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The Role of the CEO: what they do that is so important to their business

I am intrigued by the question - what is the typical day of the CEO? As there are so many potential variations and responses to this question; surely a medley of responses are forthcoming.

My answer to this question ranges from the theoretical (what should happen) to the practical (what typically happens) in the routine day of the CEO. My experience is both practical drawn from my own experiences as a CEO, and as a CEO coach to several dozen CEOs running various types of businesses, at various stages of their company growth.

At its root, the CEO is the key visionary, leader, driver, culture champion, and pace setter for the company. For Drucker, the CEO had four primary roles, and I continue to teach these to the CEOs that I coach today:

(1) Bearer of the Corporate Flag of Vision, Mission, and Direction; without vision a company wanders, and the CEO is keenly aware of the market, opportunities, competition, and navigates to the blue oceans of unique opportunity for the company;

(2) Keeper of the Treasury; the CEO ensures that the company has sufficient finance, controls, and Captial to meet the company mission; while the CEO assigns roles to the CFO, Controller, and others, the CEO cannot ignore the role or responsibility to financially safeguard the company's present and future;

(3) Chief Sales Advocate; the CEO keeps in touch with current trends in the market, and understands and reinforces in a deliberate and intentional sales process, to yield a healthy funnel and pipeline of contracts, and during this process, the CEO uses their unique role and position to cultivate and nurture customers of greatest importance in concert with the sales team; the CEO who abandons sales does so at their own risk and peril to their company;

(4) Developer and Nurturer of the Team. Great CEOs are coaches, management mentors, and talent scouts. As the company grows, it's virtually impossible for a CEO to individually know all of the talented people they should bring into their firm to help the company grow to the next levels, so wise CEOs create and guide an internal talent development effort to grow talent internally, and to seek new talent through scouting and recruiting efforts outside the company. Further, wise CEOs elevate HR role from administration to higher roles of "Talent" and "People" development within the company.

When CEOs work on things beyond those four mentioned above, they frequently frustrate or impede the growth of their companies. For instance, CEOs who are founders were likely very good at doing some core skill or service in their early years of company development; if these same CEOs do not stop doing the necessary but non-CEO work that they frequently love to do, they will slow their company growth down. The mantra expressed in Michael Gerber's E-Myth Revisited is true: "what got you here, won't get you there." CEOs must revisit what they are doing and continually ask themselves, is the work I am doing daily addressing my greatest and highest purpose as the CEO.

Next up. The work you do. I like Jack Daly's sage line to CEOs, "If you don't have an assistant, you are one!" Ouch. I know when I heard that the first time the sting of his words hit me hard, as I could see that my 'like' or perceived 'need' to do certain activities was getting in the way of my doing my highest purpose. Sometimes CEOs get bogged down by details and necessary but non-CEO level work of administration, task performance, etc. If this is you, think what you can do to stop doing activities that are not CEO work, to allow time for the important work you do. I have previously written a a blog on how to choose and task your Executive Assistant.

In terms of daily routine, the most successful CEOs that I coach all make time for physical exercise and meditation (whether you call this quiet time, reflection, or planning). You must take care of yourself physically to be in shape for your day. It's difficult when you get busy with all your tasks, so I encourage my CEOs to put exercise into their regular day and work week. Here are some examples: have your management team bring their walking-running shoes to work, and have some meetings while walking the park; certainly this was a tactic of the late Steve Jobs. Another client has their staff meetings for 20 min and they all walk the parking lots while they update each other on tasks. Put a shower in your corporate building and ride your bike to work. In my own coaching, outside of the typcial business meetings with executives, I hold coaching sessions on the golf course, while cycling, walking, hiking, etc -- and this helps me keep exercise in my day. Watching the food you eat has great impact on you and your company as well; there are many books on how diet and good eating habits effects the workforce and reduces presenteeism --- reducing the state where people show up to work, but are not read for work.

Email is an area of great interest for CEOs. Consider creating email smart boxes and folders for your email, separating out the important from the non-important. Get your executive assistant to handle email for you so that you spend your time doing the important. Get a great spam filter. Consider also using a service like (Unroll) Unsubscribe from emails, instantly. to reduce your spam; when I did it over 300 subscription keys were removed; oh joy!

CEOs also need to think about what time of the day that they are at their best -- when their ideas are most fluid and brilliant; guard this time. It is the most productive time for CEO creativity and thinking. I encourage my CEOs to block this time out on their daily and weekly calendars, and use other times for business meetings and doing less critical work. Use Audible and other books on tape type of services to leverage drive time and keep learning, exploring, and thinking. Research shows that some of the wealthiest people read more than others... So if you don't have time to physically read, listen and take the material in to keep your mental saw sharpened.

CEOs also need to figure out what time management tool works for them. There are many to choose from. I prefer Getting Things Done (GTD), with use of a task management tool such as Mac's OmniFocus or MSFT's OneNote. The art of figuring out what needs to be done, and doing it is a precious leadership talent. The ability to finish tasks, campaigns, and initiatives is often the difference between high performing and low performing CEOs.

Mastering meetings throughout the day is important for the CEO. Stand-up huddles bring alignment, information sharing, and pace. Other meetings should be run with written agendas, and careful attention of time management in these meetings. A gift CEOs can provide to the team is learning to stand up (in meetings) to end them when off track or wandering, or to keep pace is important. Eliminate all meetings that are not essential. Encourage all to come to meetings prepared so you don't waste time in meetings. Exercise discipline with timeliness of meeting starts and endings so that you do not waste minutes of time for your executives. Remember time is your most precious commodity and use it wisely.

Encouragement and confidence are marquis of great executives. CEOs who walk the four corners of the business, take interest in team members throughout the site, recognize accomplishments, and encourage great efforts are frequently the leaders in the innovation race. When CEOs are having a bad day, put on your happy face and keep the discouragement from your team; if this is hard, then keep your door shut, or work from home that day. The CEOs attitude is absolutely critical to company tempo, and you must be on your best behavior, or at least acting on your best behavior each day.

As a young CEO, I found myself routinely working long hours, and this was likely because I had not yet learned how to delegate. With an outstanding executive coach, I learned how to prioritize, delegate, and get things done. Working longer hours is never a long-term solution, as any factory needs some downtime for repairs, retooling, etc. If you find yourself working too many hours, have courage to take a step backwards and analyze your situation; there is a better way. If you are stuck, find yourself an executive coach to help you see things more clearly. With the help of an executive coach and engaged peer group of CEOS, I was able to learn from others ways to be more productive, focus on the important, delegate, and stop doing some things that I liked to do, but that were time distractions.

In the end, for me, the key to my own success was focus on the four imperatives of the CEO, exercise discipline, delegation, care for company culture, attract and develop a great team around me, and find a way to get me out of the way of my company's future growth. And it worked. And I am sure that if you work at it yourself, it will work for you too.

I started with Drucker and I'll end with Drucker. In a HBR article, Drucker said, “The CEO is the link between the Inside that is ‘the organization,’ and the Outside of society, economy, technology, markets, and customers. Inside there are only costs. Results are only on the outside.” To get to this higher level of thinking about the CEO, focus on the core four responsibilities of the CEO and it should all work out.


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