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Are We Working “In” The Business or “On” the Business and Does it Matter?

By XINNIX | August 10, 2022 | Leadership

As leaders, we have all probably been asked if we were working “on” the business or “in” the business. And most would argue that from a transformational leadership point of view, we should be working on the business instead of in the business. I was taught this very early on in my own leadership career. But over the years, and even in a recent conversation with a CEO, I realized that there are times when we need to be doing a little bit of both.

The CEO I am referring to is recognized as a “Selling CEO.” He knows his greatest gift is evangelizing the company’s mission, vision, and values, but also bringing in the business. He loves to work with his sales team and visit prospects and customers. And because his passion runs so deep, his conviction as a selling CEO is contagious, and prospects naturally gravitate towards him, buying what he is selling.

He also recognizes his deficiencies and where he loses his motivation. So, he did the right thing and built a top-performing team of leaders around him. The COO, CFO, CMO, CLO, and CRO were given the latitude to make certain decisions on their own, only bringing him into situations where his decades of experience could help or where his leadership and guidance were needed most.


The CEO referenced here has the gift to evangelize and sell. Sometimes we see leadership struggle with evangelizing, leading, or delivering the expected results of the organization. Suppose they are struggling with having the company live out the mission, vision and values of the organization. In that case, they may have difficulty in evangelizing the message of who the company is today, where they would like to lead the company tomorrow, and why.

Some leaders are great tacticians but struggle with strategy, unable to come up with the strategy on how the company will achieve its goals and objectives, the team that will be needed, and the overall game plan.

Whether we are in evangelist mode, leader mode or tactical delivery mode, as transformational leaders, we need to be excellent communicators with the ability to convey and articulate goals and objectives. We message in such a way that a multi-generational workforce will not only understand what we are striving for but that they will also embrace the plan and come alongside as motivated participants in the journey.

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Some struggle on the execution side. The opposite of those who struggle with strategy. We can clearly set the strategy and develop the winning game plan, but we need to work on our tactical ability to get the job done, or as with the CEO mentioned above, surround ourselves with the thinkers and doers who are awesome tacticians and who get the job done.

When we first begin our journey as emerging leaders our heart is in the right place, we want to focus on our people and on the business. But sometimes, without realizing it’s happening, our habits shift, and we revert back to working “in” the business rather than “on” it. We as leaders go back to doing the things we were good at in our prior roles like putting on the superhero cape and flying in to close business for example. When that happens, it sets off a series of unintended consequences, and the burden of work starts to mount. We get mired in administrative paperwork and reports and the tyranny of urgency and crisis management.

As emerging leaders on our way to being transformational leaders, we need to regain our clarity around our role and where we should be spending our time and realign our strategy to the goals and mission of the organization. Focus on the opportunities to strategize and grow the business. Look for opportunities to mentor emerging leaders who are looking to advance and who can help lead the organization. Then we start to become “Coach Leaders,” who create scalability within the organization by building up others within the organization. It is when we are here that we are back to working “on” the business instead of “in” the business.

We get back to where our heart was in the first place – a focus on our people with a clearly defined set of goals, objectives and plans that we can execute as truly transformational leaders.

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