Becoming a successful CEO at a client services company doesn't just happen overnight. It can be easy to overlook the hard work, failure, and sometimes even loneliness that comes with the territory.
You might assume people in these positions are simply naturals who were born to take on these types of high-pressure roles. But in reality, it can be a tough hill to climb.
So what is it that all client services CEOs have in common that helps them reach that next level of success?
If you do a quick Google search, most articles you’ll find will try to convince you that if you want to be a successful CEO, you've got to be up at 5 a.m. every morning – meditating and drinking green juices – while finishing everything else on your to-do list.
Maybe there's nothing wrong with that approach, but it’s really not where the secret to success lies.
Our co-founders, Peter Coppinger and Daniel Mackey, actually ran an agency for years before starting Teamwork. They know exactly what it takes to grow and scale a thriving client services business.
In this post, we’ll dig into the key characteristics that all successful CEOs have in common, and we’ll share some tips to help you level up your leadership game along the way.
1. They live and breathe company culture
If you expect your employees to truly embody and live your company's culture, you’ve got to live and breathe it yourself. If the CEO of an organization doesn't exhibit the company values they preach, how can you expect employees and clients to do the same?
Each company’s unique culture starts from the top and makes it's way down through the business. A successful CEO defines and sets the culture for the entire company.
Although everyone has a part to play to ensure the culture is effective and maintained, it’s the CEO that holds the power to create the culture. The nature of working within the client services industry means fast-paced environments with constant deadlines.
In order to be successful, it's essential that you have a strong foundation. When the company is aligned culturally, they are more united and able to handle anything that comes their way.
Creating a strong company culture isn't easy.
It requires a lot of focus and dedication. If you’re struggling to truly live your company's culture, then you may need to spend some time defining what makes your culture unique. Have conversations with different people across the entire organization and see how they perceive your company's culture.
2. They know how to prioritize
We all know the importance of prioritization when it comes to working in the client services industry. But the truth is, it can be challenging to do in practice. Without clear prioritization in place, work can get chaotic and disorganized.
For this reason, being able to prioritize is a critical part of becoming a successful client services CEO. If you're not prioritizing what's important, you can't expect the same decision-making ability to be carried out within the business.
Being explicit with yourself and your team about your company’s priorities will allow you to stay focused on what matters most. It also helps you avoid getting overwhelmed by too many competing projects.
A successful CEO understands the importance of setting boundaries around work in order to stay focused, and they also believe in taking the time to step back and ask themselves tough questions around resourcing and trade-offs.
There are only so many hours in the day, so you need to be ruthless when it comes to prioritization and focus. Successful leaders take the time to establish key priorities for the business and communicate them with the entire team. When everyone knows where to focus their energy, you enable your team to deliver work for clients that consistently hits the mark.” - Peter Coppinger, CEO of Teamwork
3. They know how to set a clear direction
Knowing how to set a cohesive direction for client work is one of the most important aspects of the CEO position. It's the CEO’s responsibility to ensure that a vision is not only established but is expressed clearly up and down the entire organization.
If you're not certain about your vision and where the company is going in five years, it trickles down through to your employees and clients. Ultimately, you want your clients to feel secure and confident in the service you provide to them, so it’s important everyone is on board with your business’ key offerings and objectives.
Having a vision is critical, but clearly communicating that vision with others is even more important. A successful CEO understands they must spend time with their teams and ensure everyone is aligned and understands that vision.
If you feel like there's a disconnect, be sure to weave in your strategic vision for the business into your messaging across important informational gatherings like all-hands meetings and incorporate it regularly into staff communication.
4. They inspire and empower both their employees and clients
Once you have your vision pinned down, it’s time to inspire and energize the people you work with to chase after that vision alongside you. The best CEOs have great communication skills and have the know-how to make sure their employees and clients feel just as inspired by their vision as they do.
A successful CEO inspires their employees to be passionate about what they are doing. This leads to the best output for your clients as well. And when your clients are happy, you have a more profitable business.
Due to the nature of client services businesses, the relationship between your employees and your clients is critical for success. That’s why it’s so important that your entire team feels motivated and inspired by your vision, as this passion and excitement will shine through in client interactions.
Last but not least, great CEOs understand the importance of making their employees feel seen and valued for their hard work. Pay close attention to the wins that pop up throughout your organization and don't be shy to acknowledge success.
Thriving CEOs recognize the importance of bringing people up rather than distancing themselves from the people doing the hard work day in and day out.
5. They're focused on building credibility and integrity
For client services teams, credibility and integrity go hand in hand. When it comes to landing new clients, word-of-mouth referrals are one of the most common ways to get additional business in the door.
You want to build a reputation in your space as being highly credible. Most successful CEOs believe that honesty is the best policy, and transparency goes along with building that credibility.
One of the best ways to do this is by creating transparency between you and your clients. Bring your clients into the work itself by giving them access and visibility to the progress that's being made.
Allowing clients to have this visibility helps create a trusting relationship, which in return, leads to building credibility. With Teamwork, you can add clients to projects so that they have full transparency into the progress and status of the project. This also leads to clearer and more productive team collaboration between you and your client.
Your clients and employees are more likely to respect you for being honest with them –regardless of how things shake out. If you lead with honesty and transparency, you'll build trust, which is vital in becoming successful when working with clients.
6. They trust their team
Inspiring trust and also being trusted are essential qualities to have on your journey to becoming a successful CEO. But in order to create trust, you need to trust in others first. As you grow your business, it may be nerve-wracking at first to let go and have your team take over when interacting with clients.
But let’s face it, you can’t be in every meeting nor should you!
A successful CEO knows that they can't do everything themselves. They also recognize that they've hired people who can do an even better job than them. Letting go of controlling everything and trusting the right people in the right seats is essential to being a successful CEO.
Not only does trust in your team free up time and space to focus on the bigger picture, but it also shows your team that you trust and believe in them, which leads to them trusting you.
7. They adapt and welcome failure
Chances are you’ve faced many failures along the way while building your business. And while the goal is to see more success than failure, CEOs that thrive also understand it comes with the territory.
In the last few years alone, the global pandemic forced many client services teams to pivot, expand their offerings, and make difficult decisions all in the name of adaptability.
Being comfortable with change is an important quality that all successful CEOs share due to the fast-paced nature of the work and the high potential for change. Instilling a nimble, flexible culture within your organization will help empower your team to make quick decisions independently without a ton of oversight.
Welcoming failure is naturally a part of this. Successful CEOs don’t fear it, but instead, they face these challenges in stride and share the lessons they’ve learned with the team transparently.
One way we’ve been able to get our entire organization more comfortable with the idea of failure is by creating a chat channel dedicated to sharing lessons learned from things that haven’t gone according to plan. People from across the company jump into the chat to share the failures they may have run into and what they’ve learned from them moving forward. It’s a great way to highlight that failure isn’t the enemy, but instead an opportunity to learn and growth.” - Daniel Mackey, CTO of Teamwork
One way CEOs can become more adaptable is by working on their mindset. When you start to view obstacles and challenges that emerge as opportunities for growth and development, you turn a negative into a positive.
And one thing we know for sure is that there will always be periods of uncertainty, so this is a critical skill for CEOs to learn.
8. They delegate work effectively
Although there are many instances where the CEO should be involved in the work, it's even more important to know when to step in or take a back seat. Delegation is not only an opportunity to make workloads more manageable for yourself and your team, but it also gives people the opportunity to rise to the occasion and prove themselves.
Having high-level visibility into your team's workload and the progression of projects makes it easy for you to see how the work moves along without having to check in with each team individually.
As a CEO, you may have some pet projects kicking around from back when your business was much smaller. But if that responsibility now falls within someone else’s remit, be sure to delegate and enable them to take it on so you can focus on growing the business and becoming profitable.
Level up as a leader
Becoming a successful CEO depends on many factors — it requires hard work, determination, patience, and maybe even a little bit of luck at times.
By no means does this list cover it all, but we hope you’re feeling inspired to develop your leadership skills as you continue on your path to becoming a successful client services CEO.