The Role of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

“What is my role and purpose?” recently asked a Chief Executive Officer.

He said he had trouble answering this fundamental and important question. Without a sense of purpose, how could he get up each day and do ‘his job’ if he did not even know why he was doing it?

A CEO’s role is to enable, not to do

CEO’s are both the chief leader and chief manager. The bigger their business, the more time they need to spend leading and managing (see our earlier Brief on leading and managing).

Often, CEO’s want to be busy working ‘in their business’. The reality is that being busy working in your business means you are often doing the role of someone who reports to the CEO.

This can sometimes be necessary for a variety of reasons but it is important to recognise that this is not the role of the CEO you are performing but that of a functional head who reports to the CEO.

Sometimes the business cannot afford a top flight full time Sales Manager, Technical Manager, R & D Manager or Financial Manager so the CEO takes on part of that role to assist the incumbent do their job to the level required. Sometimes there are specific and important problems which need to be addressed to ensure the business stays on track.

To get involved in functional areas for these sorts of reasons is perfectly ok. The important thing is to recognise that that is what you are doing (and communicate this to your team) so you don’t get confused and bogged down in the detail on an ongoing basis and cause confusion to those around you as to when you are involved and when you are pulling out of the detail.

Solution: Define the role of the CEO for your business

Putting this solution into practice

# 1 The Keeper of the Plan.

First you must have a plan (see our earlier Brief). Then, you must make sure you are the living, breathing embodiment of the plan. Without you taking on this role, who can the team turn to for direction and inspiration?

# 2 The Chief Internal Facilitator.

You must constantly make sure that your team is able to complete their part of the plan. Your role is to ensure that all the blockages are removed from their path so they can proceed smoothly towards their goal.

The questions you might ask your team might include:

a. Is there anything you need (other than already discussed and agreed) to enable you to achieve your goals on time and on budget?

b. What can I do to assist you achieve your goals on time and on budget?

c. Bigger picture questions might also be appropriate such as ‘How does our plan fit in and assist you achieve what is important to you over the coming year?’

# 3 The Chief of External Stakeholder Relations.

The Sales team’s role is to get sales. The Customer Service team’s role is to facilitate day to day issues which arise. The Purchasing team’s role is to ensure supply.

The CEO’s role is to enable dialogue with all external stakeholders to find out what they are really thinking when they are not at the negotiating table. The questions are endless but some of the more obvious ones are:

a. What do they think of your business and your team?

b. What do they think of your team’s performance in the relationship?

c. Are they interested in developing relationships on more than a ‘customer and supplier’ basis (is there a role for a more strategic relationship?)?

d. What do they see as the future of their industry and your industry?

e. What else can you do to support them in their future challenges?

f. What else can they do to support you in your future challenges?

# 4 Communicate this role to your team.

As is always the case, communicating is key to any execution of any strategy. Make sure your team understands why you are doing what you are doing.

And, invite feedback. It is better to have a sensible discussion about this issue rather than let it fester in some employee’s mind as they try and struggle with understanding where you are coming from and where you are heading.

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