed and very personal.

When things go well enough, we progress to the “we” phase. This is where a CEO surrounds himself with the people who will help to grow the business. The “we” phase is sometimes determined by the number of employees and sometimes by the number of years in business.

Finally, we mature to the “them” phase. This is where a CEO thinks in terms of the company’s legacy or of giving back. In this phase, the focus turns to guiding, coaching, and mentoring younger workers. No longer is the CEO only concerned with how to do things better, but whether they should be done at all. And, instead of asking what things we can add to our already full plates, we explore those that can be delegated.

If we’ve been fortunate enough to experience all three of these phases in our businesses, then we probably have a pretty good sense of who we are as CEOs.