The Role of the CEO in Business Management

A familiar gibe against the over-managed company is that it has ‘too many chiefs, and not enough Indians’. Whether or not that’s generally true, management certainly has more Chiefs than it did.

There’s the Chief Information Officer – the CIO; the COO, whose middle O stands for Operating; the Chief Financial Officer, or CFO, without whom no self-respecting company can manage or be managed; and, above them all, there’s the CEO, the Chief Executive Officer, revolving in the corporate heavens, the master of all he surveys.

Writing for The Thinking CEO, the management magazine of cyberspace (which readers will find on the Thinking Managers business management website), I produced a short essay suggesting an alternative name for the CEO – the CGO, or Chief Growth Officer. That post, though, needs to double up as another CIO – CIO2, with the I standing, not for Information, but Ideas. The two Is should work hand-in-glove, which they notoriously often fail to do.

The most misleading title is CEO. True, the boss is chief and an executive director. But ‘execution’ is precisely what the CEO can’t and shouldn’t try to do: heading up all day-to-day ‘executing’, taking direct responsibility for activating all plans, controlling all the product lines and productive apparatus, driving all the other people into performing their allotted functions.

The poor incumbent will have too little time and too many voices screaming for his or her attention, both inside and outside the company. ‘CEO’ gives the wrong emphasis, although the incumbent is also the CSO – the Chief Supervisory Officer, responsible for checking that everybody else is in the right job and doing it right.

That responsibility plainly has to be delegated and structured. All top managers need to feel comfortable with the people who, in turn, are responsible for their subordinates. As the CISO, or Chief Internal Systems Officer, the incumbent CEO has to help build a living organism that bypasses bureaucracy and substitutes a quick and effective chain of command.

I referred above to the CIO as CIO2 – the Chief Ideas Officer. That doesn’t mean that the incumbent has all or even most of the ideas. The CEO/CIO2 has the essential job of making all his or her people feel and behave like key members of a true creative team.

Good ideas well worth turning into action can occur and apply anywhere in an organisation. But the transcendent area is what may loosely be called ‘strategy’.

The CEO who can’t withdraw from running operations to concentrate on strategic and structural transformation will fall – and fail – between two stools. It isn’t a case of whether the transformational moment will arise, but when and how and where.

For more on the role of the CEO, see http://www.thinkingmanagers.com/the-thinking-ceo

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