April 24, 2014
The Best CEOs Get Out Of The Way

Giving up control for the sake of growing your company can be one of the biggest challenges for a CEO. It can be difficult for some leaders to develop the level of self-awareness and humility needed to recognize the true talent within their companies. Effective companies are built on every team member’s contributions, and the best CEOs understand this dynamic.

Successfully handing the reins to other team members requires a CEO to not only get out of the way, but to also push team members to take on projects so they can grow as leaders. While giving your employees more autonomy and leadership opportunities can be daunting, it’s absolutely critical for the growth and security of your company.

In a recent Stanford University study, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with executives and directors at 20 companies. Fewer than half of the respondents said their companies had a formal process for developing successors for executive positions. Even worse, only 25 percent of respondents agreed that there was an adequate pool of candidates to succeed the CEO at their company.

Although it may seem risky to get out of the way as CEO, building an organization of leaders and a culture of professional development helps secure your company’s ability to succeed in the long run. Once you’ve decided to step back, you’ll need to consider which of your employees have leadership potential. These four strategies can help you identify your company’s leaders and cultivate those skills:

1. Articulate your company’s image of a leader.

Consistently showcase employees who are living up to your company’s values and tell the stories of those who have already made it to the top of your leadership team. How did they earn that VP title? What did they do right? This will make your expectations clear to your employees and increase their confidence in the opportunities to advance within your organization.

2. Be consistent in offering growth and development programs.

When finances are tight or a company is stretched for time, training sessions and education courses — the most important programs to employees — are often the first to be eliminated from the company calendar. CEOs must prove their commitment to overall employee engagement by making growth and development programs a priority.

There are three main ways to offer these programs. Choose the one that works best for your company.

• Internal development programs taught by senior leaders: If your company doesn’t have the extra money to spend on formal development programs, consider implementing education sessions taught by internal senior leaders. These sessions can take the form of a presentation, an interactive activity or even a book club.

• Outside education: Encourage and praise employees who go to outside seminars or workshops to learn new skills. You can even fund these educational excursions through a reimbursement program. This will establish your company’s dedication to a culture of education and growth.

• Job shadowing or mentorship programs: These types of internal, interactive programs will encourage open discussion throughout your company and ensure your employees are knowledgeable of other departments and roles within your organization.

3. Create a growth plan.

At my company, developing a formal process for identifying high-potential employees and then molding these employees for leadership created a culture of opportunity. I started by assigning certain senior leaders to mentor high-potential employees and created a growth plan for each mentor/mentee relationship. This process cascaded all the way to the front lines.

The key to this program’s success was not only its simplicity, but also its consistency. We made the mentor/mentee program a formal part of our performance appraisal process and a continual topic of discussion during team meetings. The only way to gain consistency across an organization is to create processes that hold people accountable. Company culture is no exception.

4. Maintain a careful balance.

Although plans for growth and a commitment to educational programs can do wonders for building a company of leaders, CEOs still run the risk of delegating too many responsibilities to new leaders too soon.

In my experience, setting predetermined milestones during the course of a project will ensure that the quality of work continues to meet your expectations. You’re removed from the actual execution of a project or role (allowing a new leader to take initiative), but you have the added safety net of being able to check in to see how things are going.

In the end, having these processes in place ensures consistency and accountability in your organization. More importantly, these processes show that you want to help employees succeed as leaders in your company and that you genuinely care about the work they’re doing. A true leader realizes that stepping back allows others to further build on their strengths and shine. That sentiment alone can make a world of difference in an employee’s performance and morale.

Paul Spiegelman
Paul Spiegelman is the chief culture officer at Stericycle and founder and former CEO of BerylHealth. He also co-founded the Small Giants Community with Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. He is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Office Depot’s You can read more at

Other Articles by Paul Spiegelman:

This Unlikely CEO Turned His Childhood Struggles Into A Legacy Of Building Trust

5 Easily-Copied Traits Of An Excellent Leader

How CEOs Can Personally Recruit Top Talent

7 Small Gestures That Customers Love

10 Ways To Make Your Employees Smile

Great Company Culture Isn't Pricey