What are the CEO’s Top Five Focus Areas?

Top FiveI coach CEOs and business owners to consciously retain ownership of these five key areas:

  • Shaping the Culture
  • Recruiting, Leading and Managing the Senior Team
  • Crafting and Owning the Strategy
  • Overseeing the Budget
  • Pursuing Self Improvement

In addition, of course, the CEO retains responsibility for overall results. But that’s not a task, rather it’s the result of executing tasks in the above key areas.

The reason for these each being vital are probably self evident. Here’s my take on each.

Shaping the Culture

Culture is the sum total of all the habits, patterns, assumptions, mental models, unwritten/unspoken rules, and intuitions of the whole organization. These habits etc. are formed by people in the firm trying to figure out what the gap is between the stated rules (e.g. “we reward merit”) and the behaved rules (e.g. “we reward brown-nosing”). There’s a truism that “culture eats strategy for lunch” — meaning, if your culture and strategy are ever pulling in opposite directions, culture will win.

Culture (along with Strategy) Drives Results. For example, if your strategy calls for innovation and your culture stifles innovation because people are criticized for making even good-faith mistakes, you won’t have innovation.

The C-Suite Drives Culture. Culture is shaped by watching what people with power actually do. This fact requires the CEO to be conscious that she and her senior team are shaping the culture with their ever action, word, inaction, and silence. Shaping the culture should be an explicit activity, including what gets noticed, what gets commented on, what gets rewarded, and so on.

Recruiting, Leading and Managing the Senior Team

As CEO you can’t do it all. You have to find the best, most diverse-thinking people you can find, and you have to get them to behave as a coherent, high-trust team with a shared mission and vision.

You already know that culture drives performance and the senior team drives culture. As CEO, you’re responsible for hiring and firing that senior team and getting them (as your direct reports) to live the desired culture and work together effectively.

Crafting and Owning the Strategy

Culture may trump strategy, but it doesn’t replace it. The firm needs to focus its limited resources for maximum results, and choose both what to do and what to not do. That’s called strategy. It’s hard.

Overseeing the Budget

The budget is the embodiment of the strategy, and is a solemn pact among the senior team regarding how they will each take from and contribute to the firm’s cash. You can always tell a person or group’s true priorities by consulting two places: their calendar (how they allocate time and focused attention) and their checkbook (how they allocate money).

Pursuing Self Improvement

In the 21st Century, no organization can long survive without significant internal development and growth — of systems, of methods, of processes, and above all of people.

A CEO who is actively and publicly engaged in self improvement will inspire the whole firm to do the same. By contrast, a CEO who orders other people to improve while not himself engaging in self improvement, sends the message that other leaders should also order underlings to improve while not doing so themselves. (See “culture” above.)

This self improvement can be nearly anything. I recommend a thorough 360-degree evaluation and an honest assessment by an experienced executive coach — that will surface more than enough material for a decade of ongoing self improvement. (Most common needs are for greater self-awareness, greater focus, better delegation, better use of decision making methodologies, and more mindfulness.)

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