Leadership: The Role of the CEO

CEO leadershipLeadership and the qualities of good leaders are often debated and there is no single definition on which everyone seems to agree. Let’s narrow the focus to the role of the CEO. We really like our colleague Mary Marshall’s definition, “the role of the CEO is to grow the company and grow their people” – period. Related to that, she always counsels CEOs, “only do what you can only do.”

Whether you are a CEO or have another role, how willing and able are you to test your approach against Mary’s counsel?  I recently encountered a CEO who often says, “I’m great at delegation. In fact, if I were going to write a book, it would be about how to delegate.” Yet, as the leader of an 8-figure organization, she was spending time on a job description for an open position, getting it into an email, and building a page on the company web site about the position. Surely her Marketing and HR people could have taken those tasks on! This situation illustrates both pieces of what we are talking about:

  • The CEO was certainly not growing her people by doing these tasks rather than eliciting their expertise and responsibility for getting them done.
  • While her attention and time were focused on these tasks, she was not able to address much more strategic issues.
  • She was doing tasks that multiple people could do vs. things only she could do.

Many business owners, entrepreneurs and leaders struggle with being “control freaks.” If you have built an organization, at some point you probably had to do much of the work yourself. If you are successful with those early stages and the organization grows, it can be extremely difficult to shift your focus and your habits. The behaviors that gave you success in the early going become your own limitations and a constraint on your organization’s growth.

Before you dismiss this as something you would never do look back to the quote from the CEO in question about delegating. She sees herself as a master at delegation to the point where she believes she could write a book about it. What if you think you are great at delegation, empowerment, and developing leaders and it simply is not true or at best you are very limited at this point in your career?

If you are really willing to challenge your own self-assessment, get feedback from people who will be direct with you.  Ask them to tell you about how you are doing on the following:

  • Are you growing your company? How are you doing it?
  • Are you growing your people? What concrete steps are you taking to do this?
  • Are you doing what only you can do? This one might be the hardest to explore and others’ perspectives may surprise you.

Ask yourself:

  • Go through your daily, weekly and monthly tasks. Is it really true that you can’t give more of them away to your team?
  • What are you going to stop doing? No kidding.

Do this homework and your effectiveness and your team’s growth will follow!