The Conflicted Executive

When it comes to productivity at the C-suite, many CEOs tend to struggle with deciding what constitutes highest and best use of their time. It has been my experience that all CEOs, regardless of tenure or ability, tend to find themselves conflicted with this issue at some point in time. While all employees deal with this same issue, it is infinitely more complicated for the chief executive. In this week’s column I’ll provide some thoughts about how to maximize the use of your time, while removing some of the more typical internal decisioning conflicts. One of the root issues that most CEOs need to address when coming to grips with improving their productivity is the fact that most of them don’t have a job description. In fact, out of the CEOs I’ve worked with over the years, only about 10 percent of them actually had formal job descriptions when I first started working with them. There appears to be an unwritten rule for CEOs that goes something like this. By the time someone reaches the esteemed position of CEO they automatically know what to do, always having the right answer to any and all problems. The truth of the matter is that CEOs have a greater need for a job description than any other employee within the company.A good CEO wouldn’t allow other members of their executive team, management team, or staff to operate without a job description. So I ask you, why then, when the CEO has more responsibility, more accountability to a greater number of constituencies, and ultimately more at risk than other employees, do they not take the time to clearly define their duties, responsibilities, obligations, and performance expectations? There is no real pat answer to this question, but rather the reasons underlying the answers consist of a convoluted combination of arrogance, over-confidence, laziness, confusion, and ignorance. The CEO job description, while often difficult to accomplish, is certainly the shortest job description on record, and frankly a rather a simple one: To ethically increase shareholder equity. The problem therein lies in decisioning how a CEO should go about accomplishing that task. CEOs are constantly faced with deciding between strategy and tactics, vision and mission, leadership and management, internal vs. external communications, branding vs. advertising, marketing vs. sales, talent vs. resources, and on-and-on. Further complicating these matters is that great CEOs need to touch on all these points in order to get the job done.While one person clearly cannot do it all, the CEO also cannot abdicate responsibility. On one end of the spectrum many CEOs either misunderstand the difference between ultimate responsibility and day-to-day responsibility, or on the other end of the spectrum they cannot or will not accept responsibility for anything at all. The truly great CEOs clearly understand their role and are masters of execution. They realize the influence they possess and the powerful impact that their decisions and actions have both internally and externally. They neither take on too much responsibility nor do they ignore their responsibility. I have always believed that the role of CEO is first and foremost to be a leader. It is the CEO’s job to provide leadership based upon a clearly articulated vision and a well defined strategy. Priority number two is team building and talent management. If the vision and strategy are clearly articulated, and people are hired, mentored, and developed based on a values based leadership model, then you will develop an outstanding corporate culture where innovation and performance are the rule and not the exception. One of the main keys to generating organizational leverage is for chief executives to know when, where and why to deploy (or redeploy) talent and resources. It has been my experience that it is much easier to recruit talent or acquire resources than it is to properly deploy talent and allocate resources.The successful CEO understands that they are responsible for vision, mission, strategy, culture and talent management, and that executives and management are responsible for goals, tactics and process. Great companies are focused, collaborative and innovative which only happens in an organization created and led by great CEOs.