How To Take Your Business To The Next Level
After the historic disruptions of the past two years, CEOs are now confronting a complex, uncertain, and fast-changing future. Now more than ever, CEOs need to lead their organisations effectively, boldly and — dare I say — wisely.
Yet, according to the Conference Board’s C-Suite Outlook 2022, less than 40% of CEOs believe they are well prepared to meet challenges posed by a major crisis related to inflation, cybersecurity, supply chain disruptions or climate change. In this environment, how can CEOs rise to the challenges of the “next normal,” as well as take their businesses to the next level?
I would argue that CEOs today need to concentrate on six practices of effectiveness, namely: time management; focus; strengths; priorities; decision-making; and communication. Although Peter Drucker laid the foundation for these practices in the 1970s, the intervening 50 years have made their implementation far more challenging. Let’s take a look at the problems that can arise across each of the six and then examine an empowering and all-too-often neglected solution.
The Top Six Challenges Faced By CEOs Today
The most elusive of these six practices, from my experience partnering with top executives, is understanding and protecting the CEO’s time. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, only 9% of executives are highly satisfied with how they spend their time. Without effective use of time, other effective practices suffer.
The CEO might not spend enough time on strategy, for example, and instead, spends too much time on lower-level functions. Their time may also be getting directed by the organisation – they’re being pulled into areas where leadership may be lacking. Along the same lines, executive problems with focus tend to revolve around an emphasis on output, rather than on outcomes. The CEO is too “in the weeds” and fails to pay attention to priorities and results.
Part of the problem here is often a lack of awareness of where the CEO’s strengths lie. Instead of building leadership strengths, the executive’s strongest assets are poorly managed. What emerges is an organisation that is focused not on what should be its top goals, but rather on inappropriate or inadequate priorities. Decisions by the CEO and across the organisation are then made without understanding the group’s “north star,” causing perpetual stagnation rather than persistent growth.
And not surprisingly, what runs throughout the first five areas of executive challenge is the sixth: a pervasive pattern of poor communication. The CEO may believe that communication should come from the top down; they may fail to communicate regularly or only communicate after changes are made.
In an ever-more complex and fast-paced business environment, the challenges of acting on the six practices of effectiveness can be overwhelming — and as a result, many CEOs feel ill-prepared to meet the problems that are speeding towards them. What I have seen, however, is that improvements across all practices can be made. We simply should not expect executives to do so without the right type of support.
How The Role Of Chief Of Staff Addresses Executive Challenges
Effectiveness can be learned through deliberate action. While learning any practice begins with the individual, other people can help. For example, executive coaches, board members, and peers can improve executive effectiveness—and arguably no other person can more directly do so than a Chief of Staff.
This position may be more familiar within a military or political context but today, Chiefs of Staff are found across all industries and sectors. These roles often serve as the ultimate protectors of an executive’s time. However, CEOs who use their time effectively can still be ineffective in other areas of executive responsibility. A skilled Chief of Staff, therefore, works to improve performance across each of the six effectiveness practices.
To help the CEO manage time more effectively, a Chief of Staff will re-allocate tasks by doing, delegating, deferring or dropping work that is not strategic. They also communicate to key stakeholders where the executive’s time should optimally be spent. A strong focus on results is ensured when a Chief of Staff redirects executive attention, as needed, and re-orients the executive office and team towards outcomes, not output.
A Chief of Staff can also cover the executive’s blind spots by bringing to the organisation diverse abilities that build on the executive’s strengths and mitigate any weaknesses. This can entail assessing leadership strengths for a broader understanding of team abilities and how to best manage them.
In addition, the Chief of Staff helps a CEO focus on top priorities by preparing and facilitating the executive’s strategic planning process. They may also lead or co-lead strategic initiatives, including developing and implementing a framework for accountability and alignment.
As a result of these initiatives, the executive decision-making process becomes smoother. A Chief of Staff can gather additional perspectives from the team to better understand the implications of decisions and can advise the executive toward sounder decision-making.
Finally, the Chief of Staff can serve to bridge team communication and collaboration for more effective knowledge sharing. They ensure that direction and messaging are received at every level throughout the organisation.
Finding The Right Chief Of Staff
Our company has supported a variety of organisations across every industry in assessing the viability of the Chief of Staff role, properly defining the position, and finding exceptional talent to fill these unique “right hand” roles. Further, we develop Chiefs of Staff through onboarding and coaching programs for sustainable support and lasting success.
Based on this experience, I know that there is no silver bullet to improving executive effectiveness. But the Chief of Staff role provides a significant head start to driving more effective performance. And with the rising tide of challenges that organisations now face, this is the advantage that many CEOs may wish to consider.