UK: The Six Essential Roles Of The CEO

Last Updated: 15 November 2012

What's the most important attribute for CEOs: Vision? Strategic thinking? The ability to build client relationships and close the deal?

Obviously, CEOs need to have all these skills. However, one attribute stands head and shoulders above the rest: focus.

Few things impact the success of a business more than the chief executive getting very clear about what he or she needs to accomplish. The more clarity you have around your own role, the more efficient and effective your performance will be. And the more you focus on your own role as CEO, the more your senior managers can focus on theirs.

So, what exactly should the CEO focus on?

Six CEO roles for success

The role of the CEO encompasses six essential functions:

  1. Strategist
  2. Ambassador
  3. Inventor
  4. Coach
  5. Investor
  6. Student.
  1. Strategist

    This function sets the future direction of your company. The process for creating effective strategy involves a team-centred strategic planning retreat, whereby you go off-site with your management team, look three years out into the future, and ask the most important strategic question: where will our future profit margins come from? Chances are they will not come from the same place as today.

    If you conduct annual retreats, you must have quarterly reviews as well. Planning minus review equals cynicism. Planning plus review equals solid momentum.
  2. Ambassador

    Meet with your important customers and clients once or twice a year – not for a sales call, but for an informal lunch or dinner. The idea is to get to know the customer and let them get to know you, so that you can increase their trust in you and establish your credibility.

    Toward the end of the meal, ask your client: "Where do you see your company going over the next 18 months and what problems do you anticipate?" Then sit quietly and listen, so that you can take what you hear back to your company and turn it into real gold by embracing the third role: inventor.
  3. Inventor

    Success in business requires finding your customer's pain and developing new products and services to relieve it. The inventor function ensures that the strategic direction of the company aligns around the customer's pain.
  4. Coach

    Become a teacher, coach and mentor to your direct reports. Instil a culture of learning throughout all levels of the organisation. Your direct reports do not have your big picture perspective, so find ways to teach it to them.

    In particular, your key players have many basic misconceptions about your financial model, thinking that your company and you are doing much better than you actually are. Teach your people the basic financial model of the company, so that they understand what is really happening from a financial standpoint.
  5. Investor

    Treat your company as an investment. Know the market value of your business and strive to grow it. Improving market value should direct all decisions for the business and reward the clear focus and direction of the CEO.
  6. Student

    Stay active in some form of continued professional development – not just in your area of functional expertise, but as a student of leadership.

    These six functions are not things to do when you happen to find the time. They must become your top priorities. Make them real and relevant for you, so that they drive your daily calendar and all your time management decisions.

How to stay focused

It is possible to perform the role of the CEO in as little as 20 to 25 hours a week – but only by staying focused on essential CEO activities and having a top-notch operations team in place, with no toleration of mediocre performance.

Someone has to see to it that all the operational stuff gets done. Without a capable management team, you don't have the luxury of focusing only on CEO activities.

To ensure that you spend more time wearing the CEO hat and not all the others in the company, we recommend the following:

  • "Whose job is it?" bell. Put a bell inside your head and let it go off at random intervals. When the bell rings, ask: "Whose job am I doing right now?" If it's not the CEO's job, ask: "Why am I doing this job and to whom does it belong?"
  • "A" priority list. Ask yourself: "What are the six most important things I do each month? Of these, which ones belong on my 'A' priority list and which should I delegate?" Then monitor how much time you spend on your "A" priorities compared with less important activities.
  • Personal mission statement. Most CEOs have a mission statement for their company. It also helps to have a mission statement for yourself. In addition to knowing where you want your company to go, you also need to have clarity about where you want to go as a CEO.
  • CEO success profile. Create a one-page, bullet-point success profile that focuses on what you need to accomplish as CEO. The profile can include setting the vision and strategic direction, identifying new products and services, creating the right kind of culture – anything essential to your company's success that only you can do. Print your success profile, keep it visible, and use it to make decisions on a daily basis.

    It may take several iterations to come up with a powerful profile that really reflects what is essential to your company's success, and you may struggle with what you need to hold on to versus what you need to let go of. However, plough through as many drafts as necessary until you get it right. In order to be effective, the profile must focus on the results that only you can produce.

Don't get sucked in

In our experience, most CEOs know what they need to do to fulfil their role. The problem is that they allow themselves to get sucked into doing other people's jobs. Focusing on the six key roles and your success profile will go a long way towards keeping you on track and ensuring that others are doing what you pay them to do.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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