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Submitted by jhowse on


I am contemplating a career move that some might consider a backwards step. I have been the CEO of a company with 60 emloyees for the last 3 years after originally joining as Financial Cotroller 7 years ago. I was promoted to the board of directors 5 years ago. I was initially reluctant to take on the role of CEO as I did not have the confidence that the owners did that just because I could perform well in the role of managing the Finance function (which progressively had IT, HR, customer service and distribution added to it) that I could run the whole company. The company focusses heavily on sales and marketing, areas I had very little experience in or inclination for. I grudgingly accepted the role as I did not want to wonder later in life what might have been and also took heart in the confidence that the owners and those close to me had in me.

After 3 years in the role there have been many challenges and I have learnt a lot. A massive help was to re-shape the management team with people who were good in their areas of expertise, and especially in areas that I considered myself to be weak in. Yet, after 3 years I still do not feel that I truly belong in the role. Being a reserved person (DISC 2-1-5-7), I had to focus hard on improving my people management skills. I have recently become a disciple of Manager Tools and it has been fantastic for me. A shame I did not know about it 3 years ago! While, as Mike says “management is hard”, what I really struggle with is being a leader that will drive the company forward. While I have been able to improve infrastructure and processes the company now really needs someone to capitalise on these improvements and take on the market more aggressively. I feel I am more suited to supporting a strong leader than being one. Data and systems analysis is what I am good at. I look back over my career and find that I was at my best and most energized when I had my first role as the manager of a finance department. The department was in a mess, the company had just taken over a company and had done an awful job of implementing its ERP system in the acquired company. Staff were leaving in droves. I was able to sort out the department and the system (with lots of help). It was the first time in my career that I felt a strong sense of purpose and achievement.


I am seriously contemplating moving back into a full-time finance role. I want to go back to doing what I am good at, not to continue to struggle with overcoming my weaknesses to only achieve pass grades. Am I crazy to be considering what is likely to be seen as abackward step? Most likely I will earn less, but the money and status are not so important to me if I am not enthused about what I am doing. I am also worried that recruiters and prospective employers will be suspicious of such a move, especially as I have been out of a finance role for 3 years. Any ideas on how to tackle this?

jhack's picture

There's a strong cultural bias towards conventional and easily understood definitions of "success". And those conventions help direct capable and ambitious people into positions of leadership and responsibility.

That's good.

And yet, we are likely to make our greatest contribution when we enjoy what we're doing. Great teams have more solid role players than they do stars. Having done the CEO job, you'll be much effective in dealing with the next CEO. You'll be a better financial officer.

And you'll be happier, and that will carry over to your personal life and other relationships.

Some people may raise eyebrows, but the best will understand that you made a good, hard decision, and will respect you for it.


John Hack