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CEO. It’s the most important job in your whole company, right?
It’s certainly up there. But I’ve met a surprising number of CEOs who finally make it to the top of their org chart and can’t quite figure out…what exactly they’re supposed to DO all day.
The CEO is a critical role, but it’s also extremely misunderstood.
The CEO Paradox: Do all the work or none of it?
Here’s where I think the trouble starts. When an entrepreneur is just getting started, they are sitting in nearly all of the seats on their org chart (what we call a Role Map): marketing, sales, delivery, finance—you name it, they’re doing it.
But as a company grows—and for it to grow—the entrepreneur has to get themselves out of some of these seats. So they hire a delivery team, a head of ops, a fractional CFO, etc. And eventually, there comes a time when the business can run without them day to day. They are out of the weeds, and at that point, they are ideally only sitting in one seat: CEO.
The trouble is that they are so used to being in their business that they don’t have a lot of knowledge or discipline (or both) around what it’s like to work on the business.
Owning the company vision is extremely important, but it can feel extremely flimsy when it comes to structuring your day. Add to that the fact that some business operating frameworks (which I can speak to from personal experience) marginalize this visionary aspect of the job.
If an entrepreneur isn’t careful, they can end up boxed in and disconnected from the rest of their team. They’re seen as a source of creative ideas, which must be carefully vetted by smarter, more disciplined people, and otherwise…not worth a whole lot.
That definition does a CEO a huge disservice. And it couldn’t be further from the truth.
What’s a CEO accountable for?
In our Growth methodology, the CEO has clear accountabilities in their role. Here’s what they are:
- Overall company vision - Company culture - Key relationships
Overall company vision
This accountability is about a whole lot more than big ideas. The CEO is responsible for setting the direction of the entire organization—and communicating that vision throughout the company. That includes everything from financial targets to social impact to mission and purpose. Yes, those aspects will be informed by data and input from your leadership team, but you as CEO are ultimately responsible for setting them and holding the company to reaching them.
There’s a reason we produce so much people-focused content. Good company culture starts at the top of the organization, and there’s no faking it. As CEO, you help define—and must embody—your company’s core values and set the tone for the company culture. Leading others takes skill, and you’ll do well to spend some of your time as CEO getting better at it.
This is the most variable of the CEO’s accountabilities, but still an important one. The key relationships in your company might be with your VIP clients. They could be with channel partners who send a lot of business your way. They could be with your private equity firm, your top referral sources, or even the best vendors in your supply chain. Yes, this might look like “taking someone out to lunch” in practice, but it’s part of an intentional and conscious effort to keep your key relationships strong.
Remember when that naysayer in your life told you to get a real job? As a CEO, you have one. It’s so much more than a top title and the ability to have a flexible schedule. You have real accountabilities that you must own if you want your company to keep growing.
Keep an eye out for next week’s post, when we’ll talk about the CEO who can’t stay inside their box—and starts smothering their company.