CEOs: 3 Deadly Distractions and 3 Leadership Opportunities

By Todd Schrock, Advisor with The CEO Advantage

This is the introductory article in the series, How to Overcome the Unique Challenges of Emerging Businesses (20-100 Employees).

At 20 – 100 employees, your company is likely bigger than you think it is.

Your company is likely bigger than you think it is. 

It has succeeded where few others have. If you have 20-100 employees, then you are larger (and more complex) than at least 92 of every 100 businesses.1 Your business is only a few percentiles away from Apple and Caterpillar and GE.

Does this surprise you?

Yet the advice from smaller or larger CEOs or owners does not fit the key issues you face. Their challenges are completely different. They often have greater resources or more flexible options. Further, it is also not unusual for the advice of professionals or business authors to be opposite of what you need at this emerging stage, as they often try to serve the broadest range of businesses. Emerging stage and midsize business CEOs are caught in between two profitable and well-known audiences with very different advisory needs than small or large businesses.

Your biggest challenges right now are not likely to be connected to your industry or locale, but instead related to the obstacles inherent to the size of your business. (I believe these common organizational challenges are rooted in simple physical, financial, and human limits of the one or several owners–a topic for another time).

Emerging-stage businesses have already grown beyond the size of start-up, acceleration, and small business stages. They are approaching (and even beginning to overlap) midsize firms.2

I define an emerging business as the transition from a Founder-Entrepreneur run business to one where the founder and his small teams begin building an actual organization. And at 20-100 employees, most types of companies will run smack into common issues arising from that transition. (Warning: comparing companies by revenue size can be very misleading, making the unique challenges of this transition more difficult to see. Number of employees is an imperfect, but far better, basis of comparison.)

6 Unique Challenges for the Emerging Business Stage

The 6 challenges unique to your business stage include 3 distractions and 3 opportunities

3 Deadly Distractions 

1. Could Your Customers Be Driving You to Distraction?

Wrong customers are expensive in every way imaginable. Worse, they rob you of the attention and resources to build the value necessary for the loyal customers who can propel your success.

2. Grow Broke? How Is That Even Possible?

Survive, thrive: avoid the common cash crises. Build the right financial team and system. Learn 4 critical cash truths:

Learn 4 critical cash truths:

  • Profit does not equal cash flow.
  • Credit is not capital.
  • Growth sucks cash.
  • Cash provides entrepreneurial cushion.

3. Before Your Company’s Wheels Fall Off

Complexity grows faster than sales, hurting profits or even producing losses. Fast growth (20% or more) and complexity must be understood and tamed.

3 Leadership Opportunities

4. Vision without Execution Is Hallucination

Execution is now a team sport. The Founder-CEO’s personal energy and presence is not enough. Build an effective Leadership Team.

5. Edison: Entrepreneurial Success or CEO Failure?

Recognize the leadership strengths of both the entrepreneurial mindset and the managerial mindset. Get the best from each mindset.

6. Founders: The One Decision Required

Founder/Owner: achieve sustainable growth and success. What questions can only you answer? How do you make those toughest of choices?

These emerging-stage challenges require different management decisions and practices than those decisions and practices that got you here. Earlier challenges were to generate the best ideas, help those ideas sprout legs, and grow your market. Now, in spite of greater difficulties, internally and externally, your challenge is to build a sustainable profit-making company—maybe one that will create an enduring great organization.

Each business stage is different. What got you here will not get you there. What made you successful in previous stages will not work at this stage.

You have probably already addressed at least some of these unique challenges. How is it going? What other changes might be necessary? And where can you go for help to think through the right questions? To consider the right changes to make? To adapt the right solutions?

Often the most difficult thing to do is figure out which voices to heed, and which advice fits your current circumstances.

Maybe this series of articles will help you identify one or two key priorities for successfully working on your emerging-stage business and not just in it. (And if so, I welcome you to share with me both your lessons learned and questions that would be helpful to future articles by emailing me at toddschrock@theCEOadvantage.com).

CEO Rhythms Forum

And if your company is in Northeast Indiana, consider expanding your circle of informal advisors by joining your CEO/Owner peers and me in a CEO RhythmsForum, a new opportunity for those with the unique challenge of owning or running businesses of 20-100 employees.


  1. Other business statistical sources reveal it may be closer to the 98th or 99th percentile. The numbers above are from the SBA’s 2011 work with the recent U.S. Census data.
  2. Yes, there is a little over-generalization here. Not every business fits the general pattern. For example, some tech start-ups can raise so much money so quickly that they jump up to a bigger size immediately. (Among other unhelpful ways to think about business size, the Small Business Administration serves the politically popular “small business” and then defines it as 500 employees or less. This includes 99.7% of all businesses, even though 500-employee businesses are nothing like startup, 20-employee or 150-employee companies.)

© 2017 From the Top, LLC


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