The Role of the CEO – Grow Your People, Grow Your Company

CEO roleIn working with CEOs and entrepreneurs over the last 25 years or so, I’ve come to believe that the role of the CEO or leader of the organization is really two things; growing your people and growing your company. If you’re spending an inordinate amount of time on anything else, you’re not doing your job.

A question I ask CEO clients to ask themselves when they are not able to focus on these two areas is, “Whose job am I doing right now?” If you have a small entrepreneurial company and there are simply not enough bodies to do the other tasks you’re doing, now is the time to figure out how to get them done, without you doing them. The ability to get work done through others, vs. the leader wearing multiple hats is one of the biggest roadblocks to a company’s growth. Figure it out now or it will be your millstone forever.

Recently, I read a Wall Street Journal article entitled “In Defense of the CEO.” Naturally I was intrigued and very interested to read about some recent research that supports my view of the leader’s role. Just for clarification, the article is talking about CEOs of publicly traded Fortune 1000 companies, but the parallels apply to entrepreneurial and smaller business CEOs as well.

It discusses a recent study by two Harvard Business professors, Porter and Nohria, who tracked how CEOs spend their day. Their argument is that a leader’s ability to extract information from their people to make critical decisions for the business and then convey that critical information to the teams that need it is essential for the enterprise’s success.

They note two dominant styles of leadership that emerged in their study:
Style 1: Leaders spend most of their time meeting with employees; they also tend to hold larger meetings and include people from a wider set of departments within the organization.
Style 2: CEOs are more apt to spend time alone, in one-on-one interactions, and outside rather than inside the company.

They observed that the leaders who employ Style 1 – a more inclusive style of leadership, run more successful and profitable companies. I would argue that they are growing both their company and their people with this style. We often lament the amount of time spent in meetings, but if we agree with the premise of the research, meetings are exactly where CEOs should be. It’s where they can be most effective in leading both the people and the company. A full 67% of a Style 1 leader’s time was spent in meetings.

I would also point out that more time spent in meetings means you are not doing the job of your team, you are guiding them to do theirs. So the next time you are in a meeting, think about growing your company and your people and how you can best contribute to that and stop thinking that it’s a waste of time – make it matter.