Advice for New CEOs and Founders, from KWSM’s CEO

Aug 2023

Updated August 8, 2023

While the journey to leading a company looks different for everyone, each CEO experiences their own successes, challenges, and failures that teach them valuable lessons along the way. These moments help mold them into better leaders, improving their own work and their ability to lead their teams. KWSM President and CEO, Katie Wagner, was recently interviewed by Authority Magazine about starting the agency, becoming a strong leader, and advice for new CEOs and Founders that she wishes someone had told her before she stepped into the role.

Here are some words of wisdom based on her experiences.

Advice for New CEOs and Founders

Finding A Peer Group Should Be A Top Priority

We all know the saying, “It’s lonely at the top.” As the person in charge, it’s on you to have the answers, provide the support system, and exemplify the positivity you want to instill in your team. So, who do you go to when you need reassurance?

For Katie, it was important to find a group of peers who are leaders at their own companies to confide in and look to for advice: 

“About 5 years into my role as CEO, I joined a Vistage peer group, and that made a huge difference in feeling less alone and having resources for improving my leadership. No matter what the industry, many of the challenges CEOs face are the same, and I could not have built the company I have today without the friendship and support of my Vistage peers.”

No One Is Going To Tell You That You’re Doing A Good Job

Many people glorify the idea of being their own boss because they don’t have anyone to answer to, but this presents unique challenges. 

With no one directly overseeing your work or your decisions, it can be difficult to find the feedback and guidance you need to improve. You must hold yourself accountable for your own growth, step up your game when you are getting too comfortable, and recognize when high-level changes need to be made.

“For me, it’s been even more challenging that there’s no one to praise you or celebrate with you when you’re doing a good job,” Katie says. “You have to find that pride and motivation within yourself.”

The Learning Curve Is Steep And Continuous. Be Ready.

Learning how to run a company (and how to run it well at that) will force you to use every skill you have and develop new ones very quickly. Maybe you already know the ins and outs of your craft, but how much do you know about hiring, people management, finances, contracts, negotiating real estate, etc.? 

“Because the world is always changing, and we always have new clients and team members, I am constantly learning and refining my skills as the business grows and evolves,” Katie adds. “Whether it’s tackling an interpersonal communication challenge I haven’t faced before or implementing a new HR law, there are new problems to solve daily.”

This Will Be The Hardest Work You Have Ever Done

When it comes to building a company, Katie explains that the biggest myth of entrepreneurship is that being your own boss means you will be able to set your own hours and take more time off. 

“I work harder and longer hours now than at any point in my career. There is also added pressure on me to do good work and make wise decisions because dozens of families rely on their loved ones having stable jobs at the agency.”

To provide a contrast, she explains that when you have a job, success is about your output on a daily basis. However, as the leader of a company, your focus is on long-term results, and success is about what happens over time. When the days get stressful, it can be hard to maintain that focus on the future.

People And Relationships Are More Important Than Systems Or The Work You Produce

Having the right systems and processes in place is imperative for keeping your company running smoothly, but at KWSM, we believe the real heart of a business is its people. No amount of outstanding work will make someone want to join your team or hire your company if they don’t see cohesion and solid internal relationships.

“The relationships I have with my staff and clients are fuel for agency growth, and at the end of the day, how we treat each other is the most important aspect of success,” Katie explains.

As the CEO, it’s on you to clearly establish the culture you want your team to maintain and then not only make hiring decisions from that mindset but also to ensure that culture is cultivated in how your team interacts with each other and their clients on a daily basis.

To read more of Katie’s tips for new CEOs, check out the full Authority Magazine article here


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