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Photo courtesy of @misso.photo.
Photo courtesy of @misso.photo.

What Does It Really Mean to Be CEO of Your Company? 12 Female CEOs Weigh In

8 min read

It seems everyone and their grandma has jumped on the CEO bandwagon as of late. But what does it really mean to own the role of CEO of your company? Being the CEO of your business means setting your company up in such a way that you’re no longer the center of everything. It means giving your team ownership of specific projects, conveying your vision to them and letting them work in their zone of genius to bring it to life—with your leadership empowering them all the way. In short, claiming the role as CEO of your business means you have to let go of control. (Something I help my private clients and Savvy Business Mastermind members to do daily.) To let go at this level requires shifting your mindset and how you work. We asked 12 powerhouse entrepreneurs how they made this shift and gave up control to scale and grow their business faster. Here’s what they said.

Jeniece Stewart, Founder & CEO, Special Needs Siblings, Inc.

“It was the moment I realized it wasn’t about me. The mission was greater than me and to reach more people, I had to let more people in. Leaders create healthy environments to build more leaders. I created a nonprofit, Special Needs Siblings, Inc., and didn’t feel comfortable or confident as a ‘leader’ in the beginning. Since I have become more transparent, my confidence has grown. This torch I lit isn’t simply for me to hold, but to use and light [the way for] others.”


Sunita Karmacharya, Owner, Nepali Tea Traders

“There are things that I am good at and most certainly, there are things that I am not so good at. As Nepali Tea Traders progressed, I had to take a hard look at myself and give up control on the things that would take someone else less time [to do] and [still] produce top quality work. As a result of the change, I had more time to focus being in the CEO role and be the visionary, while my team focused on execution. Today, our team is stronger together and our business keeps propelling forward.”


Lindsay Jane Kelly, Founder + Creative Director, JaneMade

“It was realizing that I needed to bring on a business partner—to help share the weight of the business, yes, but also to have someone to support me and give me the confidence I needed for the growth of JaneMade. I identified the areas of running the business I was less comfortable in, and brought on a partner who was the right match for both my brand and business goals.”


Mandy Zelinka, Chief Troublemaker // CEO, The Zelinka Agency

“MENTORS. ARE. CRUCIAL. That’s what I would say. And I would go even further to say that it’s important that you have at least one that is much further ahead of you so that you can get a sense of what you need to do to get to where they are by watching them. I believe that’s how we drop the fear of scaling. At least it has been for me.”


Marisa Fanelli, Acupuncturist and Hypnotherapist, Owner, Healing Point Therapeutics

“I realized that doing it all myself meant limiting my business to only being able to go so far. Without trusting others to take on responsibilities, I was doing my business a disservice and thinking small. When you let go of the reins and allow others to join you in co-creation, you are sending a message to the Universe that you are open and ready to explode into growth.”


Photo courtesy of Katherine Elizabeth Photography.

Erica Courdae, Entrepreneur, Coach and Consultant, Erica Courdae

“The desire to build a team meant handing over the things that weren’t in my zone of genius and sticking to what my strengths are. This created space to do what I do well in a powerful way and to support our clients efficiently, clearly and with intention.”


Meg Wheeler, Co-Founder and CEO, One For Women

“Letting go of control of everything meant recognizing that I could infuse others’ perspectives and solutions into my business. This has allowed for new ideas, creative fixes and the business overall being so much better because it was built on the feedback and opinions of my whole team and not just what was in my head.”


Andrea Delucia, Mindset and Trauma Coach, Andrea Delucia

“The first major thing I had to do was acknowledge my gifts to help and cultivate the emotion that connects to what people want at a soulful level. That meant I had to heal parts of me that held me back. My latest shift happened about two years ago, and this was the shift that brought a whole new perspective to my life and business. That was detaching from the outcome. We can’t control the outcome of every situation so fully stepping into faith after I did the work was difficult but necessary. I learned that business is about flow and not just action. When I’m in that state, I’m working from my highest place and that’s where my best work comes from, not the controlling place that I used to be in. You can learn how to do this—it does require inner work on yourself first.”


Janet Mesh, CEO + Co-Founder, Aimtal

“I had two strategic shifts in my business over the past year. First, when I decided to start Aimtal, my digital and content marketing agency. I was previously working as a freelancer for a few years with my clients and made the decision to start the agency in August 2018. So instead of thinking of myself as a marketing team of one, I had to shift my mindset to becoming a CEO and business owner so I could provide more services to my clients and eventually grow a team. Second, I decided to hire help. Building a team has required me to give up a lot of control, but it’s one of the best things I have done for myself and my business. I’m no longer the only person handling client work, operations and every little detail for the agency. My business partner helps run the company and I have a small team of contractors who assist with client management and projects. I’m still actively figuring out how to stop being the main workhorse of the agency and know that if I work in my zone of genius more often, the agency will grow and prosper the way we envision it will. It’s an exciting time to be a female entrepreneur and I’m grateful for my team, family, friends, mastermind group and community, who support this venture every step of the way.”


Photo courtesy of Heather Roth Fine Art Photography.

Jessica Gleim, CEO and Founder of Flairst

“It’s all about finding the right people for the right project. I had my first child in 2016 and was stuck. I didn’t want to say no to new clients but knew I couldn’t do it alone. Last year at ALT [Summit], Amy Christie and I were roomies by chance and it was a match made in heaven. I was seeking another mother with an art-heavy background, who also has strong digital marketing talents and an independent and strong personality who I could jump right in [with] and [could] help us grow. 2018 was an incredibly successful year with a big personal rebrand. Amy and I both looking forward to 2019 as we continue to expand and constantly seek out more of the right people who fit our needs.”


Elisabeth Cardiello, Founder & Owner, Caffè Unimatic 

“For me there was a clear recognition that I needed to let go of the reigns a bit if I wanted to have the impact that I saw possible. I needed to trust others to do the things I wasn’t good at and struggled to get done, so that I could be sure we were able to keep up our level of service to our Unimatic family. It also created more time for me to be doing what I do best in coming up with new ways to serve, inspire and build community. Having help on the journey to put process to the way my brain works has been a blessing!”


Sarah Komers, Owner, Mom Culture

“It was honestly hitting rock bottom and being completely overwhelmed. A dear friend showed up one day and said, ‘I’m here to help you,’ and that was the beginning of the tides turning. By me allowing someone to help, it changed everything. This simple gesture opened up the window to change within me, and my business from that day has been full steam ahead. That friend became a hire and helped me move my business from my home to a warehouse where we welcomed another new hire a few months later. Help is hard to accept but when you do it, it can save you both personally and professionally. We all get by with a little help from our friends, to quote The Beatles, but it’s true you can’t conquer it all solo. Allowing help in and hiring the right people can be hard and scary, but it’s important to grow.”


Hannah Fastov, Founder & CEO, Go Dash Dot

“For me, it was realizing that I am not an expert in everything and in order to grow the business, I needed to bring on outside help. I made a commitment to hiring individuals who are smarter than me whom I could learn from and help institute strategies and processes for long term growth.”

About The Author

Hanneke Antonelli

Hanneke Antonelli

Hanneke (Hun-nah-kuh) Antonelli is an award-winning and certified coach, with a business degree and 15 years of international business experience. In the last 10 years since leaving Wall Street, she’s built two award-winning businesses, which included receiving a Best of Boston® award for the best life coach from Boston Magazine. Today she helps entrepreneurs make more money while working less, transforming them into confident and savvy business owners and CEOs in her Savvy Business Masterminds and private coaching practice. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys traveling, gardening, and spending time with her husband and Maltipoo, Khaleesi.

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