Whether you’re the CEO of small businesses or a billion dollar business, there is still one job description to follow. My friend Dr. Dean Radtke helped me phrase a lot of what I now teach on the CEO job description. Here are two roles a CEO needs to fulfill.

1. The first role of a CEO is to provide direction. The CEO is the one to define the company’s objectives. That may sound simple. In fact the first time I heard that, I thought, “Sure, that’s easy.” But when you provide direction in your business, you have to envision where you want to go and what you want to accomplish. But most people don’t know what they don’t know. That’s when you need to get out and get exposure in order to know what to envision and to understand what is possible. But whether they know vision or not, the CEO has to give direction.

Envisioning is the most challenging element to setting expectations. You need to know what the possibilities are and envision how your company will reach that. This doesn’t need to be fantasy, it needs to be realistic. Set expectations and standards. Put systems, methods and processes in place. Recognize the gaps you may encounter. Putting these structures in place will empower your team to reach your vision.

Michangelo was asked how he created his sculptures. His response was, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” He envisioned a beautiful piece of art in the rock and moved toward that vision. The CEO needs to provide direction because it has to be directed toward other people. He doesn’t just see the vision. He communicates it.

McDonalds is a billion dollar business run by teenagers. Their systems are so tight that even a teenager can walk in and pick up the work in no time. Too often we either just vaguely tell people what to do without walking them through the process, or we micro-manage and criticize every single thing they do. Instead, we should be handing out job descriptions and operations manuals for them to look through. This gets people off and running immediately.

Most of the time you can trace difficulty back to the fact that you weren’t clear in the beginning. Clarity is huge in the very beginning, whether we’re talking about contracts, job descriptions, policies and procedures, etc. As a CEO, you need to first envision what’s possible, and then communicate it clearly to your employees.

2. Secondly, the CEO’s role is to obtain plans, ideas and recommendations. Let’s say I’m providing direction to a group and tell them we’re going to make cupcakes. I give them recipes and ingredients for different cupcakes. But then someone from the team comes to me and says, “We don’t have any butter and we’re short on eggs.” I respond, “Well, what are you going to do about it?”

I’ve provided the direction, but now I need to empower the team that’s around me. We have a problem. Most of the time when it comes to working in teams, we can produce cripples if we’re not careful. We don’t create an environment where we can get information from our team as we should. Instead, you want to be able to take issues and problems, like lack of butter, and turn them into opportunities.

(I+P=O): Issues And Problems Equals Opportunity.

In the early 1900’s, there was a canvas-making company. An employee made a major mistake and ordered way too much canvas. So the leaders of the company brought the team together and said, “We’ve already paid for this canvas. If we don’t figure out what to do with it, we’re going to have to shut the company down. What are your ideas?” The team brainstormed plans, ideas and recommendations. Together they came up with the idea to use the canvas to make pants. You may know that company as the Levi Corporation.

Teach your leaders to be problem solvers and thinkers. By empowering their team and creating an environment where the team was allowed to put their ideas forward, the Levi Corporation saved their company and recreated themselves permanently. That mistake ended up being the reason they’re still a big business today. It’s important that you allow those you’re leading to experience noble failure. Don’t make cripples out of your employees and volunteers by always rescuing them. Instead, give them an opportunity to save themselves. They might end up saving you as well.

Remember: “A problem without a solution is a complaint.” Always push the people you’re leading further along. Instill commitment, not compliance. Use these four steps to get their recommendations.

  1. Ask Questions. Don’t tell them what you think when you call this meeting. Hold your cards close to your chest and learn how to ask good questions when you come in.
  2. Listen. Bring the people together, be clear about your questions and listen. Learn to listen to your people and empower them to help you get where you need to go.
  3. Create a Safe Harbor. Your employees should be empowered to know they can boldly share their ideas with you.
  4. Look for Total Honesty. This isn’t about emotional dumping, it’s about honesty in the room. You are showing disrespect to your employees if you’re not being honest about what’s going on. Similarly, you should expect honesty back from them.

Your team’s recommendations should align with all of the following. It can’t be approved if it doesn’t align with:

  1. The Vision
  2. The Mission
  3. Standards
  4. The Timing
  5. The Resources

Make sure you’re asking for and listening to your group’s plans, recommendations and ideas. But it is important that they know you have the final say. Again, whether you’re the CEO of small businesses or a billion dollar business, these roles are the same. There’s just more money involved.

I’ll be back next week with some more about the CEO job description. Thanks for reading!

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