by Tim Fulton, Vistage Group Chair
I was asked recently to describe the role of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of an organization. As I considered the question I realized that there were at least six that came to mind. I am sure there are more. Here are the six roles of a CEO I described:
I believe that staffing a small business is much like casting a movie or a play. No matter how good a screenplay is, if the cast is not strong, the production will be a flop. Small businesses are the same way. You can have a dynamite business plan, but it’s the people who make it successful.
Jim Collins, author of Good To Great, said it best: “You must get the right people on the bus, wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” This may be the most important role of the CEO.
I attended my son’s baseball game recently and encountered a very interesting (and frustrating) situation. The game started and it became apparent right away that nobody was operating the scoreboard. No record of balls & strikes, runs scored, or outs recorded. Initially, this did not seem to be a big deal. However, the game progressed, innings passed, & runs were scored. As spectators, we were totally in the dark. We didn’t know who was winning or losing, what stage the game was in (inning), or even what the batter’s count was. The players were just as ignorant about the status of the game as we were because they depended upon the scoreboard as much as we did. Where was the scorekeeper?
How many small businesses are run without a scorekeeper? I believe that there are many. Employees work hard, just like the baseball players, never knowing the results of their efforts. Just as it doesn’t make sense for the baseball scorekeeper to only keep score for himself, it also doesn’t make sense for the business owner to keep his own score and not share the results with his key stakeholders.
I often share the story of a sculling coach whose team was unable to win any races until he took the time to lift the racing boat out of the water and discovered that the boat had a fatal design flaw. I believe that it is the role of the CEO to oversee the design of his/her business and than make sure that periodically that design is reviewed to make sure it is still working.
Michael Gerber, author of the best-selling book The E Myth, suggests that while designing our business we should assume that it is the first of ten thousand (10,000) locations. What does that mean? I interpret that to say that we should seek out a design that can be replicated and one that ensures the highest level of consistency of performance. Gerber also suggests that we should design our business as if we were designing a game. The game has rules. There must be a way to win the game. The game must be fun. We shouldn’t design a game for our employees that we are not prepared to play ourselves.
Chief Fun Officer (CFO)
Have you ever seen a business that was having fun that wasn’t also very successful? I believe that the two go hand in hand and that ultimately the CEO is responsible for making that happen. Let me be clear: I do not believe that the CEO should do this at the expense of his ability to lead. The CEO does not need to also be the CEY…Chief Executive Yuckster; responsible for making everyone laugh.
The CEO should make sure that employees have the opportunity for fun as it contributes to their performance. Examples of this might be celebrations (birthdays, anniversaries, etc), toys in the workplace (ping-pong, foosball etc.), or just looking for opportunities to be light-hearted. Laughter or even a smile can do wonders in a high stress/high performance work environment.
Leadership guru and Vistage speaker, Don Scminke, shared a leadership model with one of my groups that really made sense to me and my members. He suggested that the results we seek from our employees are a direct result of their work behavior. Their behavior is driven by their beliefs. Their beliefs are a result of the “story”. What story you ask? Our story. The story of your business. There exists a story within every business. Sometimes more than one. The story might be a positive one, thus resulting in great organizational results. Or the story may one of doom and gloom, and hence, performance suffers.
I believe that the CEO is responsible for developing the right story for their business and then communicating that story at every opportunity. In fact, each CEO should have three stories to tell at any given moment: a story about the past, one about the current situation of the business, and maybe most importantly, a story about the future. Consider this, as a young child; how did we learn about life? Most of us did through stories. Not just stories from books, but also stories from our parents, our grandparents, and our friends. At an early age, those stories most certainly impacted our behavior and most likely still impact our lives as adults. Stories are very powerful communication tools…
Race Car Driver
I believe that so much of what a successful CEO does today is managing velocity. Customers want everything faster. The pace of business today is much quicker than ever before. Hence, the CEO needs to be able to accelerate his/her business accordingly. Vistage speaker Ole Carlsson suggests that “the CEO must have his hand on the gear shift at all times prepared to up shift or downshift at any given moment”.
Likewise, the CEO must know when to pull his car over for a quick pit stop when necessary. That’s time to fuel up (cash infusion), check the tires (employee performance reviews or 121 meetings) and check under the hood (planning meeting). One speaker said recently that “changing a business is like changing a flat tire on a car…doing 60 miles an hour”. Not even a racecar driver would attempt that feat.
What have I left out? I’m sure there are several more traditional CEO roles that you find yourself in at times. Which role are you most comfortable in? Which role are you most uncomfortable in? What role is most needed in your organization today? Sometimes it’s better to be asking the right questions than always looking for more answers.