5 Situations Where You Shouldn’t Call Yourself CEO

In this day and age, entrepreneurship is trending. The availability of jobs is diminishing. Fortune 500 companies rarely hire internally. Instead, they are hiring contingent workers through temp agencies. Plus, with the glorification of billion-dollar sups like Facebook and Instagram, entrepreneurship is becoming the cool new thing to do.

Because of that, more people are starting their own businesses, like you may have done for yourself.

As the founder of a company, you have big shoes to fill. You are in charge of everything from operations to finance to sales to marketing and strategy. All the weight lies upon your shoulders.

You may decide to call yourself a founder, or give yourself a different title. You may want others to recognize you as the big and powerful CEO. But in certain situations, that title comes with a downside. Why? Because when you have all the power, you have none of the power.

Here are five situations where you want to avoid calling yourself a CEO:

1. When you meet anyone with whom you will have to negotiate.

Let’s say you are the owner of a company that makes waffle makers and you have source out a manufacturer. You go into a meeting, and they tell you that you will have to pay $50,000 for 10,000 waffle maker units, plus another $5,000 for the casting.

Being the CEO, you have all the power in the company. You can’t say you don’t know what your budget is. You can’t say you need to go check with your CFO. You can’t say anything except yes or no.

I mean, you can try, but you’ll look weak when you negotiate by saying things like “I can’t afford it” or “This is too much for my company to pay.”

Who wants to give priority treatment or work that hard at signing a new client who is showing signs they may not be able to reorder in the future?

So while you may think you have all the power going into the negotiation, you actually end up powerless.

When you aren’t addressing yourself as CEO of the company, you have ambiguity on your side. You can say that you need to go check with your partners. You can leave the room, make a few phone calls, real or fake, then come back to the table with a counter offer that comes from “above.”

This works for any situation that requires negotiation, whether you are looking to finalize salary for a key employee hire, making a bid for office space, dealing with a client who wants a discount, or looking to work with a vendor who wants a certain percentage for promoting your product.

2. When you attend networking events or a trade show.

When attending a trade show or networking event, you meet all kinds of people. Some are in your field. Others are potential clients. Sometimes, you will want to show that you are the head of your company. Yet, on many occasions, this will backfire.

The intent of a networking event or trade show is to mix and mingle with potential vendors and clients. But when you call yourself a CEO, you create a superficial gap in between you and the person you are speaking with. Plus, a lot of people will be able to see right through that power play. Or they are like me and just lack curiosity to further find out what you do.

By stating you are the CEO of a company, instead of being able to connect with others, you distance yourself from them. You create an invisible pedestal for yourself in the eyes of the other party.

To prevent that from happening, instead of introducing yourself as CEO, use a verb in regards to what your company does to catch their attention.

What is a more intriguing opening line to you?

“Hi, my name is Leonard. I’m CEO of xyz company!”


“Hi, my name is Leonard. I teach people how to build their brands.”

In fact, some of the most successful CEO’s I’ve met have never once called themselves a CEO in front of me.

3. When you make your first few hires.

Growing a business is great. Being able to sign on your first few employees is definitely an accomplishment. It means that you are moving in the right direction for your company.

But when you have only five people in your office, or even one… When you decide to call yourself a CEO, all you’re really telling people, especially your employees, is that you have an ego. This may change the perception of how they see you and foster issues in the workplace.

Instead of addressing yourself as CEO, call yourself a founder to your initial employees.

4. When you have less than five employees or revenues under mid seven figures.

Since entrepreneurship is trending, everyone from the 17-year-old who’s trying to make a music app for your phone to Daniel Ek of Spotify is a CEO. That means it has become very hard to distinguish the real players from the fake ones.

I have worked closely with a few companies in the tech ecosystem of Silicon Beach and attended a few mixers in their space. Before, back in 2008, I used to look up to people who called themselves CEO, because I thought of them as the younger Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the world.

Nowadays though, everyone wants to be a CEO. So when someone introduces themselves that way to me, I just say “Oh,” then go back to what I was doing before.

That’s because the title doesn’t hold the same appeal that it once did.

If you’re going to be bold enough to take on the title of the CEO, make sure you have the proven track record of success with your company to support your role, otherwise you will be looked down upon.

5. When dealing with customers.

The worst situation to be addressed as the CEO of a company is when you are dealing directly with customers. Let’s say you run a SaaS (Software as a Service) company. Let’s say you charge $5,000 a month for your services.

All the leverage is in the customer’s hand.

They make all the rules.

Like all customers, they will want to negotiate down your price. You really have no room to wiggle. You have to either accept their low-ball offer, come back with a weak counter-bid, or turn them away.

On the other hand, when you aren’t the CEO, you don’t have the final decision making power for anything. So then, you will be able to negotiate the price, take their bid, and come back with a higher offer. This, in turn, allows you to generate more profits at your standard rate for your company. Plus, it gives you more control and power over the situation of the pricing module for your company.

It may be counterintuitive to want to set down that role of CEO, but giving up power usually has some uncanny benefits. Of course, there are always going to be situations when you need to be clear that you are the CEO of a company, such as with investors or the press. But in most cases, it is best to leave that title at home.

Have you ever encountered any situations where calling yourself a CEO backfired on you? How did you handle the situation?

Originally posted on Inc.

Leonard Kim is Managing Partner at InfluenceTree. At InfluenceTree, Leonard and his team teach you how to build your (personal or business) brand, get featured in publications and growth hack your social media following.

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