This article was written to answer a very common question: “How do I become the CEO/leader of my business after I’ve been wearing all the hats for so long, and how do I know if I’m doing the right things?”

I won’t mislead anyone – doing what’s necessary to transform from doing all the work to directing and leading all the work isn’t always easy but the reality is, it’s a necessity for a business owner.

Here’s what you’ll learn from this article:

1. Why all businesses need a queen bee and how to delegate (not abdicate) the worker bee role.

2. How to start thinking like the queen bee.

3. What acting like a queen bee looks like.

4. How an owner can measure the effectiveness of working ON the business.

Let us begin!

Here’s a mini-lesson from nature.

Did you know a beehive MUST have a queen bee in order to grow and survive? The worker and drone bees keep a hives ‘operations’ running, but the queen is responsible for sustainability and the future of the hive. Worker bees come and go, the queen bee stays for it’s life.

Why is that important to know?

A business is like a hive – it needs a queen bee to thrive.

Most small business owners start their business because they are good at ‘it’. The ‘it’ could be creating spectacular business websites, search engine optimization, maintaining beautiful lawns, etc.

In the early stages of small business, the owner is acting as the worker bee (doing the ‘it’ of the business) and the queen bee (growing the business), buzzing around all over the place wearing out their wings. However, soon enough the business requires more from the queen bee and playing both roles begins to wear down the owner and prevent further growth.

This addresses one of the most common challenges I’ve seen when working with small businesses – the business completely relies on the owner. To make it worse, the owner is a bottleneck for growth because they’re stuck as the worker bee and cannot spend enough time as the queen bee.

The solution to this is simple in concept, tough in execution. The owner needs to spend more time working on the business (queen bee) rather than in the business (worker bee).

There’s two things most commonly asked which need to be addressed:

Thing #1: How does the owner ‘retrain’ their brain to think and operate like a CEO when they’ve been acting as a worker all along?

Thing #2: What does working on the business look like and how do you know if it’s effective and/or know if enough time is spent on it?

So, let’s address them…

Thing #1: How does the owner ‘retrain’ their brain to think and operate like a CEO when they’ve been acting as a worker all along?

A business owner must address how they think and how they act.

There’s a great book on this topic called “Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader” written by Herminia Ibarra. The elevator pitch is this – in order to think like a leader, you first must act like a leader. Oftentimes we hear, think first and then act, but the problem is we learn through acting.

Because we tend to think based on how we’ve acted in the past, if you’ve acted as a worker bee, you’ll continue thinking like one. To start thinking like the queen bee, you need to start acting like the queen bee. The good news is there’s plenty of things an owner can start acting on immediately which we’ll get to in a minute.

There’s tricks and frameworks to change mindset (that book has some) but here’s the reality – the business needs the CEO role like the hive needs a queen.

When the business was started, this became a given unless you plan to be a permanent one-person show.

It’s not an option.

Once we understand the owner has no choice but to act like the CEO/owner, we can move on to thing #2.

Thing #2: What does working on the business look like and how do you gauge the effectiveness of working on the business and/or know if enough time is spent on it?

First, it’s tough for an owner to pull away from day-to-day operations. It’s probably something they enjoy, are good at and it’s adding revenue and cash to the business which can be scary to step away from.

Remember this: sometimes you will step over dimes you can see, to pick up dollars you can’t see.

What does working on the business look like?

It looks like defining a mission, values, the company’s structure; documenting and implementing repeatable business systems and processes; recruiting and developing your team; establishing goals, managing by your data & numbers, working on what matters, etc.

Ultimately a business needs a purpose, a clear structure of accountability and systems and processes to operate by. The business owner needs to ensure this is in place in order to grow and thrive.

So we’ve addressed what working on the business looks like, now let’s talk about how to know if it’s working.

Below are some things to consider. Think of these as scoreboard items – how would the business ‘score’ on each one?’ The more owners work on the business, the better the scores should be.

Is there a goal/mission for the business and more importantly, is the team aware of it?

Does the team understand what they’re accountable for and by what standards? If you don’t have an organization chart and clearly defined roles, they probably don’t.

Is the owner moving ‘up’ the organization chart, shedding hats that are lower on the org chart? To move from worker bee to queen bee, you must start documenting roles, responsibilities and systems (how to do ___) at the bottom and move up as each role and process is completed. To go further, how often does an owner have to go ‘down’ the organization chart to help fulfill roles held by someone else? This could be an indication the role wasn’t setup for success and needs more attention to systems and processes.

Can the owner take a vacation and the business not stall or crumble?

The above can all be measured by asking yourself where you stand today and check-in on it weekly or monthly. The more ‘working on the business’ that occurs, the better the answers should become.

If an owner wants some hard-data points…

A service-based business can look at the percentage of revenue delivered, or produced, by the owner. As the owner transitions out of the day-to-day business, this number should decrease. Just start tracking it in a basic Google Sheet, on a weekly basis. (We think businesses should identify their drivers and objectives and track them weekly.)

An owner can set a goal of X number of roles/systems/process documented per week/month and track it.

Employee surveys which address engagement issues such as understanding goals and responsibilities and job satisfaction can help expose the effectiveness of working on the business.

As a final point, the timing of how fast this will ‘work’ depends on many variables including how much time an owner can put into the effort. It’s something an owner needs to just start doing and then measure and adjust. Do, measure, adjust, repeat.

Working on the business doesn’t have to be hard.

While it can be time consuming, it’s not complicated. The owner probably has everything necessary stored inside their head, it’s about getting it out and effectively communicating it.

The time spent will be well worth it in the long run. Transforming from a worker bee to a queen bee will give the business a better chance at being a healthier, more profitable business. In addition, this will provide the owner the freedom of time they desired when starting the business.

Here’s the takeaways from this article:

1. All businesses need a queen bee – the owner needs to delegate (not abdicate) the worker bee role and transform into the queen bee.

2. To start thinking like the queen bee, an owner needs to start acting like the queen bee.

3. Acting like the queen bee means working on the business and leading.

4. An owner can measure the effectiveness using observations and data over time.

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