What is Your CEO Job Description?

On occasion, a business owner client will ask me if I have a CEO job description. I’m sure such exist in large corporations, but for an owner-managed company it’s a bit vague.

The simple (and usual) answer is that the CEO of a small business has two responsibilities. He or she does whatever he wants to do, as long as it includes everything that no one else wants to do.

Unfortunately it ends there in most closely held businesses. The owner/founder/leader develops the strategy, creates the processes, determines job responsibilities and handles the important customers. In the time that’s left over (!), he thinks about the vision, culture and tries to develop subordinates into decision makers.

The late Warren Bennis, a guru of early leadership studies, had two different priorities for CEOs. He believed that they are primarily responsible for communicating the vision of the business to employees, and then acting as the company’s representative to other organizations on the CEO level.

What would your business look like if that was all you did? Perhaps not today, but what if you could eventually arrange your CEO job description to only encompass those two things?

Your time inside the business would be focused on helping people understand why they do the things they do. Your employees would value each customer the same way you do. They would take personal responsibility for quality and reputation. Those with outside responsibilities would watch competitors for new products or signs of weakness. Managers would make choices that didn’t require your oversight.

Outside the business, you spend all of your time with other CEOs. You gather in learning forums like symposiums, peer groups or to hear thought leaders speak. You meet with others at your level in related industries to share intelligence and explore opportunities.

You never work your way up the food chain with a potential customer or client. Sales efforts start at the top, so when you get a purchase decision it is a done deal.

Dealing with vendors is on a level where you never have to hear “We can’t do that.” I don’t pretend that there won’t be underlings in your way anymore; it’s just that you don’t deal with them.

Clock and exec activitiesThe key factor in dealing at the CEO level is time. You must be able to schedule appointments that aren’t cancelled for the crisis of the moment. It’s part of your credibility. You must be able to leave the business for travel to events or meetings. On a local level, it includes being seen where CEO’s gather, not where you are networking with their employees.

The personal flexibility to act as the face of the company to other CEOs only comes after you’ve handled that “vision thing” internally. Creating a team that functions excellently without you allows you to do the things that only you can do.

In short, the CEO job description should be to do only those things no one else can do. If that still includes more responsibilities than Bennis defined, you now know what needs to change.

Do you know an owner who would enjoy Awake at 2 o’clock? Please share.


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2 Responses to What is Your CEO Job Description?

  1. Bob Kroon says:

    Hi John,

    Good post. In practice, I see CEO’s concerns focused on these, in no particular order: 1) Something finance (cash flow, fund raising, collections, etc), 2) Watching the “secret sauce” (could be following the CTO, watching key activities in a service business, product development), 3) Building the team (hiring a key person, replacing people, adding to the team), 4) Reaching out to customers, 5) Some issue or event which is a drain on the business (legal matter, facilities, misbehaving employee), 6) An opportunity (acquiring a big new customer, a competitor, a technology).

    Small wonder VC investors value teams more than individual entrepreneurs. The mental bandwidth required to lead alone is tough.

  2. Joe Zente says:

    Great Article, John…

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