Chief Vision Officer
As CEO, you're not only the chief executive. One of the most important hats in your well-stuffed wardrobe is CVO: Chief Vision Officer.
What is being an entrepreneur? It's taking a colorful dream and manifesting it as reality via a profitable product or service--all the while knowing that even after years of grueling work, you may never get to the treasure at the end of the rainbow.
Case in point: a friend asked me to accompany him to the location he hoped to lease for a new business. I walked in and saw a grungy basement with one window. He saw the bones of an elegant restaurant, an intimate space softly lit by candles. His ability to paint that picture for people drove the construction of what would eventually become his acclaimed, award-winning restaurant.
Another friend developed a niche product, a specialized soap for lingerie. Whereas some might perceive this as superfluous or at most a glorified detergent, she saw so much more. She felt that an important way to take care of herself was to take excellent care of the delicate garments that made her feel so special and confident. And with that vision, she ended up selling beautiful, potion-like bottles of her soap in high-end lingerie stores all over Europe.
If you can't inspire belief in your particular rainbow, your team certainly can't. They will struggle to stay engaged. Even worse, without a strong vision, theirsole motivation will be the pot of gold. Whether you have one part-time assistant or a staff of 20, if you can't get the troops to adopt yourvision as their own, you're dead on arrival. Without that, work feels pointless. How well do you work when you don't feel like what you do has purpose?
Entrepreneurs often take for granted that people know and love their mission as much as they do. Of course you know and love it; it's your baby. You eat, sleep and breathe your business. Don't take for granted that your employees are always on board. It's your job to help your team understand and believe in the mission. You can't assume that they simply know what steps you want to take and why. Bring them in, show them how their work is valued and connected to a larger whole. Create opportunities to infuse the company mission and vision on a regular basis.
Also consider ways to transform your space: designatea creative corner with beanbags and a couple games, an innovation zone stocked with whiteboards and collaborative tools to work out new ideas, a vision wall with imagery or quotes related to your mission. As an entrepreneur who loves to cook, I think of it as setting an elegant table. When I invite people to a dinner party, I want my guests to sit down and immediately take the cue from the lovely setting that they are about to share a delicious meal. When you set the stage for inspired work, your employees transform into an engaged, enthusiastic bunch of co-revolutionaries.
It's easy for entrepreneurs to forget this lesson. But it's not a problem that should be taken lightly, unless you want to end up with a real-life parody of The Office. This is not a little stumble, it's a huge boulder blocking your way out of whatever cave you're in and the way to exploring the wilderness. If you don't roll it aside, success will always be waiting, out of sight, somewhere over the rainbow.
ELLE KAPLAN | Columnist | CEO, Lexion Capital Management
A finance expert and self-made entrepreneur, Elle Kaplan is the CEO and founding partner of Lexion Capital Management, the only 100 percent woman-owned asset management firm in the U.S.