There are two kinds of senior leadership. Both work. At least for a while.
The ‘smartest person’ depends on having all the answers and providing all the direction. This leader attracts followers.
The ‘facilitator’ depends on the CEO being surrounded by other smart people and holding them accountable for helping to set direction and making things happen. This leader attracts other leaders.
From a results perspective, the ‘smartest person’ often starts well. But it can fade fast. It’s hard knowing everything, and having to make all the decisions bottlenecks most of today’s fast-paced businesses.
Leading by facilitating is more sustainable because it shares the decision making and leadership load with other smart leaders. Trusting others can be scary. However, the thing about smart people is they often surprise you and they learn from their mistakes.
So, what does it take to look after a team of good leaders?
- Trust in their motivation.
- Respect for their expertise and skills.
- A clear set of expectations.
- Clear accountability for results.
- Encouragement to act, even take a risk.
- Help eliminating roadblocks and barriers.
- Recognition for a job well done.
Leading other leaders takes a lot of confidence. I think it takes more confidence than it takes to be the smartest person in the room.
I notice not all CEO’s put in the same hours. I wonder what the difference is?
Drive? For sure. We’re all made up differently. I’m sure we have different visions of what needs get done, and when.
Effectiveness? Maybe, but not necessarily. I feel like I’m highly effective. I just have lot to do and it takes a while.
Stamina? Yes. I know CEO’s who need to break away to stay effective. I believe that taking a break can help but I don’t crave it personally.
Other priorities? Definitely a factor. When I hear all the other things some CEO’s are involved in, I wonder how they get any time to make anything happen anywhere (they must be really effective!).
So, we’re all different. As I think about it, what have I learned about the correct amount of time a CEO should be spending at the job?
- It’s personal. What’s too much for some is too little for others.
- We need to be careful. I think the thing that worries me most is the family time that gets run over when a CEO is at the office or on the road all the time. I’ve seen that one come back to bite lots of people.
- We need to be careful. The other thing that worries me is burning out. It does happen, frequently to people with high drive who didn’t realize they could exceed their physical and mental capacities.
- If there are ways to reduce the amount of job time, we should learn them. There are two obvious benefits – get even more done(!) and time available for something else.
- It’s worth doing a personal job-time assessment on a regular basis. Considerations: is too much (or too little) time on the job is just a bad habit?; does the job really require it?; are the rewards worth it?; is capacity shrinking with changes in personal life (kids, age, etc.)? It’s worth recognizing these things and either adapting – or making a conscious decision to carry on.
Job time affects us and the people around us. Figuring out how much we think it matters can make a world of difference for everyone.
A strong Board Chair can be the difference between flourishing in a CEO role and hating it.
What makes a strong Board Chair? I see several key attributes:
- understands corporate governance, including Board role and process
- understands the role of the CEO
- understands the business
- knows how to lead, make decisions, follow-up
- has empathy for the CEO and other Directors
- is available and easy to access when necessary
A Board Chair with these attributes is great for a CEO to work with. They keep the Board focused on its role while supporting the CEO in theirs. This enables the CEO to lead the organization at the operational level without interference.
‘Managing’ a Board Chair without these attributes can be a double-edged sword for CEO’s. The downside is too much time spent by the CEO on Board issues and corporate governance. It can also mean poor decision making and unfair demands on the CEO by a Board that is struggling with its role.
The upside is something that almost every CEO craves – direct input and influence over the Board’s direction, decision making and governance process. It’s true that poorly lead Boards tend to rely too much on their CEO for governance direction. That’s a desirable outcome for many CEO’s!
The relationship between the Board Chair and the CEO can make or break a CEO – and the organization. Making it work is the responsibility of both.
In my capacity as CEO I use a wide range of advisors.
My most trusted advisors are my Leadership Team. I trust them the most because I know them the best – and they know me. We’ve worked long hours together. Sorted problems and opportunities together. Eaten meals together. We’re close and I count on them for their skills, insight and expertise. Also, they report to me and my direct influence over their priorities and performance is different than the dynamic I have with my outside advisors. Or is it?
My most trusted outside advisors are also smart and expert at what they do. Some report to me – if I’ve directly and formally engaged them – some don’t.
There are a couple of things I keep in mind in managing my outside advisors.
- They have expertise I don’t have. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t need them – therefore, I need to pay attention to what they’re advising me – even if I’m not always on-side.
- They have other work they could be doing. I don’t believe any of my most trusted advisors are simply ‘in it for the money’. If I were to treat them poorly enough or regularly downplay their expertise, I bet they would all move on to something more meaningful. I must treat them with respect. Show them concern and consideration.
- They are fairly paid for what they’re doing for me. I see to that. Therefore, I can have high expectations for their performance – and I can hold them accountable to deliver.
- We don’t work together 24/7. Therefore, the opportunities to get to know each other – for sharing, learning and problem-solving – don’t happen spontaneously. Those opportunities must be organized. Created. Simply winging it won’t work consistently and may even fail at the most inopportune time.
- Other than by association, none of them have any direct vested interest in the long-term success of my organization. Sweat equity doesn’t mean anything. Therefore, my direction to them must be clear, the expected outputs well understood, the timing precise and the compensation fair.
Bottom line, if I want the best performance out of my advisors – both internal and external – I need to treat them all the same – with respect, caring, clear direction and accountability.