In my first CEO role I intentionally sought out another CEO in Austin as a peer, because his company was in the same general industry as mine. We would often run into each other at events around town or at industry trade shows. When I saw this CEO, he would always launch into a description of the big deal he was working on at that particular time. The first time I heard it, I thought it was just a particularly big deal and that is why he was so interested.
About the fourth time I heard it, I realized that this CEO focused solely on sales. He had no interest in any other part of the business. He was the head salesperson for the company, not really the CEO. His company was eventually liquidated for pennies on the dollar. He was not able to teach me a lot about what to do, but he did teach me about what not to do. This caused me to start thinking a lot about how a CEO should spend their time.
Jim Schleckser, CEO and Managing Partner of the Inc. CEO Project, says it’s easy for CEOs – especially new ones – to wear the “player hat” and gravitate to the area they understand the best. If their background is sales, they will spend most of their time with their sales executives poring over the pipelines and trying to help on every deal. This will allow them to feel like they are making a difference and contributing to the company. In addition, CEOs sometimes pinch hit in a particular area that needs help or spend time training a new executive. These can be valuable uses of the CEO’s time.
However, I often see CEOs performing a “Super VP” role in their organization even though they have senior executives in place. This is a terrible way for a CEO to spend their time. If a CEO spends the majority of time in player mode, then the risk is failing to evolve and tackle the unique challenges of the CEO role itself. As Schleckser says, the CEO needs to transition from individual contributor to leader. They must find a way to get out of player mode and bring talent and systems in to execute the same things that they would do as an individual contributor.
Also, CEOs who cannot get out of player mode are often undermining their executives. If the executive in a particular group is not allowed to set policy and make decisions within their department, then you are playing the Super VP role. If the executive in place can’t do the job, then they should be replaced. Anyone in a department head role needs to be able to accomplish their goals with minimum interference into how those goals are accomplished. The job of the CEO is to work with the department head to set the metrics that will be used to measure performance and then allow the executive to figure out how to deliver the results.
Are You a Super VP?
1) Do you have clear metrics for every department in your organization?
2) Do you spend the majority of your time focused on a single department or functional area?
3) Do people in any area come directly to you for decisions bypassing the executive in charge of the given area?
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