There's been hundreds of books written on the subject, and an entire industry built around coaching CEOs to help them be better leaders. I have a number of friends who have practices that are quite impactful in developing leaders - especially CEOs (a good example is here). And because they come in all shapes, sizes, ages personality types, and even gender and ethnicity (which clearly needs more diversity), the conversation around "what is their role?" tends to be very complex.
But, I don't think it has to be. I believe it's helpful if we simplify it down to three basic things:
#1 — The CEO needs to own the vision and shape the culture
#2 — The CEO needs to be extremely involved in driving revenue (sales + donations)
#3 — The CEO needs build and mentor the right leadership team
After those three, the importance of any activity falls to an almost irrelevant status. Lets briefly look at each of these, and why they are so important.
#1 — Vision and Culture. The single biggest breakdown of organizations is a bad culture and a lack of vision. People want to work for leaders who have a vision — who know where they are going and can motivate people to care enough to go on the journey with them. A poor operating culture is like a slow (sometimes fast) poison. It creeps in and creates dysfunction. No one chooses to work at an organization where the culture is cruddy - they only do so because they need a paycheck. The CEO sets the bar. They establish the rules of cultural engagement and hold everyone accountable to it. If they don't (for example if they say it, but don't enforce it), the culture takes on a life of it's own. Once it's gone, it's very hard to get back. Spend the requisite time to build the vision and make sure people understand it, and how they contribute to achieving it. Build and nurture a culture that reflects who the company is, and make sure you hold people accountable to reinforcing the culture. No exceptions.
#2 — Revenue. This one probably shouldn't need to be said, but as the saying goes, "If I had a nickel for every time…. (in this case, every time a CEO wasn't engaged with customers or donors), I could retire." On a daily, weekly, monthly basis, this is probably the thing that CEOs should be spending most of their time doing. Customers and donors want to see you, hear your vision, understand where you are going and how you are going to get there. They want assurance that the organization is being led by a capable leader. You matter. Your presence and voice, matter. I'd even go so far as to say if you don't want to do this, you shouldn't be the CEO.
#3 — Leadership Team. As Jim Colins wrote about in Good To Great, getting the right people on the bus is paramount to the success of a CEO. It's also paramount to the success of the company. For you to be able to do what you do, you need a highly capable, highly functional (as opposed to dysfunctional) team. That team must be trusted, carriers of the vision, culture and the brand, and able to deliver on their area of expertise. If you have the wrong people on the bus, don't wait. Fix it. Now.
Yes, the job of a CEO involves much more, but at the end of the day, if you are not doing these things, you are not going to grow. You will however, be spending a lot of time dealing with dysfunction, doing other people's jobs, dealing with low morale and high turnover. The choice is yours!
As always, we love your opinions and thoughts!
Steve is a husband, father, and business exec. He loves anything outdoors, anything that is a hard challenge, and enjoys working with anyone who wants to continually improve. And golf. He loves golf. Steve is the founder and CEO of Executive Advisory Partners.