We’ve all witnessed the CEO who tries to do too much, and conversely, most of us have also observed the chief executive in stealth mode who accomplishes very little. We’ve gladly followed the bright, affable and charismatic CEOs, and we’ve rebelled against the arrogant and self-indulgent executives who love to do little more than pontificate about their legendary prowess. So what makes a great CEO? In today’s post, I’ll share my perspective on what constitutes a CEO worthy of the title…

No single position within the corporate hierarchy receives the unrelenting and often terse scrutiny (public and private) that a CEO must deal with. The pressure is intense, the risks are high, and the rewards can be tremendous for those who possess the requisite leadership skills and character to hold the title of chief executive. Many CEOs initially rise to their position based upon leveraging a particular skill set, however, a single area of strength will rarely be enough to keep a CEO in the corner office for long. Those CEOs who remain in the position long-term do so based upon the ability to broaden and deepen their skill sets and competencies while understanding the priorities of the job.

Believe it or not, the biggest challenge a CEO faces is gaining a true understanding of their job…While the job of a CEO is really a very simple one, it also happens to be far from easy.  The fact of the matter is that a CEO is responsible for everything…yes I mean everything. Because the CEO is ultimately held accountable for the success or failure of the company, he/she must assume responsibility for operations, finance, sales, marketing, PR, technology, HR strategy, vision, culture, etc., as the proverbial buck stops with the CEO. Therein lies both the problem and the greatest challenge for most CEOs…How can they possibly do it all? The reality is that they can’t, but you’d be surprised at how many try…

How to be a Good CEO

The key to becoming a great CEO is understanding the difference between duties and responsibilities. The CEO’s duties are the activities he/or she actually performs, or in other words, the responsibilities that don’t get delegated to others. While the CEO clearly cannot endeavor to be all things to all people while attempting to do everything on his/her own, the CEO must take on certain mission-critical duties. Not everything can or should be delegated…In the text that follows I’ll put forth the areas which the CEO must view as his/her duties to perform and master:

  1. Becoming a true leader: While respect can in certain instances be commanded, it is at its best and strongest when earned. It is not only through success that confidence is instilled but also in doing things properly regardless of the outcome. Management and staff will work through failures alongside leaders that possess integrity and character, and will they will also resent and mock the success of ill-gotten gains. In addition to being productive and effective, great leaders understand the value of remaining approachable and human. Communication and conflict resolution skills need to be developed to their maximum.
  2. Setting the tone: A CEO’s primary function is to set the vision, mission, and strategy for the company. Executives, management and staff will be responsible for setting the goals, determining the tactics, implementing toolsets and managing the processes. It is the clarity of the CEO’s vision that instills purpose, which in turn creates the passion that will drive focus and productivity. These traits will create a positive culture that is crucial for long-term success. Each and every action or inaction on the part of the CEO makes a cultural statement. Because the work of the corporation is performed by people and people are profoundly impacted by culture the CEO must ensure a healthy, safe and positive culture.
  3. Focus on Team Building: A CEO that abdicates control of player personnel is taking on huge amounts of risk. The CEO must take responsibility for recruiting, deploying, mentoring and retaining the executive team. They, in turn, will lead to the balance of the organization. The alignment of vision, mission, and strategy between the CEO and the executive team is crucial for creating a healthy and sustainable enterprise. If the executive is not functioning smoothly this is a reflection of poor leadership and team-building skills on the part of the CEO.
  4. Understand Resource Allocation: Great CEOs ensure that the best talent is applied to the best opportunities. Moreover, the CEO needs to ensure that the proper financial and non-financial resources are applied appropriately across the enterprise. While not all CEOs possess strong finance backgrounds they are still ultimately responsible for the financial decisions that can determine the company’s fate.
  5. Become the brand champion: A good CEO is the public face of the company. CEOs need to champion the brand internally and evangelize the corporate brand externally. CEOs that don’t work the media, key partners, and capital sources are not doing their job. If the CEO is not intimately familiar with what it takes to increase brand equity then it is only a matter of time until the company will see a brand in decline.

As I mentioned above, a CEO’s job is rather simple but not easy…You don’t have to do all things, rather just focus on the right priorities with the proper talent and resources and your enterprise will prosper. If you would like more information on how to refine and develop the executive skills you might be interested in this blog post entitled “The benefits of using a CEO coach.”