The CEO’s Role

CEO roleBeing a CEO is first, middle, and last about leadership. Leadership is not primarily about control or power (although you’ll have both, and you’ll have to make the best decisions you can about how to use each at different times). True leadership is the ability to inspire others to rally around your culture and mission, and work toward a vision with you. Equally importantly, leadership is not about the leader: it’s about recognizing that, if being a CEO were a one-person job, employees wouldn’t be necessary.

Anyone can tell someone what to do, but not everyone can motivate follow through. If you’re a parent, you’ve given orders with varying degrees of success. You’ve probably learned that your leadership isn’t determined by the words coming out of your mouth, it’s determined by your child’s willingness to act positively on those words. The point at which your children start questioning your authority is where leadership starts. Why should they do what you say? What’s in it for them? What does it look like if they do? Your ability to address those questions in a way that motivates positive action constitutes your leadership. What’s more, if you’ve raised more than one child, you also know that they’re each unique: how each one responds to your leadership style will depend on who they are and what kind of leader you are.

The same is true with your employees. I’ve heard it said that, if it weren’t for employees, running a business would be easy. But, if it weren’t for employees, you wouldn’t have a business at all, so thinking about how to be the best leader you can be makes a lot of practical sense. While you might be lucky and have a perfect employee, most of your employees are going to be ordinary people and being a good leader means getting extraordinary results out of ordinary people on a regular basis. Good leaders do this by tapping into the deepest human need to be valued, and, in doing so, they draw out potential to fulfill a purpose, a goal, or a vision. These are the CEOs who understand that getting results comes as much or more from listening and responding: they are not about ego, they are about winning through and with others.

Let’s imagine a portrait of a good leader to examine this in more depth. The CEO of a large medical practice constantly worked to grow as a leader, always wondering if he was doing things right. Eventually he came to realize that getting the best results is not about always doing things right. In fact, your people need to see you fail occasionally to know you’re like them: human. When your people identify with you on a human level, they’re more likely to trust you and be honest with you. And when you’re honest with them, you can take the ego out of failure and use those moments as learning experiences for everyone. So good leadership is more about doing the right things. This CEO listens when people need him, he inspires, he promotes, he facilitates the direction of the company. He knows what he doesn’t do well and hires others to do those things. He is truly viewed by the employees and the other doctors as a great leader, but he would never tell you that because he knows that his success is built on the success of the people he manages.

Leaders are people who motivate through action, thought, and word whenever each is called for. They are congruent in all three, and they live their values. People are drawn to people who do what they say they’re going to do, even if it’s unpopular. Politicians get low marks on the integrity and leadership scale because they often say what they think we want to hear and then say or do something else. So, if you want part of your culture to be to “have fun,” what are you doing to have fun? If you say you value family, how much time do you spend with yours? Employees are looking to see if your behavior and the stated values of the organization match, and you usually have only one shot at getting this right. If you want your employees to use their vacation time because it’s important to get rest, but then you cancel any vacation they haven’t used at the end of the year, what message are you sending? How much vacation do you take yourself? Have you noticed that we all can’t help but watch when a politician is taken down for being caught in a lie? Well, your employees are watching you just as closely.

Excerpted from my book, “Putting Together the Entrepreneurial Puzzle: The Ten Pieces Every Business Needs to Succeed.” Available here on Amazon.