One of the many great speakers who come from the USA to run workshops with Vistage peer group of CEOs, Ole Carlson, said that when he was a Vistage chairman he would put up a banner at meetings reading:
“We only do CEO stuff around here!”
The implication of that simple statement is immense.
It all devolves on the role of the leader and too often this is not an area of activity that is given much thought.
In the normal run of events most leaders attain the top position in the business through some sort of functional route, whether they are an entrepreneur or a hired gun to run the business.
Functional route are perhaps finance, operations, sales, marketing, technical and there are several others.
However the role of the leader is quite different. It is no longer functional; indeed it is truly multi-functional.
It often takes some time to realise this fact when the leader is initially appointed. In fact I have known leaders (newly appointed) say: “if that is all I have to do I will be doing nothing half the time”.
Quite true in the strict sense of the word because in the “doing nothing” part of the working day, it actually gives the leader some time to think.
Remember thinking? It is that period of time in which we manage to put the inevitable small stuff to one side and actually get down to looking at the really important issues in the business.
A very good fiend of mine, Will Kintish, decided more than ten years ago to give up being bored as a Chartered Accountant and to start doing things that he would enjoy and would inspire him.
Accordingly he set up his own consultancy specialising in networking and very successful it has been.
When we were discussing how he intended to manage the business he said, categorically, that he wasn’t prepared to do the stuff and he intended to hire someone else to do it for him. This would and did release him to do the things that he was good at rather than getting bogged down in someone else’s job.
One of the problems of every leader’s life is the very fact that they have come up through the business in a functional role. The consequence is that when things start to go amiss, as they do from time to time, there is a likelihood that the leader will revert to the default position; that is, to sort out the problem personally.
It is what I have come to call the “leave it to me, I’ll sort it out” syndrome which has two effects.
It makes the leader think that he/she is still useful and indeed wanted, and secondly, stops making them feel idle.
The overall result is the dreaded “upward delegation” which is the bane of every leader’s life if and when they recognise it.
The fact is that the leader is almost certainly the only person in the business who actually thinks about it in the round and this is a great responsibility.
I recall one of my Vistage CEO members telling me the story of how he suddenly realised that he was doing everyone’s jobs for them.
He had set up his office open plan with his desk being in the centre of operations.
Accordingly he found that being so visible made it easy for people to take the monkey off their own backs and pass it on to his. He was always happy and willing to help out, remember.
His great epiphany was hiring three top rated senior people to cover finance, sales and operations accepting, as he said, that they wouldn’t be able to do the job as well he could but it would take a load off his working day.
He admitted slightly shamefacedly, that in fact they did the jobs more effectively than he could simply because they were specialist and knew precisely what they were doing.
The answer for every leader is to devote time to thinking about the businesses because no-one else will do it nor are they in general capable of it. The role of the leader is highly specialised and it takes time to consider what is the purpose of the business what are its objectives and what is the potential endgame.
As the great US golfer, Sam Snead said:
“Take time out to smell the roses”
Download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon Kindle
Visit the Vistage UK website