Tune in to any business channel or podcast, whether online or TV and chances are that you’ll see an interview with a CEO. If I mention the word CEO, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For some people, a superhero with incredible creativity and panache (think Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs). For others, a villain that does little, play golf every other day and get paid a lot. The latter was mainly the case in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis – when front-page news included regular negative interviews, stories and consumer sentiments of high-paid (banking) CEOs and their involvement in the loss of billions by the market and the man on the street.
In a company where you have individuals recruited for certain roles, and working in specific divisions, the CEO is the person at the public forefront and targeted when something goes wrong. It is the individual that needs to juggle many balls, including strategy, leadership, innovation, and employee performance.
“Strategy Is Not a Solo Sport Even, If You’re The CEO.” – Max McKeown
The role of a CEO varies from one company to another depending on the company’s size and overall structure. In relatively small companies, the CEO often has a much more hands-on role, making most of the business decisions, including lower-level ones. However, in larger organizations, the CEO typically deals with only the higher-level company strategy and directing its overall growth, with most other tasks delegated to other managers or various departments.
So, what are the primary duties of a CEO?
- Visionary Thinker: CEOs set the tone and the vision for their organization. Core to their existence is to effectively communicate their vision (and dreams) they have for the company, even if it may seem farfetched and unattainable. Some CEOs rise to public fame and severe scrutiny. Steve Jobs, founder, and CEO of Apple was such a flamboyant CEO and notorious for his role in the company which resulted in numerous films and documentaries about him. Other CEOs, like Elon Musk, are regularly making headlines for his communication behavior on Twitter. Crafting, conveying, and implementing the organization’s vision, mission, and direction while leading the development and implementation of the overall organization’s strategy is arguably one of the most important duties of a CEO.
- Strategic Leader: Directing, coaching, and mentoring, the executive team while leading these senior leaders to sound performance and excellence is at the heart of a CEOs role. The CEO must ensure that he provides strategic direction that filters down through the organization to ensure its achievement. A critical component in the CEO’s arsenal is leading by example and from the front. It is necessary to make the organization’s mission a success. Creating a learning organisation that will continue to grow and flourish and enhancing the skills and abilities of employees is an integral part of a CEOs role.
- Operational Captain: Overseeing the complete and successful operation of an organization with the strategic plans mapping the course of action is another essential duty of a CEO. Designing the organization in a manner that facilitates and supports the operations while evaluating whether the organisation is successful in reaching its goals is vital.
- Resource Magician: The CEO is the individual that must perform the task of balancing resources. Adequate resource availability and effective utilization – the two most important being capital and people – is vital to ensure a successful organization. Most executives and managers have experience in dealing with budgets and allocating resources. However, it is the CEO’s responsibility to keep a proper balance of resources and allocate these resources to divisions, and initiatives that will meet the objectives of the company. Making such vital decisions requires an in-depth understanding of business, industry, markets, and stakeholders. Recruiting the right people and appointing them to the right positions with the proper training is one of the most important duties a CEO will fulfil.
- Cultural Guru: A company’s culture is the set of shared goals, behaviours, and beliefs that define a group. It culminates into how things are done at a company and influences not only the employee experiences but eventually the customer experiences as well. Every organized group develops a culture – whether it’s explicitly recognized or not – and the CEO must regularly observe and be involved in achieving the desired organizational culture. The most critical part of a company’s culture is its values. The CEO must ensure that these values flow throughout the organization and consistently applied from top to bottom across all divisions.
- Father Time: Efficiently managing one’s time between professional and personal responsibilities is an integral concern for all CEOs. Harvard professors Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria launched a 12-years study in 2006, intending to track how 27 CEOs of multi-billion dollar companies spent their days. It revealed the following:
- On average, CEOs worked 9.7 hours per weekday.
- They worked 79 per cent of weekend days at an average of 3.9 hours daily.
- Working amounted to 31 per cent of their time, while 25 per cent was devoted to personal time. Furthermore, 29 per cent was spent sleeping, 10 per cent commuting, and 5 per cent on vacation time.
- Mirror, Mirror on the Wall. I’m the Face of it All: Experiencing feelings of dread, anxiety, apathy, lack of enthusiasm, and boredom? These are for many the experience they have at the thought of networking or attending a networking event. However, this is a vital component of a CEO’s duties. A CEO’s network is these days, quite expansive, especially with the advent of social media and online networking sites. However, with quantity, comes a risk to quality. There are networks, and then there are trusted networks.
Merely “linking” with somebody on LinkedIn doesn’t define a network – or at least not one you can reliably lean on over time. Regardless of its reputation, networking is essential for CEOs. Although we might avoid the word “network,” it is through our networks that opportunities present themselves, and we grow and become more successful. A CEO, through networking, represents the organization for civic and professional association responsibilities, as well as activities in the local community, and at a national level. Participating in industry-related events or associations that will enhance the CEO’s leadership skills, the organization’s reputation, and the organization’s potential for success is important.
While it’s important for relationships to be reciprocal and uplifting to both parties, successful CEOs adopt a servant leadership perspective, where appropriate. Lifting other people in one’s network through leveraging what you know shows a form of generosity – doing something for someone else without expecting anything in return. It may be at direct odds with our conventional concept of networking, but in today’s day and age, when social media is reducing human interaction and diluting the value of real connections, amazing returns – although it may only come to fruition way down the road – can be expected.