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Mihalicz_FIrst Key Function

When it comes to organizations and management, conventional wisdom says that the CEO is the leader and therefore, gets to engage in all the exciting, high profile activities, leaving managers to execute strategy and ensure things are done right. This view is wrong. Every CEO needs to have leadership skills. But to be truly successful, they also need to know how to manage.

Too often, as CEO’s achieve their position, they forget that they need to manage. The mindset is that the VPs know what they need to do, so there is no need to “micromanage”. While micro-management would, indeed, not be a good thing, without appropriate management from the CEO, the organization will begin to drift. VPs will use their own filter systems to interpret decisions and implement in ways that are slightly different. As a consequence, overall results will not align with the CEO’s expectations.

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The CEO As A Manager

We know that there are five requirements every manager must fulfill to be effective. These also apply to the CEO, but from a slightly different orientation:

  1. Plan

    Every manager needs to plan, but the CEO’s plan is the strategic plan for the entire organization. The challenge is in working with the Board to decide on a timeframe and long-term vision that works best. As part of that exercise, the CEO needs to decide what deliverables or objectives should be personal output, and what work can be delegated to others.

  2. Do (Direct Output)

    After identifying value added work in the planning stage, the CEO needs to find time to actually do the work. Despite being pulled in all kinds of directions, if adequate time is not set aside, critical work is delegated to someone with less capability, and work quality suffers. It’s that simple.

  3. Setting Context and Boundaries

    The CEO also sets the context for direct reports to do their job. Context includes specifics, like working methods and a clear idea of expected results. This information exchange should be a two-way dialogue, commonly understood by both the CEO and direct reports. Working with the senior management team as a group encourages teamwork and collaboration. The strategic plan is one tool for setting context, as well as position descriptions and most importantly, conversations that bring everything to life.

    Boundaries are limits with which work can be done, yet the emphasis is positive, stressing how work should be done rather than what not to do. Boundaries include organizational and external regulations, policies, and aspects of culture. Making these variables explicit avoids assumptions.

  4. Delegate

    From the CEO’s perspective, VPs know how to do their work and should just be allowed to do it. However, there’s much more to the delegation phase than assigning work. When done right, delegation outlines in very precise terms the expectations for work including quality, quantity, timeframe and available resources. The CEO is accountable to the Board for the output of her/his team, so clarity in delegation is essential.

  5. Establish Feedback Loops

    Each manager and the CEO needs to have a feedback loop with each direct report to allow for coaching, training, performance management and getting input into decisions. Again, a two-way dialogue develops between the executive management team and the CEO. A formal structure of feedback allows the CEO to understand not only what is happening in the organization, but also, what kind of messaging is needed to keep important stakeholders in the external environment informed and involved.

  6. Management takes place at every level in the organization from the front line to the CEO. While the five requirements are the same, the level of complexity differs, as the capabilities of CEOs, VPs, Directors and Managers are different. Effective management from the very top is critical to organizational success.