Sunday, May 01, 2011

The CEO's Challenge - Moving the Business Forward

I love that little phrase: "It's amazing how much can be accomplished when we're not worried about who gets the credit!" How does a business, or an organization instil a sense of teamwork and collaboration, and yet provide appropriate recognition for the contributions that are made by the individuals within the group? The scenario applies to the world of business, but we likely see more evident of it in the world of sports! While a team may have many good players, every team has a few that are recognized as being the stars - extremely talented and gifted athletes. Yet, these are often the same people who openly acknowledge that their 'lights shine brightest' when they work in synch with their fellow teammates. They realize that the collective efforts of the entire team has contributed to their success.

Oh yes, there can be some real challenges when it comes to working together, and ultimately, that responsibility falls to the owners, who if not personally active within the business, appoint others into positions of leadership to act on their behalf. Somewhere in this mix is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

In doing some research on the role of the CEO, I came across a wonderful series of articles written by Stever Robbins, which I encourage you to read in full. Stever provides a number of great insights that will benefit anyone in a leadership role within a business or other type of organization that gets results through the efforts of other people. Please see the note and link provided at the end of this post. I've asked Stever for permission to quote him and appreciate his "teamwork" on this one! (Thanks Stever.)  

Admit it. We all feel a touch of awe when someone has it: the CEO title. The power, the salary, and the chance to Be The Boss. It’s worthy of awe!

Too bad so few CEOs are good at what they do. ... Many don’t know what their job should be, and few of those can pull it off well. The job is simple—very simple. But it’s not easy at all. What is a CEO’s job?

More than with any other job, the 
responsibilities of a CEO diverge from the duties and the measurement.

A CEO’s responsibilities: everything, especially in a startup. The CEO is responsible for the success or failure of the company. Operations, marketing, strategy, financing, creation of company culture, human resources, hiring, firing, compliance with safety regulations, sales, PR, etc.—it all falls on the CEO’s shoulders.

The CEO’s duties are what she actually 
does, the responsibilities she doesn’t delegate.  Some things can’t be delegated. Creating culture, building the senior management team, financing road shows, and, indeed, the delegation itself can be done only by the CEO.

Many start-up CEOs think fund-raising is their most important duty.  I disagree. Fund-raising is necessary, but the CEOs contribution is in building a superb business with the money raised.

What is the CEO’s main duty? Setting strategy and vision. The senior management team can help develop strategy. Investors can approve a business plan. But the CEO ultimately sets the direction. Which markets will the company enter? Against which competitors? With what product lines? How will the company differentiate itself? The CEO decides, sets budgets, forms partnerships, and hires a team to steer the company accordingly.

The CEO’s second duty is building culture. Work gets done through people, and people are profoundly affected by culture. A lousy place to work can drive away high performers.  After all, they have their pick of places to work. And a great place to work can attract and retain the very best.

Culture is built in dozens of ways, and the CEO sets the tone.  Her every action—or inaction—sends cultural messages ... Clothes send signals about how formal the workplace is. Who she talks to signals who is and isn’t important. How she treats mistakes (feedback or failure?)  sends signals about risk-taking. Who she fires, what she puts up with, and what she rewards shape the culture powerfully. [A great example is provided by Stever related to expressing or withholding appreciation for jobs that are well done, and the motivation or demotivate that may result.]

Team-building is the CEO’s #3 duty. The CEO hires, fires, and leads the senior management team.  They, in turn, hire, fire, and lead the rest of the organization.

The CEO must be able to hire 
and fire non-performers. She must resolve differences between senior team members, and keep them working together in a common direction. She sets direction by communicating the strategy and vision of where the company is going. Strategy sets a direction. With clear direction, the team can rally together and make it happen.

Don’t underestimate the power of setting direction. In 1991, at Intuit’s new employee orientation, CEO Scott Cook presented his vision of Intuit as the center of computerized personal finance.  Intuit had just 120 employees and one product. Ten years later, it’s a billion-dollar company with thousands of employees and dozens of products. Worldwide, it is the winner in personal finance, bar none. The success is due in no small part to every Intuit employee knowing and sharing the company’s vision and strategy.

If vision is 
where the company is going, values tell how the company gets there.  Values outline acceptable behavior. The CEO conveys values through actions and reactions to others. Slipping a ship schedule to meet quality levels sends a message of valuing quality. Not over-celebrating a team’s heroic recovery when they could have avoided a problem altogether sends a message about prevention versus damage control.  People take their cues about interpersonal values—trust, honesty, openness—from CEO’s actions as well.

Capital allocation is the CEO’s #4 duty. The CEO sets budgets within the firm. She funds projects which support the strategy, and ramps down projects which lose money or don’t support the strategy. She considers carefully the company’s major expenditures, and manages the firm’s capital.  If the company can’t use each dollar raised from investors to produce at least $1 of shareholder value, she decides when to return money to the investors. Some CEOs don’t consider themselves financial people, but at the end of the day, it is their decisions that determine the company’s financial fate.

This article was written by Stever Robbins, <>  serial entrepreneur, productivity expert, adjunct lecturer at Babson College, and host of the top-10 iTunes podcast, The Get-it-Done Guy <> . You can find more of his work at

For the balance of this article and much more related to the role of the CEO, go to:

1 comment:

  1. I came across this wonderful quote that has been attributed to Rex Murphy. While I have not been able to confirm this source, I can easily visualize Rex delivering this outstanding line to his loyal television and radio audience. I like the imagery that it creates, and had occasion to use the quote while emceeing a special event with representatives from Federal and Provincial governments. (Yes, of course I provided full attribution to Rex!)

    What do you think of Rex's statement?
    "The successful attainment of a dream is a cart and horse affair. It takes a team of horses to successfully deliver a cart load of dreams."