From Founder / Owner to Leader: The 9 Vital Transitions to Becoming a Predictable Success CEO

Jan 31, 2004

Any founder or owner who gets his or her organization through the growth stages of ‘Early Struggle and ‘Fun’, almost certainly possesses (or has developed) considerable skills in motivating and inspiring others – getting past those early developmental stages is almost impossible without the founder/owner acting as a strong centralizing force.

But for many managers (and particularly for founders or owners) going through ‘Whitewater’ brings with it a growing loss of confidence in their management skills – the very same management skills that they developed in the crucible of growth, and which they have succeeded with thus far.

No longer turning on a dime…

In particular, the owner or founder has become used to making important decisions quickly, and being right more often than wrong.

During Whitewater, this (previously very effective) ‘shoot from the hip’, ‘get it done’ management style begins to fragment. One of the most frustrating aspects of Whitewater is that making and implementing good (read: effective & efficient) decisions becomes less and less frequent.

To the founder / owner this is not only frustrating – it is confusing. It begins to feel like he or she has ‘lost their touch’. To the rest of the management team, this can cause a sense of bewilderment, and sometimes even fear: they trust the founder / owners’ judgment and decision-making -after all, that’s what got us here – so how can we survive if it is becoming ineffectual?

Transition time…

In this confusing phase of your organization’s growth, it’s hard to see that what is really going on: In effect, the entire basis of making and implementing decisions at the top needs to be re-born.

Starting in Whitewater, and culminating in Predictable Success®, the complexity of the business means that the ‘shoot from the hip’, ‘get it done’ management style no longer works. The founder / owner is too far from the action, and there are too many moving parts, for him or her to get it right every time with quick, visceral decisions based on gut feeling alone.

A new, Predictable Success® leadership style is required : the founder/owner must transition into the Predictable Success® CEO: he must become both an efficient manager, and an effective leader.

What does this mean in practical terms? Just this:

* In Early Struggle and Fun, the management team trust the founder/owner (or president, or CEO – whoever is at the top of the organization) to make the right decisions.

* During Whitewater, in order to get to Predictable Success®, the founder/owner must learn to trust the management team to make the right decisions.

Increasingly, it is the management team that has access to richer data, is closer to the action, and knows more about the likelihood of decisions being effectively implemented.

Over time, the founder/owner must coach and mentor the management team so they can:

1. Develop the decision-making skills necessary;
2. Take responsibility for, and
3. Be self-accountable to each other for high-quality decision-making.

The 9 Vital Transitions

In most organizations, this doesn’t happen overnight.

Although the insight to see the need to make this transition may happen instantaneously, the transition itself generally takes between 6 and 12 months to complete.

For most founder / owners, there needs to be both: first, a fundamental change of thinking, followed by a period of months during which the founder/owner transitions to the role of CEO.

On a practical level, this transition in management style happens in 9 key areas. Below, we’ll look at each briefly, then in future articles, I’ll elaborate on each:

Intellectual Rigor

The commitment to asking as many questions as are necessary to uncover all the material information surrounding any needed decision.


The commitment to base decisions solely on the appraisal of the relevant facts, and without undue consideration of personal prejudices.


The commitment to early and frequent consultation with key individuals. Specifically, those holding authority, responsibility and/or influence over the implementation or outcome of key decisions.


Developing the mental, physical and emotional strength to concentrate for prolonged periods on the detail of both decision-making and implementation.


Maintaining focus on, and commitment to, a course of action until it is completed.


The commitment to fully explain, to as many stakeholders as possible, as often and in as much detail as is required, the reasoning and implications of all key decisions.

Financial Understanding

The ability to read and understand all aspects of an Income Statement, a Balance Sheet and a Cash Flow Projection.

Embracing External Change

The commitment to identify, assess and embrace positive external change agents.


The establishment of formal structures and processes in which the CEO is held accountable by the senior management team for implementation of his responsibilities, duties and commitments.

Moving forward

Becoming a Predictable Success® CEO / President isn’t about becoming a Superhero – no-one I have met has demonstrated a perfect ’10’ in all nine areas above (indeed, if I ever did meet such a person, I’m not sure I’d want to spend too much time in their company – there’s only so much brilliance one can stand smile.

The key is recognising where your own weaknesses are in the list above, and working on them. In the next articles, we’ll look at ways you can not only make the transition into a Predictable Success® CEO, but build checks and balances that ensure you stay there.