CMO to CEO: How to Successfully Take the Leap

Taking the leap from CMO to CEO of Lola.com is certainly not the first time in my life that I’ve made a major career change. However, knowing that this jump would undoubtedly be the biggest to date, I started reflecting on past experiences and skills I’ve learned as CMO to incorporate into my new responsibilities as CEO. 

While most wouldn’t consider a transition from CMO to CEO to be the natural next step up the ladder, marketing has had a strong seat at the table in recent years. Honing my communication and marketing skills within the tech world has not only given me an upperhand in understanding different technologies and customer segments – which offers a great jumping off point for strategy building as a CEO – but also provided me with a variety of soft skills and an outward communication style. 

Using these experiences and acknowledging that this adjustment isn’t always as smooth as it may seem, I’ve kept three main initiatives in mind to help make the transition easier. 

1. Communicate immediately.

While some may assume that communication is given efficiently and effectively within any company, you’d be surprised to learn that small things often slip through the cracks, becoming bigger issues. For example, as a young startup, Lola.com is constantly evolving and changing to be the best version of itself for businesses. With so many departments and employees involved in each of these moving pieces, it’s my job as CEO to communicate efficiently and effectively to ensure that everyone is up-to-speed on each facet of the business. 

Not only does this mean working with other members of the executive team on logistics or needs from each team, it also means speaking to each team individually, making sure they’re receiving the support they need. While this period of growth can be incredibly fun – and, of course, the desired state of every company – it’s also when issues start to arise. Staying on top of communication, big and small, should be everyone’s first goal as a new CEO. 

2. Be uncomfortably honest.

In today’s world, the No. 1 thing people want is transparency, whether it be in their personal life, at work or even just in a television commercial. It’s the job of the CEO to keep every member of the team comfortable and confident in their position. This might mean keeping the team in the loop on action items that your previous companies may not have been as forthcoming about – such as an important board meeting – or fielding hard-hitting questions about the business. It’s important to remain open at all times and disregard your feelings of discomfort for the benefit of the rest of the team. 

One thing I’ve done to keep lines of communication open is started an internal Slack channel, “Mike Volpe Brain Dump,” which I use to give everyone a view of what’s on my mind. My many years in marketing have taught me that the more authentic and open you are with your audience, the better response you receive from them. If your audience feels you’re hiding something from them, you’ve already lost. 

3. Embrace imposter syndrome.

One of the most important revelations I’ve had during my transition from a CMO to CEO is that no one knows everything. At the start of my career, I assumed that the CEO had all the answers. I was wrong. 

If thinking you aren’t ready is what’s holding you back from taking the next step in your career, I encourage you to take the leap. The truth is, you’ll never know everything. I know that I couldn’t possibly have all of the information or make every perfect decision, but I’m confident in the fact that I consistently make the best decisions I can with the information I have. If you do that, and if you’re open with your team about it, they will believe in you through the ups and the downs, too. 

While it’s challenging to take on a new role and act as if you have everything under control at all times, it can also be exciting if you can take a step back and acknowledge what you’re achieving each and every day.

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