ChannelTrends: Making the Leap from IT Business Owner to CEO

CEOThe truth is, it's really quite easy to start a business. Sure, the time requirements are fairly substantial ‒ filing paperwork, adhering to a list of continually expanding government regulations, submitting and paying taxes, performing sales and marketing activities, and of course, doing the actual work. But there are scores of resources and business professionals available to help new entrepreneurs wade their way through all that rigmarole.

The hard part is turning an owner into a real leader. Not everyone has the skills or temperament to be a CEO. Knowledge is good, but you don't have to be a member of Mensa to be able to develop clear strategies and effectively motivate team members. Some are the proverbial "natural born leaders" while others acquire their abilities through practice and training.  

The one caveat management experts emphasize is that leadership doesn't necessarily go hand in hand with success. Many of the most inspiring and engaged business owners end up failing. The level of risk they take on may simply be too great or unforeseen circumstances end up derailing their projects. Companies can fail no matter how much skill or effort their team leaders put into it.

Although the channel is no different, very few IT businesses will ever thrive without a true leader at the helm. Those who have prospered by growing profitable VAR and MSP organizations are no "accidental millionaires," typically putting a greater number of hours and lending more of their own professional expertise than a typical business owner would. In other words, the shop rarely, if ever closes.

Five Traits of Leadership 
Many small businesses enjoy a couple of years of initial success and then hit a wall. Their failure to grow beyond a certain level is often attributed to the owner's lack of one (if not more) characteristics, including: 

  1. Focus: chasing business is bad. Some IT business owners spend a lot of time and money attempting to land every possible client in every conceivable market. Over time, great leaders learn which prospects offer the most potential and then build sales and marketing strategies that best utilize their limited resources. Those who can stick to their mission and make improvements only when needed seem to enjoy the most long-term success.


  2. Decisiveness: with so many things going on, usually at the same time, business owners must be confident in the decisions they make. Should they proceed with a major project, hire a new employee, or add to the firm's services portfolio? Leaders do their homework, pick the best fit for their corporate strategy, and put forth their best effort to make sure it works.


  3. Listening skills: the thoughts and opinions of coworkers and industry experts are invaluable. From clients and prospects to the lawn maintenance crew and help desk personnel, good leaders learn a lot from the people around them and take time to seek their counsel. Owners with effective listening skills are typically more engaged with their team members, resulting in higher employee job satisfaction, reduced turnover, and greater collaboration.


  4. Modesty- giving the proper credit to those who make the operation successful is not just common courtesy ‒ it's smart business. Leaders avoid self-praise and encourage team members to work together, stressing group performance over individual accomplishment. Those steps help keep egos in check and ensure a more harmonious workplace.


  5. Passion: people tend to follow and show greater respect for bosses who inspire. Those with genuine enthusiasm for their company, its mission, and each activity are more capable of motivating their workers, customers, and their suppliers. Excitement and passion are contagious. Successful business owners learn how to express those positive emotions to get the results that they need.   

The good news for IT business owners is that every one of these traits can be learned or improved upon with the right effort. Even passion. Many entrepreneurs have it ‒ or they'd never open their businesses. But technical professionals tend to be a bit more introverted than their counterparts in other industries, so a little extra effort ‒ including management, motivational, and speaker training ‒ might be required.

CompTIA can help, too. With a number of live training events each year and regularly scheduled webinars, the association and its members take an active role in leadership development. Those who participate in one or more of the ten CompTIA Communities gain industry insight as well as tips and best practices related to the traits listed above.

Ready to make the leap from owner to CEO? The first step is listing your strengths and weaknesses for the five traits listed above. Then create a plan to address any deficiencies and reinforce the positives.

Just remember, few great leaders are born with those skills. But with hard work and a positive strategy in place, owners can acquire virtually any aptitude and attitude needed to ensure the success of their IT businesses.  

Brian Sherman is president of Tech Success Communications, a channel-related content and social media development firm. He served previously as the chief editor at Business Solutions magazine and senior director of industry alliances with Autotask. Contact Brian at

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