Becoming a CEO is like becoming a new parent, there is no true user manual to guide you through every unique new challenge you will face along the way. You can read a multitude of books about “how to” raise a child; however, there will inevitably be unexpected curve balls, beyond what you already know and what you have read about.
Ultimately it is your responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of your baby, under all conditions, 24/7, irrespective of the situation. So let me start by defining the type of CEO that you are going to be. There are 3 models to choose from: the “plate spinner”, the “one-man band” and the “conductor”.
The “plate spinner” CEO, generally does not have a full management team and by necessity, has to rely upon themselves to juggle all, or nearly all, of the functional activities that must be executed by the team. The key drawback is that some tasks may fall between the cracks. It is similar to the “plate spinner” who must run back to the first plate once he has completed spinning the last plate to ensure that the plates do not drop to the floor.
The “one-man band” CEO has a more balanced management team but chooses to address and resolve most functional tasks by themselves. As with the “plate spinner”, this model does not lead to optimal execution or maximize the company’s success.
A great “conductor” is able to achieve melodious results from the members of their orchestra just by hand motions and facial expressions, without the need to speak a word. Similarly, a great CEO will have their management team working in harmonious fashion. The “conductor” model is the optimal approach in creating an environment inside the company that fosters balanced execution by all members of the team. While the team remains under the guidance of the CEO, this approach leads towards sustainable and predicable growth.
Now that you are familiar with the CEO models, some of which you may be emulating, let me outline the actions that, I believe, a CEO must carry out in order to be highly successful.
- Build the team – The top priority and most fundamental task of the CEO is to find and hire the best management team. The strength of the team will determine the degree of success of the company.
- Work on the business not in the business – This is a very simple notion, spend most of your time managing and less time doing! Your role is to create an ecosystem for your management team to operate within by defining the vision and setting up objectives. Then, create the infrastructure necessary to measure the team’s performance in meeting these goals.
- Lead by example – People in the company will follow you if they believe in your vision and your actions. It is as they say that actions speak louder than words. The process is simple; initially people will award leaders a certain amount of “respect and trust credit” but as time progresses, there could be a drop in the original “trust” level. A leader must build up and maintain his or her “respect and trust credit” by their actions which will earn additional “trust credits”, just as a battery loses its charge overtime and requires recharging. Be mindful that as the battery discharges to lower levels, it may be more difficult, or highly unlikely, to reach full charge again.
- Listen – A great leader will do less talking and more listening, after all you have two ears and only one mouth. People have the basic need to feel that their voice is heard and as a result will be more engaged and vested in the company’s well-being.
- Make decisions – The most basic function of a CEO is to make decisions. A CEO must conduct a proper evaluation and analysis of the actions of their team and company performance, even when there is only partial data available, prior to making final decisions. Please remember that “no decision” is itself a decision.
- Think strategically – Wayne Gretzky, arguably one of the most successful hockey players of all time, coined the phrase: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been”. Companies have to continuously assess their market position by assembling available data from competitors, current and future product capabilities/performance and market trends. With this data the team must create scenarios, and plan ahead. Based on this strategic thinking the organization then has a guide for tactical execution based on the merit of the potential outcome.
Ultimately, the question is whether these attributes can be acquired, or are they inherent as part of the DNA of the individual. In other words nature versus nurture? The good news is that most of the above traits can be acquired over time. Given sufficient and consistent practice, an individual can acquire these traits and evolve as a true leader.