This is often met with a blank stare. Other times I get a vague response, something like, “Well, I do a lot of things. I guess my job is to keep the company or project moving forward.”
These aren’t useful answers. It’s no wonder many CEOs just ricochet between crises without any real thought about how to proactively drive the company forward.
Before you assemble your team, you must be absolutely clear on what your role and day-to-day responsibilities will be leading the company. Knowing what to focus on will also help ensure you’re not spending your time in other people’s business and getting in the way of them doing their jobs.
Following are some of the most important parts of your day-to-day CEO job description:
The CEO is responsible for the vision and direction of the company
This seems straightforward enough, but it’s more complicated than it sounds. You have to look at the horizon and know where you want to take your company. This kind of vision differs from a goal on your mission statement; your vision is a measurable three-, five- or ten-year view of where you want to be.
I recommend starting with the sales and profits you hope to achieve, then working backward to see what it will take to make it happen. You’ll need clear drivers, processes, and accountability to manage your company’s progress toward your vision. In short, having a vision is worthless unless you can engineer the specifics to achieve it.
The CEO has the ultimate responsibility for cash.
You may think watching the cash is the CFO, accountant, or bookkeeper’s job, but no.
For any company, cash and access to cash is its lifeblood, the air it breathes. If you run out of cash, you’re done. You’d be surprised how quickly a fast-growing company with high profit margins can run short of cash. You may have to use up cash to add to your working capital, build up inventory, or finance your accounts receivable. Managing the monetary ebb and flow is ultimately the CEO’s responsibility because it’s so vital to the health and survival of your business.
The CEO must ensure that the right people are in the right jobs at the right time.
CEOs may be sentimentally attached to longtime employees who’ve been there from the beginning. They refuse to let them go or move them aside, even if they’re no longer beneficial to the company.
As the business grows, you’ll need to make changes. The people who got you to one threshold may not be the people you need to take you to the next level. The CEO, hard-hearted though it may seem, must be dispassionate about hiring and firing. If you can only afford two salespeople, they need to be the two best salespeople you can find. Some people operate better in startups than in more mature businesses. Recognize your people’s strengths and weaknesses, and don’t wait too long to bring in new talent. The wrong employees will bring you down.
The CEO is responsible for key relationships.
The CEO must “own” the key relationships in the company, such as those with bankers, key vendors, the biggest customers, and shareholders. Any outsider with the power to alter the future of your company — by ordering, selling, lending, etc. — needs to have access to you (and you to them). You want them to feel comfortable calling you up at any hour of the day or night. Too often, business owners hand over these relationships to high-level employees. But what happens if those employees leave and take the accounts with them? You cannot — and should not — keep control over every contact. But know who the key ones are and keep them close.
The CEO must have processes in place to continue learning.
You did your market research before you started your company, right? Back then, you had nothing on the line. But now that your life is tied up in your enterprise, be diligent about keeping up with what’s going on in your industry, with your competitors, and with your customers.
Business changes faster than ever these days, and the annals of recent corporate history are littered with the bones of companies that didn’t evolve or adapt fast enough to survive the rapidly shifting environment. Go to conferences, talk to consultants, and get to know your rivals. Use tools like Google Alerts and LinkedIn to help you keep track of what’s happening in your field and outside it. Read trade blogs and ezines. Look to learn — as well as sell — when you’re out in the field, whether it’s one-on-one or at a convention with thousands of attendees or meeting customers at a small event. Hire a business coach and put together an advisory board to gain experience and wisdom from people who can help you stay current.
The CEO must be a cheerleader.
You must communicate what’s going on to the rest of the team, explaining the company’s results and getting employees onboard with your vision for the future. If you want them to buy into what you’re selling, you have to align their best interests with your best interests. Often the best way to do that is through open and engaging communication.