It’s all about power and you have none – when you have all the power, you have none of the power.
It’s 2018 and in the past 5 or 6 years entrepreneurship is trending. In Lagos the availability of jobs continue to diminish. As the ever-dwindling multinational companies in Lagos rarely hire internally. Instead, they are hiring contingent workers through temp agencies like Workforce, Philips Consulting etc, with the glorification of billion-dollar startups like Facebook and Instagram, and our very own Nairaland, Jobberman, Hotels.ng, IrokoTV & PayStack entrepreneurship is becoming the cool new thing to do.
More Nigerian people are starting their own businesses, like you may have done for yourself.
If you live in Lagos, as the founder of a Nigerian company, you have big shoes to fill. You will often find you are not only in charge of everything from operations to finance to sales to marketing and strategy but that much of the weight lies upon your shoulders.
Come on lets face it you may want others to recognize you as the big and powerful CEO, yet trust me there are certain situations, that title “CEO” comes with a downside. Why?
“Because when you have all the power, you have none of the power.”
I may have not lived very long, but long enough to have worked with many CEOs and C suite executives as well as “startup CEOs” I must tell you that the CEO title in Nigeria is becoming less impressive and more egotistical. In Nigeria most startup founders won’t bulge to not go by the the CEO title when in the true sense of the word aren’t really worthy of a CEO title. The staggering number of failed Lagos-based startups is a true indicator of the fact that “because you launch doesn’t mean you should lead” much less that you are capable of long term thinking. In truth it a is a pretentious and petty affectation and ought not to be done.
“The title CEO in the traditional sense refers to someone who operates a vast enterprise with a complex management structure, board of directors and stockholders. So self-describing yourself as one does not MAKE you one and will only give a negative impression; you will be understood as a joke. You just as well might call a recharge card seller with an MTN stand a “CEO.”
Here are five situations where you want to avoid calling yourself a CEO:
1. You wouldn’t want to be CEO when you meet anyone with whom you will have to negotiate a deal, sale or partnership.
Consider yourself the owner of a company that makes party packs and you have sourced out a manufacturer. You go into a meeting, and they tell you that you will have to pay N50,000 for 1,000 party pack units, plus another N5,000 for its delivery.
Now being the CEO, you have all the power in the company. You can’t deny that you don’t know what your budget is. Neither can you presspoint that you need to go check with your CFO. The harsh reality is you can’t say anything except yes or no.
You can try but you’ll embarrassingly look weak when you negotiate by saying things like “I can’t afford it” or “that might be a bit too much for my company to pay.”
Let’s face it no one wants to give priority treatment or work that hard at signing a new client who is showing signs they may not be able to reorder in the future?
In the end while you may think you have all the power going into the negotiation, you actually end up powerless.
Now on the other hand when you aren’t addressing yourself as CEO of the company, you have ambiguity on your side because then you can say that you need to go check with your partners.
You can take the smart move by leaving the room, make a few phone calls, real or fake, then come back to the table with a counter offer that comes from “above.”
This tact works for any situation that requires negotiation, whether you are looking to finalize salary for a key employee hire, making a bid for office space, dealing with a client who wants a discount, or looking to work with a vendor who wants a certain percentage for promoting your product.
2. It’s not really productive to be CEO when you attend networking events or a trade show.
Very few events offer you the opportunity to hookup with new people than when attending a trade show or networking event, you meet all kinds of people. Some are in your field. Others are potential clients. Sometimes, you will want to show that you are the head of your company. Yet, on many occasions, this will backfire.
The big idea behind attending networking events or trade shows is to mix and mingle with potential vendors and clients. But when you call yourself a CEO, you create a superficial gap in between you and the person you are speaking with. Not to talk about, a lot of people will be able to see right through that power play. Or they are like me and just lack curiosity to further find out what you do.
Additionally stating you are the CEO of a company, instead of being able to connect with others, you distance yourself from them. You create an invisible pedestal for yourself in the eyes of the other party.
You have to stop that from happening, so instead of introducing yourself as CEO, use a verb in regards to what your company does to catch their attention.
What is a more intriguing opening line to you?
“Hi, my name is Aderemi. I’m CEO of xyz company!”
“Hi, my name is Aderemi. I teach people how to build their brands.”
I know for a fact that some of the most successful CEO’s I’ve met have never once called themselves a CEO in front of me.
3. You shouldn’t be CEO when you employ your first few employees.
Watching your business grow is great and being able to sign on your first few employees is definitely an accomplishment. Because doing so means you are moving in the right direction for your company.
On the other hand when you have just five people in your office, or even one and you decide to call yourself a CEO, all you’re really telling people, especially your employees, is that you have an ego. Going by CEO in this situation may change the perception of how they see you and foster issues in the workplace.
At this point i’ll strongly recommend you to not address yourself as CEO, rather call yourself a founder to your initial employees.
4. When you have less than five employees or revenues under mid seven figures.
Since entrepreneurship is trending, everyone from the 17-year-old who’s trying to set up a graphics design outfit to Daniel Ek of Spotify is a CEO. This means it has become very hard to distinguish the real players from the fake ones.
Since 2012 I have worked closely with hundreds of companies in Lagos alone and as far back as back in 2005, I used to look up to people who called themselves CEO, because I thought of them as the younger Donald Trump, Robert Kiyosaki, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the world.
Fast-foward to 2018 though, everyone wants to be a CEO…so when someone comes along and introduces themselves that way to me, I just say “Oh,” then go back to what I was doing before.
Largely due to the fact that the title doesn’t hold the same appeal that it once did.
If you’re going to be bold enough to take on the title of the CEO, make sure you have the proven track record of success with your company to support your role, otherwise you will be looked down upon.
5. It can be disastrous when dealing with customers.
In Nigeria and elsewhere the worst situation to be addressed as the CEO of a company is when you are dealing directly with customers. Let’s say you run a SaaS (Software as a Service) company. Let’s say you charge N50,000 a month for your services.
At this point all the leverage is in the customer’s hand.
At ths point they make all the rules.
And like all customers, they will want to negotiate down your price. You really have no room to wiggle. You have just three choices to decide on you have to either accept their low-ball offer, come back with a weak counter-bid, or turn them away.
Fortunately on the other hand, when you aren’t the CEO, you don’t have the final decision making power for anything. So then, you will be able to negotiate the price, take their bid, and come back with a higher offer. This, in turn, allows you to generate more profits at your standard rate for your company. Plus, it gives you more control and power over the situation of the pricing module for your company.
Certainly there are times it may be counter intuitive to want to set down that role of CEO, but giving up power usually has some uncanny benefits. That being said, there are always going to be situations when you need to be clear that you are the CEO of a company, such as with investors or the press. But in most cases, it is best to leave that title at home.
Just my two-cents from my personal journey bootstrapping a 1 million Naira a month services startup in the pursuit of freedom.