Gini Dietrich

This is a guest post from Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc.

Nearly three years ago I had to make the transition from working in the business to working on the business. It was a difficult transition (sometimes still is) because no one tells you how to do it. When I asked my peers, friends, and family what a CEO should be doing, no one could give me a straight answer.

I read a ton of books. I read every article I could find.  I brought it as an issue to my Vistage group. I asked other entrepreneurs turned CEOs. I kept a list of things I thought I should be doing as a CEO.

It turns out being the CEO of a company you founded means different things to different people. What is important to me may not be important to other business leaders, which is probably why I couldn’t find the magic answer in all of my searching.

Following are some of the lessons I’m learning in my journey to the top:

  • Cash truly is king.
  • Debt isn’t bad, unless there is a recession and you can’t get access to capital because you already have debt.
  • Big is not always better; profit is always best.
  • Leadership is not about being the first one in and the last one to leave the office, nor about working the most hours.
  • Employee communication should happen only in person; internal email sucks.
  • Just because you have three letters after your name does not mean you have to be all business all of the time, if it doesn’t fit your personality.
  • If our clients aren’t happy and want me working on their accounts, it’s because I haven’t done my staff coaching and mentoring job well enough.
  • My time is best spent on innovation, coaching and mentoring staff, landing the whales, and being the face of the company.
  • It’s okay to say no, if it’s for something not in the four areas listed above.
  • It’s good to shake things up every once in a while, in an effort to stay ahead of the trends.
  • It’s great to have friends who run competitive companies; if the relationship is set up correctly, we work very well together.
  • People like working for a company that stands for something and lives its values.
  • My gut is ALWAYS right.
  • Engagement, connection, and transparency are the most important communication tools – with employees, with clients, with prospects, with talent candidates, with vendors, with partners, and any other stakeholder.
  • Bad news does not go away and it does not get better with age; no matter how much I hate conflict, sometimes it’s worse in my head than it is in reality.
  • Having fun with my colleagues, and connecting with them as people, is what I truly love about getting up and going to work every day.

What have you learned? What do you do that is not on this list?

Gini Dietrich is the founder and chief executive officer of Arment Dietrich, Inc. and the author of Spin Sucks, the 2010 Readers Choice Blog of the Year, a Top 42 Content Marketing Blog from Junta42, a top 10 social media blog from Social Media Examiner, and an AdAge Power 150 blog. You can subscribe to Spin Sucks or connect with Gini on Twitter or on Facebook to learn more.

155 comments
chaitanya Battaluri
chaitanya Battaluri

Hi Gini,
I am not a CEO and i do not have any experience with CEO`S. I am just a kid about to graduate from college in a few months. I read the post and it was really great reading it. The points are real good.
Adding to your points, I think it is always important how you treat your employees, the way treat creates a sort of respect on your part. If you are like yelling at them and what ever, they feel like this " its my fate that i am working under her". If you give them a bit of boost like " good work done", they will try to better. I can say that a compliment is better than a million bucks for your employee. I just felt really happy reading the comments. I really think customers have to be dealt in face to face.Leadership is based on how much you well you can lead a team, not on how well you can control them. I am too young to talk abouts debts and stuff. I feel that the worst employee you can rather image can be turned into a shining diamond by just polishing. Here, the polishing is the encouragement and stuff you give him to do better. It is sometimes good to scold in case of mistakes and assume that the guy will correct it next time. I can not speak anymore. It was a great post altogether. Thanks .

chaitanya Battaluri
chaitanya Battaluri

Hi Gini,
I am not a CEO and i do not have any experience with CEO`S. I am just a kid about to graduate from college in a few months. I read the post and it was really great reading it. The points are real good.
Adding to your points, I think it is always important how you treat your employees, the way treat creates a sort of respect on your part. If you are like yelling at them and what ever, they feel like this " its my fate that i am working under her". If you give them a bit of boost like " good work done", they will try to better. I can say that a compliment is better than a million bucks for your employee. I just felt really happy reading the comments. I really think customers have to be dealt in face to face.Leadership is based on how much you well you can lead a team, not on how well you can control them. I am too young to talk abouts debts and stuff. I feel that the worst employee you can rather image can be turned into a shining diamond by just polishing. Here, the polishing is the encouragement and stuff you give him to do better. It is sometimes good to scold in case of mistakes and assume that the guy will correct it next time. I can not speak anymore. It was a great post altogether. Thanks .

chaitanya Battaluri
chaitanya Battaluri

Hi Gini, I am not a CEO and i do not have any experience with CEO`S. I am just a kid about to graduate from college in a few months. I read the post and it was really great reading it. The points are real good. Adding to your points, I think it is always important how you treat your employees, the way treat creates a sort of respect on your part. If you are like yelling at them and what ever, they feel like this " its my fate that i am working under her". If you give them a bit of boost like " good work done", they will try to better. I can say that a compliment is better than a million bucks for your employee. I just felt really happy reading the comments. I really think customers have to be dealt in face to face.Leadership is based on how much you well you can lead a team, not on how well you can control them. I am too young to talk abouts debts and stuff. I feel that the worst employee you can rather image can be turned into a shining diamond by just polishing. Here, the polishing is the encouragement and stuff you give him to do better. It is sometimes good to scold in case of mistakes and assume that the guy will correct it next time. I can not speak anymore. It was a great post altogether. Thanks .

Abbie S. Fink
Abbie S. Fink

Working ON your business, not IN your business to me is the hardest part. These are my two faves:

•If our clients aren’t happy and want me working on their accounts, it’s because I haven’t done my staff coaching and mentoring job well enough.

•My time is best spent on innovation, coaching and mentoring staff, landing the whales, and being the face of the company.

Thanks, as always, for sharing.

Abbie S. Fink
Abbie S. Fink

Working ON your business, not IN your business to me is the hardest part. These are my two faves:

•If our clients aren’t happy and want me working on their accounts, it’s because I haven’t done my staff coaching and mentoring job well enough.

•My time is best spent on innovation, coaching and mentoring staff, landing the whales, and being the face of the company.

Thanks, as always, for sharing.

Abbie S. Fink
Abbie S. Fink

Working ON your business, not IN your business to me is the hardest part. These are my two faves: •If our clients aren’t happy and want me working on their accounts, it’s because I haven’t done my staff coaching and mentoring job well enough. •My time is best spent on innovation, coaching and mentoring staff, landing the whales, and being the face of the company. Thanks, as always, for sharing.

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

Customers? What are those?? :)

I totally agree nothing replaces the face-to-face meeting with your customers. We can try, but it's just not the same.

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

Customers? What are those?? :) I totally agree nothing replaces the face-to-face meeting with your customers. We can try, but it's just not the same.

John Heaney
John Heaney

Gini,

Having also run a manufacturing business, I would add only one more Incontrovertible Law: Nothing is More Important Than Your Customer. Everything begins with what your customer needs, or perceives they need.

Satisfy those needs and you'll potentially have a successful company. Fail to meet those needs (which, by the way, may never actually be mentioned) and you're guaranteed to fail.

And its corollary: Nothing Takes the Place of Meeting Your Customers Personally. You can't truly understand what your customers' needs are if you don't meet them face to face and listen to their stories. Do it regularly and you'll have nothing but raving fans and enough ideas to fuel your innovation machine for years.

But I have the feeling you already know these rule intimately.

John Heaney
John Heaney

Gini,

Having also run a manufacturing business, I would add only one more Incontrovertible Law: Nothing is More Important Than Your Customer. Everything begins with what your customer needs, or perceives they need.

Satisfy those needs and you'll potentially have a successful company. Fail to meet those needs (which, by the way, may never actually be mentioned) and you're guaranteed to fail.

And its corollary: Nothing Takes the Place of Meeting Your Customers Personally. You can't truly understand what your customers' needs are if you don't meet them face to face and listen to their stories. Do it regularly and you'll have nothing but raving fans and enough ideas to fuel your innovation machine for years.

But I have the feeling you already know these rule intimately.

John Heaney
John Heaney

Gini, Having also run a manufacturing business, I would add only one more Incontrovertible Law: Nothing is More Important Than Your Customer. Everything begins with what your customer needs, or perceives they need. Satisfy those needs and you'll potentially have a successful company. Fail to meet those needs (which, by the way, may never actually be mentioned) and you're guaranteed to fail. And its corollary: Nothing Takes the Place of Meeting Your Customers Personally. You can't truly understand what your customers' needs are if you don't meet them face to face and listen to their stories. Do it regularly and you'll have nothing but raving fans and enough ideas to fuel your innovation machine for years. But I have the feeling you already know these rule intimately.

Beatriz Alemar
Beatriz Alemar

Gini -

Great, great tips! I really resonated with the it's ok to say no if it's not one of your main responsibilities as a CEO.

I have a hard time saying no to people - whether they be friends or clients. If I could do it and it was asked of me, I'd try my best to do it. Worked out horribly! I hated the tasks and didn't have time to do the things that really mattered. So, I stopped taking requests if they weren't what I do best or be interested in learning/expanding my services in. Much happier and productive for it!

And yes, even as an entrepreneur, I know cash is king. Cash talks in a way credit just doesn't. Makes people stand up and listen.

Beatriz Alemar
Beatriz Alemar

Gini -

Great, great tips! I really resonated with the it's ok to say no if it's not one of your main responsibilities as a CEO.

I have a hard time saying no to people - whether they be friends or clients. If I could do it and it was asked of me, I'd try my best to do it. Worked out horribly! I hated the tasks and didn't have time to do the things that really mattered. So, I stopped taking requests if they weren't what I do best or be interested in learning/expanding my services in. Much happier and productive for it!

And yes, even as an entrepreneur, I know cash is king. Cash talks in a way credit just doesn't. Makes people stand up and listen.

Beatriz Alemar
Beatriz Alemar

Gini - Great, great tips! I really resonated with the it's ok to say no if it's not one of your main responsibilities as a CEO. I have a hard time saying no to people - whether they be friends or clients. If I could do it and it was asked of me, I'd try my best to do it. Worked out horribly! I hated the tasks and didn't have time to do the things that really mattered. So, I stopped taking requests if they weren't what I do best or be interested in learning/expanding my services in. Much happier and productive for it! And yes, even as an entrepreneur, I know cash is king. Cash talks in a way credit just doesn't. Makes people stand up and listen.

Mark Harai
Mark Harai

Hi Gini -- you've covered the following three things in your list -- but I'm just going to say them differently. Without Vision - people perish, and so will your company. You need to have the big picture - the who, what, where and why -- and how they relate to your immediate and long term future. Effective Leadership - people, personalities and leading the motley crew... sometimes little things like ego's, politics and foolishness can bog down big aspirations and progress -- you need to effectively manage those people/personalities [the crew] and keep them focused on the bigger things at hand. Responsiblity - leading anything requires your willingness to be responsible for everything. It's lonely at the top. There I said it and didn't even use profanity (haha) Man -- your face is plastered all over the internet - people must think your pretty cute :)

Mark Harai
Mark Harai

Hi Gini -- you've covered the following three things in your list -- but I'm just going to say them differently.

Without Vision - people perish, and so will your company. You need to have the big picture - the who, what, where and why -- and how they relate to your immediate and long term future.

Effective Leadership - people, personalities and leading the motley crew... sometimes little things like ego's, politics and foolishness can bog down big aspirations and progress -- you need to effectively manage those people/personalities [the crew] and keep them focused on the bigger things at hand.

Responsiblity - leading anything requires your willingness to be responsible for everything. It's lonely at the top.

There I said it and didn't even use profanity (haha)

Man -- your face is plastered all over the internet - people must think your pretty cute :)

Keith Davis
Keith Davis

Hi Gini
I'm never likely to be CEO but I have worked for some good guys.

The stand out quality was that I wanted to do a good job for them.
They were all obviously in charge but I admired them, I respected them, guess I felt safe with them at the helm.

Difficult to put rules to good CEOing, but we all know a good CEO when we work for them.

Keith Davis
Keith Davis

Hi Gini I'm never likely to be CEO but I have worked for some good guys. The stand out quality was that I wanted to do a good job for them. They were all obviously in charge but I admired them, I respected them, guess I felt safe with them at the helm. Difficult to put rules to good CEOing, but we all know a good CEO when we work for them.

Elli StGeorge Godfrey
Elli StGeorge Godfrey

Gini,

This post is one I'll be sending to my small business clients. Making the shift to CEO can be challenging. One of the biggest difficulties small business owners face when shifting from being the technical expert to being the CEO of their business is trusting themselves.

Trusting yourself lays the groundwork for hard decisions, noticing when you sabotage yourself, delegating things that aren't the best use of your current skills (or interests) and acting as a genuinely positive model and mentor to everyone in the company. Actually the list could go on and on.

I wish you every success and I look forward to hearing how Arment Dietrich does with you at the helm. My guess is you're going to do all right!

Elli StGeorge Godfrey
Elli StGeorge Godfrey

Gini,

This post is one I'll be sending to my small business clients. Making the shift to CEO can be challenging. One of the biggest difficulties small business owners face when shifting from being the technical expert to being the CEO of their business is trusting themselves.

Trusting yourself lays the groundwork for hard decisions, noticing when you sabotage yourself, delegating things that aren't the best use of your current skills (or interests) and acting as a genuinely positive model and mentor to everyone in the company. Actually the list could go on and on.

I wish you every success and I look forward to hearing how Arment Dietrich does with you at the helm. My guess is you're going to do all right!

Elli StGeorge Godfrey
Elli StGeorge Godfrey

Gini, This post is one I'll be sending to my small business clients. Making the shift to CEO can be challenging. One of the biggest difficulties small business owners face when shifting from being the technical expert to being the CEO of their business is trusting themselves. Trusting yourself lays the groundwork for hard decisions, noticing when you sabotage yourself, delegating things that aren't the best use of your current skills (or interests) and acting as a genuinely positive model and mentor to everyone in the company. Actually the list could go on and on. I wish you every success and I look forward to hearing how Arment Dietrich does with you at the helm. My guess is you're going to do all right!

Johnny Russo
Johnny Russo

Gini, that is great advice. I am working full-time for a high-tech company, and also working on a couple of start-ups. Your leadership tips are greatly appreciated.

Also, to the comments about hiring smarter people, that has been Google’s mantra. The Google Way speaks to that. Google managers hire people smarter than them. And yes, while you must gauge their arrogance, there is nothing wrong with confidence to do a job well.

One question I do have (to both Danny and Gini and anyone else that could answer): How do you know how large (in terms of employees) your company should be? How do you know when to hand off tasks that are getting too cumbersome for you to do daily? I find myself in that position often. Doing it myself, but doing too much. I know to be a leader, it’s important to train, mentor, and hand off tasks to your employees. When do you do that?

Johnny Russo
Johnny Russo

Gini, that is great advice. I am working full-time for a high-tech company, and also working on a couple of start-ups. Your leadership tips are greatly appreciated.

Also, to the comments about hiring smarter people, that has been Google’s mantra. The Google Way speaks to that. Google managers hire people smarter than them. And yes, while you must gauge their arrogance, there is nothing wrong with confidence to do a job well.

One question I do have (to both Danny and Gini and anyone else that could answer): How do you know how large (in terms of employees) your company should be? How do you know when to hand off tasks that are getting too cumbersome for you to do daily? I find myself in that position often. Doing it myself, but doing too much. I know to be a leader, it’s important to train, mentor, and hand off tasks to your employees. When do you do that?

Johnny Russo
Johnny Russo

Gini, that is great advice. I am working full-time for a high-tech company, and also working on a couple of start-ups. Your leadership tips are greatly appreciated. Also, to the comments about hiring smarter people, that has been Google’s mantra. The Google Way speaks to that. Google managers hire people smarter than them. And yes, while you must gauge their arrogance, there is nothing wrong with confidence to do a job well. One question I do have (to both Danny and Gini and anyone else that could answer): How do you know how large (in terms of employees) your company should be? How do you know when to hand off tasks that are getting too cumbersome for you to do daily? I find myself in that position often. Doing it myself, but doing too much. I know to be a leader, it’s important to train, mentor, and hand off tasks to your employees. When do you do that?

Howie at Sky Pulse Media
Howie at Sky Pulse Media

All I can say besides this being a great and honest post, is you have it lucky young lady. CEO is nothing. Try being Chief Alien someday. Not as easy or glamorous as it sounds. But one day, if you work hard enough, you may earn your Star Fleet Commanders Badge if I sponsor you with the Emperor.

Howie at Sky Pulse Media
Howie at Sky Pulse Media

All I can say besides this being a great and honest post, is you have it lucky young lady. CEO is nothing. Try being Chief Alien someday. Not as easy or glamorous as it sounds. But one day, if you work hard enough, you may earn your Star Fleet Commanders Badge if I sponsor you with the Emperor.

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

Just today we had a client call and say, "We don't need you anymore. Your team is just fine." I guess I did my job!

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

Just today we had a client call and say, "We don't need you anymore. Your team is just fine." I guess I did my job!

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

I wish I'd learned the cash lesson in 2007. Before I had debt. But we paid it off last year and now CASH IS KING!

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

I wish I'd learned the cash lesson in 2007. Before I had debt. But we paid it off last year and now CASH IS KING!

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

It's Global Domination...one blog at a time. Not even blog post...entire blogs. Notice I've been on here twice this week?! And over at Troy's, too?! I'm taking over Bonsai! Vision is SO RIGHT! It took me a long time to figure out where we were going and how to communicate it. Now I say three things over and over again...don't forget our community, don't get complacent, and keep fighting the fight so we have F you money. It keeps everyone motivated. And I said it WITH profanity.

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

It's Global Domination...one blog at a time. Not even blog post...entire blogs. Notice I've been on here twice this week?! And over at Troy's, too?! I'm taking over Bonsai!

Vision is SO RIGHT! It took me a long time to figure out where we were going and how to communicate it. Now I say three things over and over again...don't forget our community, don't get complacent, and keep fighting the fight so we have F you money. It keeps everyone motivated.

And I said it WITH profanity.

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

It'd be really interesting to see a list of what makes a good CEO...from those who report directly to one. I know you said it's hard to say, but TRY! :)

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

It'd be really interesting to see a list of what makes a good CEO...from those who report directly to one. I know you said it's hard to say, but TRY! :)

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

Thanks Elli...both for the compliment and sending this to your small business clients! It's not easy, and some days I have to turn off the voices in my head, but it does work.

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

Thanks Elli...both for the compliment and sending this to your small business clients! It's not easy, and some days I have to turn off the voices in my head, but it does work.

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

I haven't read Danny's response yet, but this is how we track: 1) Am I getting involved in the day-to-day again (if the answer is yes, we need to hire), 2) Is every member of our team at capacity (if the answer is yes, we need to hire), and 3) Have we grown both revenue and profits from last year (if the answer is yes, we need to hire). We look at all of these things once a month.

There is a transition that you go through when it takes much more time to train someone than to just do it yourself. That's when you know you MUST teach someone else. My mantra is this: Someone should be able to do your job should you win the lottery and not come back to work. That includes me.

Danny
Danny

Hey there Johnny,

Great question, and one that I'm sure most people (employers and employees/managers) find themselves asking at some stage or another.

The way I always look at it is when it looks like it's going to impact on the core strengths I bring to the business.

My role is to get creative with strategy, and think of ways that campaigns can completely step outside the box (as well as run "normally") to stand apart from what everyone else is doing.

If I'm having to look at lead generation, new business development and accounts (something that others in our business do way better than me), then I need to look at whether we need to outsource to more people. Worked so far! :)

Hope that helps!

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

I haven't read Danny's response yet, but this is how we track: 1) Am I getting involved in the day-to-day again (if the answer is yes, we need to hire), 2) Is every member of our team at capacity (if the answer is yes, we need to hire), and 3) Have we grown both revenue and profits from last year (if the answer is yes, we need to hire). We look at all of these things once a month.

There is a transition that you go through when it takes much more time to train someone than to just do it yourself. That's when you know you MUST teach someone else. My mantra is this: Someone should be able to do your job should you win the lottery and not come back to work. That includes me.

Danny
Danny

Hey there Johnny,

Great question, and one that I'm sure most people (employers and employees/managers) find themselves asking at some stage or another.

The way I always look at it is when it looks like it's going to impact on the core strengths I bring to the business.

My role is to get creative with strategy, and think of ways that campaigns can completely step outside the box (as well as run "normally") to stand apart from what everyone else is doing.

If I'm having to look at lead generation, new business development and accounts (something that others in our business do way better than me), then I need to look at whether we need to outsource to more people. Worked so far! :)

Hope that helps!

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

I haven't read Danny's response yet, but this is how we track: 1) Am I getting involved in the day-to-day again (if the answer is yes, we need to hire), 2) Is every member of our team at capacity (if the answer is yes, we need to hire), and 3) Have we grown both revenue and profits from last year (if the answer is yes, we need to hire). We look at all of these things once a month. There is a transition that you go through when it takes much more time to train someone than to just do it yourself. That's when you know you MUST teach someone else. My mantra is this: Someone should be able to do your job should you win the lottery and not come back to work. That includes me.

Danny
Danny

Hey there Johnny, Great question, and one that I'm sure most people (employers and employees/managers) find themselves asking at some stage or another. The way I always look at it is when it looks like it's going to impact on the core strengths I bring to the business. My role is to get creative with strategy, and think of ways that campaigns can completely step outside the box (as well as run "normally") to stand apart from what everyone else is doing. If I'm having to look at lead generation, new business development and accounts (something that others in our business do way better than me), then I need to look at whether we need to outsource to more people. Worked so far! :) Hope that helps!

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

That's a good point. Chief Alien would be waaaaay more difficult.

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

That's a good point. Chief Alien would be waaaaay more difficult.

Erica Allison
Erica Allison

Gini (and Danny),
Great advice on when to hire and thanks for sharing your hiring threshold levels. I've been faced with that lately and know that when I'm spending time on the phone with non-revenue sources (i.e., AT&T), it's time to hire that assistant. I also found, much to Griddy's point above re: hiring someone smarter than I am and who's able to push me and my limits, I've also found that timing is everything with that one. While I was tempted to do that with this latest new hire, I didn't. Not only was the personality not quite right (arrogance does not equate to 'so smart I just can't live without you'), the timing for my company wasn't right either. I'm in growth mode, but I just can't be in hyper growth mode at the moment. I have to look at my total package (family, business, environment) and grow at the right pace for me. So, today's new hire is my AWESOME assistant. Tomorrow's new hire is my Client Manager.

Thanks, as always for your genuine experiences and your sage advice shared so willingly with us all!

Erica Allison
Erica Allison

Gini (and Danny),
Great advice on when to hire and thanks for sharing your hiring threshold levels. I've been faced with that lately and know that when I'm spending time on the phone with non-revenue sources (i.e., AT&T), it's time to hire that assistant. I also found, much to Griddy's point above re: hiring someone smarter than I am and who's able to push me and my limits, I've also found that timing is everything with that one. While I was tempted to do that with this latest new hire, I didn't. Not only was the personality not quite right (arrogance does not equate to 'so smart I just can't live without you'), the timing for my company wasn't right either. I'm in growth mode, but I just can't be in hyper growth mode at the moment. I have to look at my total package (family, business, environment) and grow at the right pace for me. So, today's new hire is my AWESOME assistant. Tomorrow's new hire is my Client Manager.

Thanks, as always for your genuine experiences and your sage advice shared so willingly with us all!

Erica Allison
Erica Allison

Gini (and Danny), Great advice on when to hire and thanks for sharing your hiring threshold levels. I've been faced with that lately and know that when I'm spending time on the phone with non-revenue sources (i.e., AT&T), it's time to hire that assistant. I also found, much to Griddy's point above re: hiring someone smarter than I am and who's able to push me and my limits, I've also found that timing is everything with that one. While I was tempted to do that with this latest new hire, I didn't. Not only was the personality not quite right (arrogance does not equate to 'so smart I just can't live without you'), the timing for my company wasn't right either. I'm in growth mode, but I just can't be in hyper growth mode at the moment. I have to look at my total package (family, business, environment) and grow at the right pace for me. So, today's new hire is my AWESOME assistant. Tomorrow's new hire is my Client Manager. Thanks, as always for your genuine experiences and your sage advice shared so willingly with us all!