This article was originally posted on Forbes.
By Zheila Pouraghabagher
Where should a CEO spend their time? Imagine a company where the CEO is spending their time consistently meeting with individual contributors and giving them feedback and direction. While this one-on-one attention straight from the top is coveted by many, it begs the question: If the CEO is explaining how to do something or what should be done, who is actually leading the company?
It is often difficult for a newly minted CEO, or even one who has been in the position for a while, to learn when to let go. In previous positions, CEOs were likely the best communicators at client meetings, came up with departmental strategic plans or managed a team to a tight margin. But that’s not their job anymore, it’s someone else’s. The skills, drive and ambition necessary to earn a spot in the C-suite are not necessarily going to apply moving forward.
A CEO must find a way to shift their thinking from strategic to global. As an enterprise leader, a CEO actually only makes a handful — yes, a handful — of decisions annually. Therefore, a CEO must focus on connecting to their industry’s culture and trends, ideally setting the trends for the rest of the industry.
In 2004, Peter Drucker, author of The American CEO said, “The CEO is the link between the Inside that is ‘the organization,’ and the Outside of society, economy, technology, markets, and customers. Inside there are only costs. Results are only on the outside.” This means you have a group of C-Suite leaders overseeing the strategic plan for their departments. You are no longer managing the strategic execution, you are influencing it. You influence it with your global perspective. This perspective guides and informs your C-suite team.
Trust The Leadership Pipeline
A Leadership Pipeline describes the different leadership roles one experiences as they accept more responsibility within an organization. The idea behind the Leadership Pipeline was first developed in the 1970s by General Electric HR consultant and teacher Walt Mahler, according to The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership-Powered Company, by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel.
As an individual gains more experience, authority and responsibility, they make their way through six passages in the Leadership Pipeline. The first three passages take the leader from managing themselves, to others, to managers. The final three passages are less about people, as the leader transitions to roles of functionality, business and group management. The final phase results in the role most commonly known as the CEO, or the ultimate level of managing the enterprise.
Another way to look at the Leadership Pipeline is to consider football. The quarterback knows that it’s his job to pass the ball. He knows he cannot be the wide receiver, running back and tight end — simply, that’s not his job. Likewise, a point guard on a basketball team calls and controls the play, but he knows what everyone else’s role is and trusts his team to execute their roles effectively. These sports metaphors extend to the business team as well. A good leader knows where to take action and when to trust others to do their jobs. Even though a leader is likely capable of performing all the roles adequately, they understand that it’s not their job.
When a CEO or other upper-level executive ignores the Leadership Pipeline, numerous issues will negatively affect the company, from the company culture to external viewpoints and can even end up affecting revenue.
• Chaos and confusion: If the CEO puts out a directive contrary to the strategic plan, confusion ensues.
• Morale is impacted: Micromanaging from the top is especially disheartening for managers. As a manager does her job but is contradicted by the CEO, she may begin to feel as if her role matters less.
• Company follows instead of leads: If the CEO isn’t focused on external factors and trends, then a competitive edge is lost.
• Inefficiencies affect bottom line: When ideas and plans already in motion are revisited, more work is ultimately created.
The pipeline works best when everyone involved is aware of where they fit into the system. This applies more to those at the top of the pipeline then it does to those at the bottom. Our inclination as ambitious leaders is to take on responsibility, prove our worth and provide direction for the company. However, it is vital to recognize that dipping down into the pipeline is not beneficial for the company. Not only can it cause problems, but it could also result in prohibiting future leaders from learning their roles and progressing up the pipeline themselves.
There is no doubt that those at the top, especially the CEO, know how to successfully perform every role in the company, but they should not. Rather, it is important to always check with trusted advisors for accountability. Ask them to be honest about when you overstep your boundaries and keep your focus where it is best served — at the enterprise level.