Are senior executives experienced enough to manage themselves? This certainly is a common assumption held by many organizations. CEOs tend to be focused on outward things, such as organizational strategies and goals, and often leave senior management to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, this can cause a number of problems. Recently, Effective ManagersTM compiled a list of the twelve most common misconceptions of managers and executives. Number three on that list is the misconception that senior executives can manage themselves.

Organizational Drift

While senior executives may not need the coaching that less experienced staff require, they still need their managers to communicate with them and tell them what they’re accountable for. What happens in the absence of direction from the CEO is that senior executives will take initiatives and make decisions on their own — because they have to. Even though they may have the best of intentions, without the proper context, they will start to drift away from the CEOs vision for the organization. The context set at the executive management meeting is not sufficient. The CEO needs to set clear expectations, i.e., manage!

If there is any drift at the senior management level, you can imagine what’s going to happen at the next level down. If a CEO makes the assumption that senior management can manage themselves, VPs might follow that model, and any drift that started at the VP level is going to be magnified at the next level down. This is why a framework of accountability and authority is so important.

Accountability and Authority

The CEO is accountable for creating a strategic plan for the organization, but they can’t do all of the work that is required to implement it. Work has to be delegated down and across an organization. In order for effective delegation to be possible, it is critically important that there be a framework of accountability and authority in place.

The CEO must delegate to their direct reports:

  • the aspects of the organization’s overall strategy that they are accountable for,
  • the authority to accomplish those goals,
  • and the resources and timelines required to accomplish them.

Starting with the CEO, that process should cascade throughout the entire organization. Managers should also create feedback loops in order to ensure that everything is going according to plan.

It’s a fallacy that senior executives can manage themselves. Perhaps even more so than for lower level employees, senior managers need to have a crystal clear understanding of how they fit into the CEO’s vision for the organization. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they need babysitting. They are more experienced and mature, and are certainly capable of making decisions and taking initiatives, and they should be empowered to do so. However, their decisions and initiatives need to take place within the appropriate context, which is best established through a framework of accountability and authority.