What is a CEO’s most important task?
Updated: Jul 13, 2021
After asking me this question, it felt like my supervisor stared me out and my pulse quickened.
It was 2008 immediately after graduation, at the beginning of my twelve-month-internship to eventually become a licenced psychologist. In my mind's eye I scanned through all the courses I had taken in group, industrial and occupational psychology, but after a long, silent pause I felt I had no choice but to say I did not know.
Before we go further with this story it is only right to make a distinction between the two domains that any CEO has to deal with: Namely the external and the internal. By external I mean the company's surrounding environment, and by internal I mean the company as an organisation. The question my supervisor asked me concerned the internal domain. To put the answer in context, I want to explore the concept of organisational development. Bear with me while I start out with some obvious things, and then move outwards in ever increasing circles.
So what exactly is organisational development? Your thoughts may go straight to change processes, in which you modify the organisational structure and introduce new ways of working. Speaking of which, if you are considering such a change you might want to contemplate the following question: Is the problem primarily inherent to the existing structure? Or is it possible that you already have a sound, logical and reasonable structure in place that should support your business, but you’ve not been able to make it work? If you are unsure of the answer you can check out my free guide on identifying potential for improvement in your organisation. If you spot the bottlenecks in the existing structure it is very possible that you can achieve the effect you want at a lower cost and with less effort and risk. If you already have experience of change processes, you’ll almost certainly know what I am mean.
Let’s expand this idea a little further, namely by suggesting that leadership development is a subheading for organisational development. Regardless of whether we are talking about management team development, a leadership program for all managers in an organisation or individual leadership development, building stronger leadership results in increased efficiency and productivity and naturally has consequences for job satisfaction and staff turnover.
The things I have mentioned so far are certainly important tasks for you who are heading an organisation and wanting to develop it. But in order for the measures to deliver the maximum effect they are built on a basic premise. Therefore I’m going to return to the answer to the introductory question about your most important task. Lately, I have been working with leadership development in an organisation where every manager I have met so far has impressed me. They have tested me with their keen analytical ability, and our relationship is characterised by a sense of curiosity and humility. We make plans where we are mutually dependent and they stick to their commitments. If you are familiar with occupational psychology research you notice we are talking about people who are good at problem-solving, who are agreeable, extravert and conscientious. Is it a coincidence that everyone has those characteristics? Obviously not. Top management has realised the importance of implementing functional processes for recruitment and selection.
The answer my supervisor gave me to his own question was that a CEO's most important task is to build their team. I nodded, but it’s fair to say that at the time I didn’t really understand the deeper meaning of that notion. His question primarily concerned the CEO's management team, but after 13 years of consultant experience I extend it to all the managers in the organisation.
Let me finish off by quoting myself from the guide I talked about above. Putting a process in place to ensure you find the right people for leadership roles is perhaps the single most strategic organisational development initiative you will ever make. Being the mild-mannered psychologist I am, I don’t intend to stare you out, but I’m obviously curious whether you agree with me or not. Please let me know.
The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.