The Difference Between Leading Your Company and Leading Someone Else’s

Time to Read: 7.3 minutes

Updated: December 2, 2022

The differences between leading someone else’s company and leading your own are surprisingly few, but distinct, nonetheless. However, there are different priorities for Owner Directors, CEOs, Presidents, and CFOs compared to people brought in to manage someone else’s company.

In the course of my career, I have worn many leadership hats. I founded and led my own RPO and direct hire company for five years, which experienced double-digit growth year over year until I sold it. Since then, I have held positions at both ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions and Allegis Global Solutions where I was a member of the strategic client solutions team. And then I joined Pierpoint as Chief Revenue Officer, a great opportunity to lead someone else’s company and use everything I have learned to date to benefit a large, international RPO organization.

What Can an Outsider Bring to an Organization?

When you lead your own organization you are very committed to every function, how it runs, who runs it, how much resource is required, budgets, and more. You may have built them up yourself or have brought on the very first people to shape it. This can mean that owners of companies are more involved in the granular detail of their company. This is by no means a bad thing, this can spark empathy, collaboration, and every department or function being valued as a vital piece of the business, or it can mean micromanagement at the expense of higher-level strategic efforts.

As a leader joining a company you naturally have to lean more on your senior-level management and wider leadership team’s strengths, delegate, and trust their expertise while you adjust to a new business. This empowers existing leadership and senior employees to demonstrate their own expertise, skills, and business acumen, encourages greater autonomy within departments, and creates a sense of upward mobility that may not have been there before.

Stepping into someone else’s business also means you have the ability to assess what works well objectively and identify areas for improvement without sentimentality or huge amounts of tiered company politics to be sensitive to.

How to Assume Control and Assert Yourself as a Leader

Stepping into any company that has a global reach spanning four continents, will always feel daunting at first regardless of your prior leadership or organizational experience. You’re being looked at to deliver change, improvement, and innovation from the get-go. This is near impossible to do without first getting to grips with the company’s ins and outs, its wider leadership team, organizational structure, service offering, marketing processes, sales journey, and everything in between. No one can just walk in and expect everyone to consider them the leader, you need a learning period with focused outlets for leadership so you can build trust.

When you take over from an owner CEO at this point you can feel like you’re stepping on people’s toes, trying to fill someone’s boots, walking hundreds of miles in their shoes, and being scrutinized while you do it! But this is a great point to understand where the owner is coming from, their reason for driving the company forward, the history of the company, and who the major players and advocates are.

To take up the mantle of leadership in a new company, I would recommend the following:

1. Get to Grips With Culture Quickly

One of the biggest aspects of a company to tackle, but also one of the most worthwhile. As someone with a long background in recruitment, total talent solutions, direct sourcing, RPO, and sourcing strategies, I know just how valuable company culture is to the sustainability of a company, the quality of their products and services, and a linchpin of revenue and profit.

This is a great point to start as it allows you to understand the social mechanics of what makes your organization work. It has also been noted that leaders who insist on rigorously measuring and managing all cultural elements that drive performance more than double the odds that their strategies will be executed. And over the long term, they deliver triple the total return to shareholders that other companies deliver. Never underestimate the importance of company culture and don’t be intimidated in the undertaking of understanding, measuring, and monitoring it early on.

2. Adapt to New Priorities

Auditing and understanding organizational culture will inevitably mean you’ll need to adapt a part of your ideas, strategy and plan of attack to suit the specificities of that existing culture, even if you have identified areas for improvement. You are working with a core set of company values or beliefs, and need to embody the business’ purpose to drive it forward. Monumental change can’t happen overnight even if you wanted it to, but incremental change is possible over time if you are willing to adapt too. Flexibility, adaptability, and tact are key to preserving what works well and fixing those areas that require improvement.

3. Trust Your Established or Inherited Leadership Team

While you may not have a full scope of your senior leadership team’s strengths and weaknesses, you do know they are there for a reason. Allowing them the power and autonomy to run their functions how they see fit while you get to understand what your company needs from you as a leader will empower them to trust you and respect you while you educate yourself. But remain available to bounce ideas off or discuss business-critical decisions that arise for them.

Getting to know the established senior leadership team will also give you invaluable insight into the current company culture and can even show you what you need to do or embody to be the leader they need. Your current team and employees are the best mirrors for what kind of leadership they need, so schedule in time to listen to their thoughts, observations and ideas about the business currently and what it could be in the future.

4. Tackle Clashes and Conflicts Head On

When new leadership steps in there are always clashes and resistance to change. It’s human nature and not even a bad thing. Conflict, challenges, and disagreements are opportunities for people to consider different ideas and evaluate them against their own. This could mean that you have to be humble and change your mind and accept their ideas, or your team has the opportunity to grow and try new ideas and processes. Don’t shy away from moments of conflict, they allow all parties to really consider what is for the best of the company.

5. Don’t Try and Compete With the Owner

If you’re in a position where you are taking over from an owner CEO or Managing Director, it can be difficult to live in their shadow for a period. Some business owners are leaders in a true sense, some are entrepreneurs or idea generators, and some are a combination of all three.

Only 10% of people are natural leaders — another 20% show some qualities of basic managerial talent that can be cultivated into high-quality leadership. If they have been head of the company and leading it for some time you need to respect their decision-making, their work, and their drive. Don’t try to compete with it, embrace it, enhance it, and evolve it.

6. Lead By Example

Leading by example may be an old adage but it works. By your own behavior, ideas, communication style, and energy you can demonstrate what’s possible and what is expected of your teams and full organization. When executive-level figures listen, deliver, adapt, respect each other, drive performance and acknowledge their teams’ achievements, the entire business will follow suit from the top down.

Leading by example drives better organizational collaboration and cohesion, teamwork becomes natural, and problems or conflicts are reduced or get solved that much quicker. It also builds respect and trust between senior leadership, mid-level management, and your entire workforce. The impact these factors can have on your revenue, profits, productivity, retention rates, and even the ability to attract higher-caliber future employees is profound. You are a trendsetter, capitalize on it!

Leadership roles naturally attract people who drive productivity, innovation, dynamism, organizational change, transformation, and high performance. And these people are brought into established organizations for a reason, to shake things up and drive change. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but organizational transformation and evolution should be a priority for all leaders, particularly in RPO where entire industries and individual careers depend on finding faster, better, more cost-effective ways to match employers with employees.

Whatever the situation you step into as a leader, your job is to enhance what works well, and improve where you can in tandem with the entire senior leadership team, board, owner, and entire workforce.

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Sara McCarville

Sara is the Chief Operating Officer at Pierpoint driving the company's strategic vision and oversight. With over 20 years of experience as an accomplished workforce solutions strategist, she developed complex global solutions for Fortune 100 clients. Before Pierpoint, Sara founded an RPO firm sustaining double-digit growth until acquired. She also designed and delivered best-in-class solutions for clients at ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions, Allegis Global Solutions and built the Direct Sourcing Service Line at WorkLLama.

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