Charles Pfeffer

Executive Coaching & Leadership Consulting

The Executive Work Portfolio  – Part 2: Capabilities (5 in the series of 6)

The jobs of the CEO can be overwhelming without an essential set of capabilities for dealing with the volume and complexity of the work. Here are four capabilities that I believe effective CEOs apply to make their lives livable and their work effective.

Managing Energy

This capability requires self-awareness and an eye for others’ talents. What turns you on? What saps your strength? If you don’t know how to cultivate your energy, you will have a hard time motivating/engaging others. Each of your three jobs, especially running the business, requires that you generate more energy than you expend from your interactions. To this end, you must be inspired by the work, the mission, the people, the challenge, and whatever it is that lights your flame. It also means eliminating the tasks that sap your strength. You know what these are (or we can quickly find out) and you most likely know someone for whom your kryptonite is their rocket fuel. Managing energy includes getting smart about collaboration.

Managing Relationships

Physicists tell us that all there is in the Universe is relationships. Matter is energy in various states of relationship. Particles are packets of energy which coalesce when they interact, as when we measure them. Otherwise they are smeared out over space-time as waves of probability.The presence of a particle is determined by its relationship to an observer. What does quantum physics have to do with being a CEO? Your job is a network of relationships. These include your executive team, their direct reports, their staff, and all of their combined relationships and their potential to replace you someday. Your relationships include your Board, the members, their relationships with each other and to the governance model. The network includes investors, regulators, customers, channel partners, and so forth. The sheer number could overwhelm you. Fortunately, you don’t have to manage them all individually, provided that you understand this about relationship management:

  • all people have purposes, concerns and circumstances
  • if they perceive you as being unaware or uncaring about their purposes, concerns and circumstances they will resist you
  • if on the other hand, they perceive you as aware of and caring for these factors, they will collaborate with you to create value 
  • People’s perception of your awareness and caring is your personal brand. It has leverage and can show up even when you are not physically present

Managing Conversations

All work takes place in conversation. There is a natural order to conversations that produce value. That order is align, act, adjust. Within each of these conversations, there are more specific discussions that follow the same path. We can go into these details at another time, but for now let’s just say that most conversations are not designed to produce value. Instead they produce waste. CEOs who do not recognize the difference are vulnerable to being co-opted by conversations that are not about executing the strategy. This may relate to one executive’s status and power, a project team’s excuses for being late, a board member’s personal self-interests, etc. Managing conversations means paying attention to the purpose you intend to fulfill and listening for the intersection of all relevant players’ purposes, concerns and circumstances. When you have an authentic intersection (or overlap), there is a basis for alignment. Before that, you may get compliance, but you will not get commitment. This will eventually diminish your energy.

Leveraging Systems and Structure

You know that you cannot be everywhere at once, or even in the same month, quarter or year. How do you ensure that your strategy receives the requisite energy, talent and focus for its execution? You do this by seeing to it that the accountability structures, the reporting mechanisms, the hiring, and the cultural reinforcement systems are well constructed. CEOs who are exhausted, view the structures and systems of their organizations as parts. CEOs who take their vacations and enjoy time with their families, view the structures and systems as integral to the living organism that is their organization. They see that a recurring failure to meet a standard in say, the legal department, will likely result in an unwise and unreviewed risk being taken in the supply chain. The CEO grasps the whole of the enterprise, or at least senses the connections and their interdependencies. To leverage systems means to share this sense with everyone in every setting and to encourage individuals to elevate and broaden their own awareness.

Building these four core capabilities is usually part of the developmental path to becoming a CEO, and it’s possible to miss some lessons along the way. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the complexity and pressures of the role, take a look at whether any of these skillsets could use some strengthening.

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