This is a great article written by Margaret Heffernan for CBS Moneywatch. She discusses how CEOs are not prepared for the role and therefore don’t know what to do when they achieve it (my mantra for this blog). As I’ve written about before, most CEOs have gotten the job because they were superstar performers in their careers, meaning they have specialized knowledge in marketing, sales, engineering or another function. But the CEO role entails a unique set of responsibilities. As Heffernan says, “But once they assume senior executive positions, they need entirely different skills: networking, knowledge-gathering, consensus building, listening. They should be good at this – so why aren’t they?”
She asserts that most think they need to be a know-it-all and start acting in one of two ways: They either behave like a “prima donna” who doesn’t need anyone or they panic and become depressed because they know they can’t handle the job.
Another way that CEOs handle not knowing what to do is acting like a “Super VP.” In order to try to “do something,” many new CEOs will gravitate towards the area they know best and spend most of their time there. While this can be useful at times, it often means the CEO is not doing his or her job, neglecting other areas of the business, and undermining the executive in charge. As Jim Schleckser of the Inc. CEO Project has said, “If a CEO cannot make that transition from individual contributor to leader, the growth of the business will stop and stall.”
Heffernan’s answer? “What these leaders should do instead is expunge forever the image of the CEO who knows everything and replace it with the image of the leader who knows everyone.” Indeed, the CEO needs to be the “Chief Recruiting Officer” and bring in talent and systems to execute the same things that they would do as an individual contributor.
Once they have the right employees on board, the CEO needs to have a “deep internal understanding of a rich collection of smart, informed people who want to help and be helped,” according to Heffernan. One way to accomplish this is with a business management system that enables the chief executive to have influence on the business. The right system aligns employees and their day-to-day activities with the corporate objectives while identifying issues that the CEO can act on before they inhibit productivity.
For more on the unique role of the CEO, see my “5 responsibilities of a CEO” series.
Doing Less, Leading More – Harvard Business Review