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Simon  Hopes

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What is the role of the CEO? Boss? Salesperson? Manager? Coach?

May 29, 2019

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In terms of the org chart, the CEO is the top executive, but practically speaking, who is the CEO? Peter Drucker, one of America’s greatest business thinkers and strategists, wrote that the customer is always the boss. He also felt we really didn’t get the role of the CEO quite right. He felt strongly that CEOs were much more than glorified coaches. In thinking about this topic for today, I found this great quote from Drucker in a Harvard Business Review article:

"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."

What he is saying here in the most basic terms is that the CEO is uniquely positioned as the sort of energy valve between the external and the internal. He or she must master both realms with equal aplomb and effectiveness, and balancing this can lead to becoming a management expert.

Four Keys to the C-Suite

The article goes on to define four major areas that I also recognize as cornerstones of our practice at Whittle & Partners in developing the effective CEO ― particularly as they relate to implementing the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). I have translated them here into four driving questions to ask yourself and your leadership team:

What is “the meaningful” outside?

This is about your relentless commitment to identifying opportunities as you continuously reinforce and reinterpret your company’s vision. Clarity of purpose, direction, and impact comes from the top, and the CEO is the “chief interpreter.” You create a culture of accountability when everyone in your business embraces a larger responsibility for the success of the entire enterprise―inside and out.

What business are we in and what business are we not in? (That’s really 2.)

This refers to understanding your customer inside and out, your value prop, and your competition. Steering the ship and making the necessary strategic course corrections along the way―with the benefit of a greater perspective.  But always focus on communicating effectively―the big picture in the big context.

How do you balance sufficient yield in the present with necessary investment in the future?

This is that ever-challenging tango between the present and the future. Short-term reward versus long-term gain.  Certainty versus risk. And the CEO faces this music daily―and moment by moment, sometimes. This is a big one―especially in these uncertain times.

How do you shape the values and standards of the organization?

Recognize this topic from the blog? It’s the culture conundrum that has been dominating the business zeitgeist over the past few weeks in the aftermath of the Amazon debacle. In so many ways, the CEO is the “chief communication officer,” the “chief culture officer,” and even the “chief engagement officer,” too. Communication is at the very heart of efforts to build connection, integrity and trust―for the CEO and/or the brand. This applies to CEO communication across all constituencies―customers, employees, board members, investors, vendors, media . . . everyone.