The CEO’s Role - Not for the Faint of Heart

September 06, 2019
MRA Edge
Leadership & Management & Supervision
Jim Morgan
Jim Morgan
VP, Business Development & Workforce Strategies
Read time: 4 mins

Leader of the pack. Mastermind. Commander-in-chief. And, of course—head honcho. CEOs are called many things throughout their tenure (whether accurate or not). But one piece of information is true—it’s the most powerful position in a company, charged with making major decisions, being on the front line, and in a nutshell, managing the success of the organization. Whew, that sounds like a monumental responsibility.

For these reasons, when people see the title CEO, they think corner office, stock options, and big paycheck. More often, it means long hours, anxiety, and sacrifices. This title is not for the faint of heart. A CEO needs to have the confidence of a rock star, the patience of Job, the smarts of a biochemist, and the leadership skills of, well, a CEO.

All in a Day’s Work

It’s true that some employees don’t really know what CEOs do. They may not be in the office much, or when they are it’s often behind closed doors. But rest assured, most CEOs have a plate that is overflowing with high level, high stress endeavors every day.

There are many pressures and responsibilities that are part of being the highest-ranking officer within a company. Some you may expect but others may surprise you. Networking and after-hours professional events are the norm, with CEOs sacrificing attending their kids’ activities and taking that vacation they’ve so longed for. CEOs’ employees rely on them for help climbing the ladder, to truly succeed in their careers both from a satisfaction and financial standpoint. CEOs make decisions that affect people’s lives regarding where to grow and invest and where to move or close down. Their critical decision making is always under scrutiny, and frequently they need to justify those decisions while getting blasted by those not in agreement.

It’s a fact that no two days are the same. CEOs have many direct reports they need to connect with, shareholders and customers who need special attention and many high-profile meetings, where their attendance is required. There are fires to put out and confusion and frustrations to weed through, all with the ultimate goal of making sure that when everyone pulls on the oar the boat goes in the right direction. Many don’t understand the toll this takes on a company’s leader. Many CEOs often have no one to talk to or confide in about the crisis of the day.

All CEOs would love a crystal ball that unveils the future (well, who wouldn’t?). But a CEO’s nightmare is not the unknown, it’s the uncertainty of the things beyond their control. Matters like having executive roles to fill but no talent to fill them. Or, when healthcare costs rise dramatically and have a major impact on the company’s bottom line. What about when there’s an international incident and the price of oil or steel (or your main commodity) goes way up? All of this is out of their control and it keeps many CEOs up at night.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

What does it take to get a CEO’s job done? Focus, drive, and a stellar work ethic are at the top of the list. (And coffee.) Check out these qualities of a successful CEO. Do you have what it takes?

  • Authentic leadership. It’s at the core of a successful CEO.
  • Vision. Knowing where the company is headed. And how it’s getting there.
  • Trustworthiness. Without it, a CEO will fail.
  • Flexibility. Dealing with what pops up minute by minute.
  • Openness to new ideas. A mind free of “this is how we’ve always done it.”
  • Business intelligence.  Knowing there are people you need on your team with the skillsets you don’t have.
  • Communication skills. The ability to adjust your words so everyone, from laborers to board members, understands your message.
  • A (very) thick skin. Being on the top of the food chain can bring harsh criticism and nasty comments. Letting that stuff bounce off is a must.
  • Corporate citizenship. Understanding the importance of giving back to the community is essential, for both the company and its employees.

Then there are the qualities that no CEO should have. Ever. Like:

  • A smarmy attitude. The C-suite is no place for insincerity.
  • The need to try and control everything. Loyalties are lost on a control freak.
  • The notion that only he or she has the good ideas. Even if they were someone else’s first.
  • Surrounding themselves with sleek, like-minded, “yes” people. This feeds an ego, but it does nothing for leadership ability.
  • Believing that he or she is the smartest person in the room. It’s tough to want to be better and do better when you’re already the best.

These characteristics simply won’t work for a CEO who wants to be valuable.

The moral of this story? It takes a certain kind of person to be a CEO. The best ones involve employees from all over the organization, have a true passion for their work, are visionaries, handle criticism well, and are the face of their company 24/7. It may not always be pretty, or smooth, but CEOs who thrive have what it takes to take care of the day-to-day operations while foraging into the future with a plan, confidence, and charisma.

MRA Edge September/October 2019

Read the full issue.