What message does your schedule send your team?
Most CEOs I know are too busy. This is actually a common reason for them to seek coaching in the first place. They can no longer keep up and are losing effectiveness as CEO.
I was speaking with a CEO today. One of his team members had the courage to tell him that the team never comes to him with problems because he is ‘too busy’.
If you’re too busy running around doing ‘CEO things’, what message does that send your staff? You likely know that your staff are hugely important. But if you’re distant from them and off meeting with customers, investors, lawyers, etc, etc, all the staff see is the distance. The unstated message here is that they are not important.
Now part of being CEO means living in the future. Thinking about future strategy, funding needs, etc. But at all times, staff have to know and, more importantly, truly feel that they matter.
Mike McDerment, co-founder and former CEO of FreshBooks had a saying that I heard often during my time there:
Take care of the employees. The employees will take care of the customers. The customers will take care of the business.
There is a very clear prioritization in this message: staff come first!
Making people-first leadership a reality
Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures has the best articulation of the role of a CEO. It’s just three things:
“Sets the overall vision and strategy of the company and communicates it to all stakeholders.
Recruits, hires, and retains the very best talent for the company.
Makes sure there is always enough cash in the bank.”
To me, it is absolutely possible to stay at the right altitude, working only on these three priorities AND make time for your team and lead in a people-centric way:
Communicating vision and strategy: This is not about communicating just at an annual kick off or new employee onboarding. This is about connecting every major project back to the overall vision, mission, values and priorities. This is how you make these things real for the team so that they connect the dots between their work and the overall context (the world you live in as CEO).
As CEO if you have to get into the weeds of every project there are issues. But if you get involved at the beginning of each project to connect it to the overall vision, mission, etc. you are showing that this project matters both by your presence and by connecting the dots between the project and overall vision.
Scheduling these kick offs at the beginning of all key projects should be a priority.
Talent: This is a bit more obvious. You need to devote a large chunk of your time to hiring, growing and retaining your senior leadership time. Removing obstacles to their growth, ensuring they are giving you maximum leverage and impact are big priorities.
Since not all leaders can grow as fast as your company you also need to devote some time to building a bench of talent that you can warmly approach should a current executive be unable to keep up.
These two task areas (aligning the team to vision and mission, and investing in your senior team) should consume a good chunk of your time and attention. Both are high impact areas that will connect you directly with your direct reports and the broader team.
Questions to consider
Looking at my schedule do I make time regularly to meet with the broader team and connect their work to our overall vision and mission?
How do I believe staff perceive my leadership and my priorities as CEO?
If I asked several team member what our vision, mission and priorities are, would I get the same answer?
What do my direct reports think about my schedule prioritization?
Do their team members ever express concerns about me being too distant?
Am I investing enough time to grow, nurture and retain my senior leaders?
Do I have a good sense for how far my senior leaders can scale?
Photo by STIL on Unsplash