Knowing when and how to give up the reins
By PAUL TEN HAKEN
Just weeks ago, I stepped down from my position as the chief executive officer at Click Rain Inc, the company I founded nearly 10 years ago – I still remember day one in our tiny 200 sq ft office.
It was just me, a desk given to me by a pal, a brick of a Dell laptop, and a Treo cell phone (remember those?). I turned on the computer that first day and as it started up, I thought, “Man, Lord. . .I hope this works out.”
Well, it did. Fast forward to today, we have been blessed with an amazing team of 35 people (and growing), revenues worth of US$5mil, too many awards to list, and some of the best clients we could ever have imagined. It’s been an amazing ride and we have been blessed beyond belief as a company.
I still plan to stay involved with the company as a partner, the chair of our advisory board and assist with some other strategic initiatives, but for all intents and purposes, my time as an “employee” at Click Rain is winding up. It feels weird to write it. It feels weird to read it as well.
I know I am going to get a lot of questions on this move. Where did this come from? Did you have a falling out with your partners? Were you forced out? What are you going to do next? Is the company on shaky ground? There has to be more to the story, right?
There’s not much of a dramatic story to tell. In fact, it’s really quite simple: God told me it was time to move on.
This transition has been about three years in the making, and I want to share with you some of the reasons I felt it was time for me to move on to new things.
1. My job is not my identity
Being a CEO is hard, and being a founder and CEO is even harder. It’s fun, exciting, stressful, lonely, depressing, and exhilarating – many of those emotions are experienced daily.
You have “raised your company from birth” and are “super” protective of the company, the culture, the brand –everything.
In many ways, the identity of the CEO or founder becomes synonymous with the company, and vice versa. There is a bit of bravado that comes with being the CEO as well.
You become an instant authority (whether warranted or not) and it can be a position that can quickly inflate an ego.
When people ask, “What do you do?” my first response is always, “I am the CEO at Click Rain.”
I often wonder why I don’t answer this question with “I am a dad, a Christian, a developer of people, a devoted husband, etc.”
For me, I have gotten very wrapped up in my professional identity. This – in itself – is not bad, but I am excited to see what the non-Click Rain Paul looks like.
2. Too many founders overstay their welcome
It’s important for many founders or CEOs to experience some brutal self-assessment on a regular basis. Peer feedback, professional mentors, or mastermind groups to keep one accountable to the question, “Am I still the right person to lead this company?”
Too often, we in business assume the original founder of a company is the best person to lead the business as it grows, which is true in many cases. But sometimes, the person who took the company from A to B may not be the best person to take the company from B to C. This takes self-awareness and quite honestly, an ego check to reach that realisation.
3. My calling and my vocation are two different things
I am called to encourage people to be bold in their faith in the workplace. That has been made particularly clear to me over the past several years. I do that through my vocation as the CEO at Click Rain.
I can also live out that calling as a Walmart greeter, a landscaper, a marketing executive, a waiter, and so on.
My current vocation is shifting, but my calling remains clear. You must never confuse the two.
4. The flame was dimming
I have always told my team that when Sunday nights become depressing because they are followed by Monday morning, it’s time to rethink your job and your fit.
I need to follow my own advice on this one. My passion for our work – which remains some of the best in this region – has been surpassed by the passion of our team.
That is awesome to see. However, when your leader is no longer the most passionate person on the team and inspiring each and every person to go out and crush it daily, the leader needs to look at passing that torch.
5. Our next generation of leadership is hungry
We’ve done a lot of things wrong at Click Rain over the years, but one thing we’ve done well is hire amazing people who have bought into our culture and vision.
This transition has been on my heart for several years, and I’ve worked faithfully to build an executive team that I knew would be able to take the reins when it would happen.
The executive team at Click Rain is some of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with, and they are hungry to blow the lid off this place.
I have no doubt that it is going to happen and we’ve got a strategic plan we’re executing and that is going to launch the company to new places.
It’s time for me to step aside and watch these unbelievable men and women take the company and that plan to a place we never thought we could go.
I am excited to chase some of the entrepreneurial ventures I’ve only partially dedicate time to over the years. This includes the Dispatch Project, a 501(c)3 organisation I co-founded several years back. I also have investments in other businesses that I am anxious to put more time to. Same calling, new vocations.
After some exhaustive internal and external candidate vetting, our next CEO is going to come from within the walls of Click Rain. Natalie Eisenberg has been our VP of Sales and Marketing for the past 18 months and will be taking the helm in September.
Before I started Click Rain in 2008, Natalie and I had worked together for many years in a client cum agency relationship.
From the day, I hung the Click Rain shingle, Natalie was on my shortlist of executives I wanted to be part of this company.
I was always impressed with her professional demeanour, her sharp marketing mind, and her ability to get people to “buy what she was selling.”
The timing was never quite right, but in 2016, she finally joined us and I am beyond excited to be walking alongside her as she transitions into her new role. She will be fantastic.
When it’s time, you just know, you know? Having an inner peace about moving on has been such a blessing. In addition, the months of closed-door planning we’ve done to prepare for this transition gives me an increased level of peace that the company is in fantastic hands.
The company will be moving on to great things, the culture that we’ve meticulously and intentionally crafted is blossoming and our clients are going to continue to experience some of the best marketing technology strategy in the country.
It’s an exciting time at Click Rain, and I’ve been blessed to play a small part.
Paul Ten Haken is an entrepreneur, fitness enthusiast and digital expert. He started in digital media at the dawn of the dot-com boom and spent several years in high-level roles in the corporate sector. His greatest professional success is in building a company that is steadily awarded for its positive workplace culture. To get in touch with him, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reposted with permission on Leaderonomics.com