The CEO Dilemma: Whose Job Am I Doing Now?


The CEO Dilemma: Whose Job Am I Doing Now?

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My business coach used to ask me the best question ever – one that I always hated! Whenever we sat down for our one-to-one coaching sessions, the conversation would inevitably turn to how busy I was and how I never had enough time to get it all done – especially not the future-focused strategic work. While he was a compassionate person, he never went down the pity party path with me. Instead, he simply asked, “So whose job are you doing now?”

I think we all know that the CEO’s job is to define the future vision and strategic direction for the company. From there, the CEO then needs to make sure that vision and strategy is communicated to and carried out by everyone across the organization. Why? To make sure all their efforts are aligned and help move the organization forward towards achieving its strategic objectives. But is that it? Is that all the CEO has to do? Absolutely not! That’s just the tip of the iceberg for what a good CEO does in his/her organization. 

This past week, the members of one of my CEO groups started an interesting discussion about their primary roles and responsibilities. More than that, it really was a discussion about where to draw the lines on what they should do vis-à-vis their senior executive direct reports. The following are some key highlights to help address the CEO dilemma about what he/she is supposed to do to lead his/her organization.

  • Corporate Development – Many CEOs get too wrapped up in day-to-day operations and the constant firefighting to focus much energy on the future. Good CEO’s though know that their primary responsibility is the strategic growth of their companies. That means construction for some, product innovation for others, and maybe geographic expansion for others. Whatever market you are in, the CEO needs to drive these development efforts for “tomorrow” while everyone else is managing the business “today”.
  • Business Development & Sales – CEOs often want to maintain an active presence in the market with their key customers. This makes a lot of sense especially when the CEO is an owner of the business. It is important though to have a broader team focused on the front-end of marketing, business development, and lead generation. They should only bring the CEO in to engage with key customers or to support more viable pursuits and close the deal. CEOs don’t have time to take every sales call or speak to every prospect until the opportunity matures. Otherwise, you aren’t acting like a CEO anymore. You’re acting like the VP of Sales or Director of Business Development.
  • Financial Management – Cash is king these days, and you don’t have to hold the CFO or Controller title to be on top of your cash. CEOs should also have a strong understanding of the key performance metrics that drive their business and be intimately aware of how the business is performing on a daily, weekly, or at least monthly basis. CEOs must have a strong sense of where the cash is, especially if any customers are late on making payments. It isn’t the CEO’s job to do collections, but it is his/her job to make sure somebody is collecting. Trusting your CFO or Controller to manage the margins and keep your business in the black only works if they are truly effective in doing their jobs. Otherwise, you may find yourself taking drastic measures like implementing layoffs of filing for bankruptcy while you maintain your focus on a brighter future!
  • Operational Management – While you probably don’t want to be nor do you have the capacity to be COO or SVP of Operations, any good CEO knows that he/she is ultimately accountable for what you deliver to your customers. More than that, it’s likely you won’t be the most technically-skilled person in your organization when you reach the C-suite. That’s OK as long as you keep tabs on your operations to make sure the organization meets its quality standards and production promises. Back to the point about knowing your numbers, this means understanding your business well enough on an operational level such that you see Green-Yellow-Red light indicators at all times. If Operations isn’t keeping up with Sales, then you may need to step in. Otherwise, just make sure your customers are satisfied you are fulfilling your commitments to them and that the business is operating as efficiently as possible.
  • Leadership Alignment – Last but not least, great CEO’s don’t try to set strategy on their own. Instead, they get their leadership teams together annually to develop their longer-term strategic plans and determine their near-term strategic goals. They then convene regular monthly and quarterly meetings to keep everyone aligned, review their progress to date, and evaluate whether or not they need to make any adjustments moving forward. Any CEO who says “Our people know what to do” is fooling him or herself. People focus on what you make important. If you prioritize your future goals and strategic direction for the business, they will too. If you don’t, it’s more likely they will prioritize today’s customer crisis and whatever else they feel is most important to their function or division. That won’t always align with others across the organization.

And if you haven’t embraced that you can’t get it all done as CEO yet, maybe it’s time for you to rethink getting an Executive Assistant. Many senior executives fear losing control over their calendars and even their lives and therefore avoid this obvious resource for support. More practical and enlightened leaders though recognize that having an assistant is sort of like the formula 1+1=3. It isn’t about losing control. It’s about having someone there as a gatekeeper and referee to help you prioritize your time accordingly and extending your reach to get more done all at the same time.

So what do you do as CEO of your organization? If you want further help defining your priorities as CEO and getting your senior executives to step up where needed, call us at 310.589.4610 or email us. You can also visit the Executive Coaching page of our website to see how we support our chief executive clients in producing better business results by implementing better leadership practices.

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