The CEO Job

Smoother Sailing Ahead for CEOs Who Stay at the Helm of these 5 Core Responsibilities

Steering wheel Ship stock photo.jpg

By Brian O'Donnell, CEO-in-Residence, The Raffoni Group

Delegation is absolutely necessary for any CEO to be successful, but there are a number of core responsibilities that shouldn’t be be passed on to another. Like a sea captain is fully in charge of the ship's most important functions, as CEO, you own these responsibilities.   

1) Set the Course – “A ship in the harbor is safe…but that’s not what ships were made for.” – J. A.  Shedd. One of the most important roles of any CEO is to set the direction for their organization, as well as drive the organization forward to achieve its mission. Developing the right strategies for the business sets the stage for everything else. While you should certainly involve your key leaders in the development and refinement of company strategy, you must be the one to set guidelines and objectives, formulate and drive the process, and separate out individual opinions from the elements of strategy that will make sense for the overall business. Setting the course and successfully implementing the plan is your most important job.

2) Hand-Select Your Officers – You know that having the right people on your executive team is critical to the success and wellbeing of both yourself and your company. Building a senior leadership team is your job and should not be delegated. The team must be structured correctly with appropriately designed roles and responsibilities, and the people in those roles must have the competencies and capabilities required. Individuals must align with company culture and, most importantly, be able to work effectively with other members of the team.

Your selection process must be rigorous not just based on personality and “good feelings.” Today, the most successful companies are using objective tools and interviewing techniques to dig beyond the surface persona and uncover more about a candidate, including leadership style, company culture requirements, reactions under pressure, and abilities to develop and mentor. As CEO, this probing approach is up to you. When you hire a team of people who are each excellent in their role, work together well, and have the ability to both be successful in their area of expertise, as well as step up and add value to the overall company success, you have done your job.

3) Manage Your Cargo Wisely - There is a line across the the hull a boat called the Plimsoll Line which “indicates the maximum depth a vessel can be safely immersed when loaded with cargo.” (National Ocean Service). The depth varies with dimensions, cargo, time of year, and the water densities. The success of the voyage depends on paying close attention to the Plimsoll Line and all of the external and internal factors that impact the ship...an excellent analogy for the tricky business of managing your company's finite resources.

You are operating an organization that has complexities, opportunities and limitations, and your surroundings are ever changing. As CEO, you must take all of this into account and allocate resources skillfully. Without your careful attention, your ship could go down or, reversely, miss out on maximizing its potential. You have the final say on critical decisions with respect to capital, people, and other assets in the business. And to stay on track, you need very focused objectives that come from your strategic plan. The key is to hammer the list of potential goals and objectives down to the most critically important, and make sure that the key resources are allocated to help you reach these goals. Given the many choices and tradeoffs that are a reality in all businesses (and all the various functions clamoring for more resources), it is your job to make sure the resources are allocated correctly.

4) Steer the Boat through Shifting Winds – “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” – William Arthur Ward. It is rare that everything goes to plan and it is your job to make adjustments when needed to stay on course. External occurrences, as well as unforeseen internal changes, impact business plans. Course corrections must be made and that is the job of the CEO. As we learn that certain objectives are just not going to pan out, or the obstacles are higher than we planned for, it is far better to face up to these issues as soon as possible, and modify (or even abandon) objectives to adjust to the new realities. The same holds true for external influences – a result of market, competitive, economic, disruptive or other short- or long-term changes. As CEO, only you can “adjust the sails.” It’s imperative that you remain alert and take action quickly!

5) Be the Best Captain You Can, for the Sake of Your Ship... and Yourself  – No one said being CEO would be easy, because it’s not. Sometimes it’s hard to keep the right perspective of what the end game really is. As Yogi Bera once said “If you don't know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.”

There are two things to keep in mind when thinking about the longer-term outcomes: First, you will probably never be able to achieve all the goals you set for your business or personal life, but if you seek to do your personal best along the way, you will have greater success as you move towards achieving those goals.

Second, as a CEO you are responsible for thinking of your long-term personal objectives, including what comes after your current position. With the average lifespan of a CEO being between three to seven years with one company, it’s important you think about what you would like to do next, and start to set the stage. That includes preparing the organization (discretely, of course) by developing good succession plans and setting an excellent long-term course, as well as making sure that you also are personally prepared, both financially and mentally, in terms of what you may want to do next. While you may be overwhelmed with the day-to-day whirlwind of your role of CEO, now is the time to start thinking and planning for your future – as it will be here before you know it!

Serving as CEO is both complex and rewarding. Success is not guaranteed, but it is far more likely if you are clear on what must be done by you, and not by others, to keep the ship asail and to reach as satisfactory completion of your journey as the Captain of this ship.

5 Essential “To Dos” for Every CEO’s Summer Plan

By Melissa Raffoni, Founder and CEO, The Raffoni Group

CEOs, as you kick off that glorious time of year known as summer, here are five things to do to make sure you are set up for success, both for the business and for yourself.

1) Pay attention to and celebrate employee vacation plans - Employees want to know that their leadership team cares about both their career and overall well-being. Many employees take a summer holiday. Make sure to ask them what they are planning and encourage a great trip. Give your support to their absence. Share their excitement. I know it’s tough to lose somebody for a week or two, but, it’s important to rise above and put employee health first. And remember, when they come back, they will be rested and ready to jump back in!

2) Make sure “OOO” protocols are in place - When I first heard OOO- I didn’t know what it meant.  What does that tell you?  Out of office protocols are key. One way to improve your peace of mind when employees are on holiday is to put solid protocols in place for stakeholders (internal and external), making it clear both when they going and how they will delegate work to others. Other visible reminders, like email auto replies and calendar blocking are a must and should be added to the protocol list. Emphasize to your people that advance planning is important for the business, their colleagues and customers. You don’t want to realize you missed an important knowledge transfer for a big release when your top engineer is on safari in Africa.

3) Engage in “full-on” prep for your strategic planning offsite - If you haven’t started it already, now is the time to plan for your C-suite strategic planning offsite. This includes rethinking your overall leadership team strategy and who should attend, clearly articulating your planning objectives, developing pre-work for attendees, designing the agenda, and most importantly, working through your CEO vision and presentation. And of course, I suggest you consider a facilitator versed in strategy for your session.

4) Build a summer networking plan - Summer is a great time to grab a coffee or a drink. Whether it’s with a partner, talent who you have been passively recruiting, a key customer, or a mentor. Make a short summer coffee/cocktail list and find some great spots to meet up.

5) Take a break, and if you can, travel - With the increasing demands on all humans, “disconnecting” is not only more necessary, but more understood and embraced. Make a commitment to disconnect. It can be alone, with friends, family or your significant other. It can be for two days or three weeks. Just commit to something. It will not only be good for you (read my article about why CEOs should travel here), but will set an example for others. If you are up for an extra challenge, go longer and see how your C-suite leadership team does without you. Make it a test to see if you truly are leveraged!  

CEO, Do You Know What Makes You Happy?

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO, The Raffoni Group

Sorry to start things on on a heavy note, but it's what's on my mind. In the last few months, I have become aware of three suicides of middle age professionals in my extended circle — two c-suite colleagues and one college friend. Simultaneously, I've witnessed at least three executives go through what I would call severe burnout.

At this same time, I see books on happiness and positive psychology taking over the shelves (both actual and virtual). Search Amazon on happiness and you'll see the new releases, like 10% Happier, The Happiness Project, The Secret of Happiness, The Gratitude Journal, etc. A common theme: How burnout in themselves or others led the authors to re-evaluate and find some new strategies for balancing their lives.

As an advocate and driver of CEOs and their success, I would be remiss in this day and age to not take the topic of life balance and stress management seriously. Even when I put on my "let's build a high performing, kick-ass company" hat, I can't turn a blind eye to the fact that good talent, and in particular, millennial talent is asking for the same thing -- a balanced, happy life not over consumed by work and stress.

Bruce Pfau, in his HBR.org blog post, What Do Millennials Really Want at Work? The Same Things the Rest of Us Dosites "The ability to manage my work life balance" as number six on the list of millennial long term goals and notes that Gen X and Baby Boomers rank this desire high as well.

I took the opportunity to ask our CEO and C-Suite clients to share what makes them happiest and/or puts them in "a state of flow." 

A state of flow defined: A mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full of involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
— wikipedia

Here are the top six activities (in rank order) that give the CEO and C-Suite Execs in The Raffoni Group CEO Collective program a sense of happiness and flow:

1)      Active Outdoor Activities (favorites include skiing, hiking, biking, boating and running)

2)      Time with Family (with spouse, with kids "when well-behaved, happy or succeeding", home projects, etc)

3)      Socializing (cooking, eating, drinking and laughing with friends)

4)      Vacations and Traveling

5)      Volunteering (mentoring and coaching)

6)      Music (watching it live, performing, or watching kids play)

My guess is that if you are a CEO or C-suite exec, at least one of your top five favorites is on this list. If you can't list anything that doesn't have to do with your career, you need to work on that immediately.

"How do I get the right balance between life and work?" Commit yourself. Commit to finding balance and take the appropriate action. Start by making a list of the top three to five things that put you in a state of flow. Now, open up your calendar and mark off time to make your happy/flow activities happen. And if one activity isn't that happy because you had a cranky child or fell off your bike, then schedule another as make up. Make it a priority. It's got to be ongoing too, not something you did last quarter. You work it into your schedule, commit and give yourself fully.

"I have to push through the next six months, THEN I will add some 'happy' activities in." Wrong answer. Two of the CEOs primary roles are 1) to set compelling, clear direction and 2) to build an aligned, productive leadership team. If you are fried, you are not able to set a clear direction. You will spin your wheels, be less effective and lose talent. 

"This stuff is too soft, next blog please." I get it. Research my past articles. Come to a CEO Collective meeting. I talk about ROI all day long. But, you know that I'm on to something here...and it's still warm out! So, go be a better leader and go play. Everyone in your life will thank you for it. And guess what? You’ll be happier (maybe even more than 10%) for doing it. 

6 Reasons Why Traveling for Pleasure Will Make You a Better CEO

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO, The Raffoni Group


I travel for pleasure a lot more than most Americans. Some say I'm spoiled. I explain to them, "It's my thing." The fact of the matter is, I get a lot out of it and when I don't do it, it shows. 

An important note before we move forward: Traveling for pleasure is not the same as traveling for business, even if you are going somewhere international or new. The type of travel I'm encouraging here takes you completely out of your regular patterns and most definitely out of work mode. I do very little work while abroad, and often times none at all, but some of my very best business clarity comes when I'm traveling. 

Here are six reasons why I believe traveling for pleasure makes us better CEOs:

1) It forces the practice of being present and in the moment. If you travel to a far away land and do active, new things once you arrive you are forced to be present. CEOs are rarely in the present. They aren't living in the moment, because their nature is to think ahead, to have vision, to anticipate problems, and to plan. When you are figuring out how to speak Japanese to find a temple on the streets of Kyoto, there is little time to think about plausible new pricing strategies. You are present.

2) It challenges your thinking paradigms and potentially opens your eyes to new business ideas and insights. CEOs analyze. It's what they do. What's the effect of people working different hours? How do labor laws impact culture? What can we learn from the aggressive carpet dealer in Turkey about good old closing strategies? Why aren't there yogurt shops on every corner in Spain? Who knows, you may find a great new business idea, it happens all the time! Since the process is not forced, what you often get are insights that are hard to uncover when you work with the same people in the same environment, day after day. 

3) It allows you to slow down without guilt.  Look, if you just summited Mount Kilimanjaro or trekked across the Sahara desert or volunteered in Haiti, trust me, you won't think, "Damn, I'm behind on my email." It will help you reset your mind, body and dare I say, soul's, pace. Even if only temporarily: it's worth it.

4) It pulls you out of the race, allows you to mix with the rest of the population and reflect. Most of the word is not focused on driving strategic goals and metrics. They are living day-by-day and simply. While it might not be my DNA to live this way, being around others who do sure as hell makes me rethink my life, relationships and how I spend my time. I'm always grateful for the level-setting I find from from jumping out of "the race" for a bit.

5) It makes you more educated, worldly and relationship savvy. Travel touches on history, sociology, economics, art, religion, math and science. It's applied learning. Doing business in China suddenly becomes more realistic after you've visited and experienced the culture. Also, not surprisingly, as a result of your global education, you'll be better able to communicate and connect with people in most all situations.

6) You'll learn how to travel often and NOT break the bank. If you travel for pleasure often enough, you'll realize you don't have to spend $20,000 to have an amazing trip. My combined airline fare for a recent trip to Tokyo with my daughter was under $1500 for both of us and our AirBnB apartment was about $100 per night. Day-to-day living was about the same as I would spend at home. We don't fly business class or stay in all 5-star hotels. We travel and absorb the culture. It takes a bit of research, but if you're willing to sacrifice a few high-end consumer products or double up on work hours pre-or post-trip, it's totally doable. 

A dear friend of mine who is an exec for a major global consulting firm in Madrid, annually organizes a four-week trip for a group of 10-20 of her friends and their families to some far off adventure during August when Spain shuts down for holiday. 

She explains, "Let's face it, what we remember, laugh about and cherish the most are the traveling holidays and memories that come with them." I couldn't agree with her more.

Coming off of summer, I'm sure some of you traveled. Go anywhere interesting? How did it make you a better CEO? Please leave a comment below or send me an email at mraffon@raffonigroup.com and we'll post it for you!

The CEO's Role in Managing Culture: Do What You Believe in Most

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO, The Raffoni Group

My first job post-business school was as an organizational change management consultant with Oracle. I was a part of the business unit charged with successfully implementing large scale ERP systems. I read everything I could on managing change, driving cultural shifts and effective communication. And what I learned, was at the Fortune 500 level, implementing change was a slow slog at best. 

Now, I have the privilege of working directly with middle-market CEOs of growth companies. We make fast decisions. We barely talk about politics. We help each other make things happen. 

For a while, in my role of CEO strategic facilitator, I actually dismissed the idea of culture management, taking a strong stance that happy leaders make a happy company and that leaders are happiest with clear goals that they achieve and feel good about. End of story. 

While I do still believe in my original point of view, there are two additional perspectives I now hold to be true.

Number one: Changing a bad culture is really hard. This lesson has been learned over and over from our CEOs who adopt company cultures when taking on a new position.

Number two: Finding and keeping good talent is a heightened challenge at the moment. As a result, culture management is back on my radar.

With that in mind, here's a true story...  

Mr. Three-Time CEO is a great guy. He's hard-working and very successful by all definitions, yet to his peers, he admits the culture aspect of business always gets him down. His attempts at establishing values, providing bagels and offering ping pong tables has never produced the change he was looking for. 

This past year, at a CEO Collective peer group meeting, he presented a case to his fellow CEOs on his desire to change his current company's culture. He felt his engineering-based organization was not as passionate, positive or as enthused as he would like. The company was also moving facilities, providing a perfect opportunity to give culture change another go. He presented a lengthy plan to his peer group full of initiatives and they told him, "Hey, of all these, why don't you pick three or four that you are most excited about. Go with the ones you believe in most." And that’s what he did.  

He chose to initiate small group and company-wide community service projects, host cookouts on Friday, and run a photo contest where employees could submit their own photos aligned with the company's mission to decorate the office. He put a culture committee in charge of employee surveys and communicating results and planned changes based on learnings.

The CEO and leadership must believe in what they are implementing.

After making these efforts, Mr. CEO came back to his peer group singing a new tune, "I’m now a believer that change can happen. The culture is better, the people are more engaged, and I am more energized."

My takeaway here was as much as we want initiatives and values to come from the bottom, they really should come from the top. If we believe the real differentiator of culture change is leadership "walking the talk," then it makes perfect sense that they should believe in the "talk." 

Yes, employee involvement drives buy-in, but directionally, the CEO and leadership team must believe in what they are implementing. If not, employees see through it and aren’t motivated. In return, results aren’t much more than feel-good words on a poster, an occasional ping pong game, and a few extra pounds from all of those bagels.

Top 6 Signs of Burnout for CEOs and the C-Suite

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO, The Raffoni Group

Throughout my life, when people have suggested that I may be "burnt out" from a certain activity, I have shrugged it off. I have disregarded the comment because I've always been very driven and unless I was completely passed out and unable to move, I couldn’t possibly imagine that expression could apply to me. "Burnout" conjured up images of somebody who couldn't get out of bed in the morning, was uninspired, rundown, unproductive and maybe even grumpy.

Burnout is not a dirty word.

But the longer I’ve run my own business and the more I’ve worked directly with CEOs, I’ve come to realize, that driven executives who are heading toward burnout don’t actually see it's happening, until it does. The good news is that burnout is treatable and when we tend to it in ourselves and our colleagues, everyone will be happier and more productive.

Based on my experience working with CEOs dealing with burnout, here are six warning signs:  

  1. The “I’m So Busy/Taxed and I Must Push Through” Syndrome. I get that some people are busier than others. Asian travel, acquisition, the loss of a key employee, a start-up situation -- these all create hyper-busy and very taxing schedules. But the "must push through" piece doesn’t scale. It's not backed by wisdom and does not connote a graceful leader. At some point, the physical and mental signs creep in and worse off, a "martyr" type of attitude can instill itself, if not at work, then at home.  For most high-performing execs, this attitude often comes from a place of very good intent. It comes from execs who want to do the right thing, who, without batting an eye, embrace responsibility. They believe you are rewarded in life by "pushing through." These street fighter/survivor types need to step back and find a new way. 
     
  2. The Wake Up Hour is 4 AM.  If you took a poll of high-performing execs, I would guess that at least 25% will note a non-planned 4 AM wake up time or that they have issues sleeping more than seven hours. Not being able to sleep is a sure sign of stress and certainly can indicate burnout is on the horizon. 
     
  3. The "Stressor" Behaviors Are Unveiled. Many personality assessments (such as Hogan) tell you that when you are stressed, you are more likely to demonstrate your "go to" negative behavior. Maybe it's anger, lack of patience, extreme testiness, going "dark," or talking a lot. When you see this behavior in yourself or your colleagues, it's a good indicator of the need to course correct. 
     
  4. The "Repetitive Problem Treadmill" Doesn't Stop. This is when the same issues come up over and over and over, without resolution. Examples can range from, “I’m not getting my job done right...to this employee is not right for this role...to our model is not working.”  If the same problem or question comes up over and over, the individual just may not have the space, stamina or concentration to clearly resolve and act on the issue. 
     
  5. Physical Appearance Changes. The obvious signs are weight gain, bad posture, dry facial skin, puffy eyes and rapidly graying hair. What we can’t see or predict is what can come next, such as shortness of breath, chest pains, dizziness, fainting, headaches or a generally weak immune system that can cause nagging coughs or colds.
     
  6. The Failure of the "What Are you Doing for Exercise?" or "What are You Doing for Fun?"  Most execs I know, even when stressed, find time to exercise because they started the habit early in life. But when exercise falls off the cliff for a normally active individual, it's time to pay attention. Other burnout candidates may still be exercising, but fun, laughter, joy and happiness has been pushed to the side. In these cases, the activities that drive these emotions need to be identified, resurrected and, as cold as it may sound, "put on the calendar." 

Other warning signs may include blaming others, forgetfulness, impaired concentration, and things piling up. Many C-suite execs have systems to keep these behaviors in-check, but these warning symptoms could apply to family members, friends or other levels of staff.

When our CEO Collective peer groups spot a CEO on the path to burnout, we call it out and then move to emphasize sleep, healthy life practices (exercise, food, etc.) and a reflection on what activities provide happiness. Just calling it out can make a difference. For some, extra mental health support may be needed.   

In working with CEOs who may have direct reports suffering from burn out, we also discuss the CEOs responsibility in setting clear job expectations that map to the employee's strengths and values.

Burnout is not a dirty word. It doesn't mean that we are weak or not doing our best. It just happens sometimes as a result of a situation or lack of change in our jobs. For many highly driven, productive execs, it's a bit "par for the course" at some point in their career. What’s most important is recognizing it, not letting it go too far and putting in a course correction plan that, in almost all cases, will put the individual on a better track to being personally healthier and more productive.

Additional resources:  

Refueling Your Engine: Strategies to Reduce Stress and Avoid Burnout

The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout ... Do You Have Them?

Job Burnout: How to Spot It and Take Action

How to Make Sure Q1 Doesn't Get You Down: Focus First on Yourself, then on Your Company Culture

I just had three CEO one-on-one calls in a row and every person was a bit in the dumps, including me. I felt like I was talking people off cliffs, coaching them to get their energy up and mount to the top, all while I was hanging on by two fingers in a crevice on the side of the rock face. I chuckled a bit at this and decided to explore what was going on. Here is what I came up with...

Q1 Can Be a Bit of a Downer Because:

  1. It’s Dark. At least in Boston, it's dark when I wake my kids up and it's dark when they come home. Let's not fool ourselves, cold weather and darkness is a bit of a bummer.
  2. The Projections Are Lofty. Q1 numbers are set and, of course, we set them high—now reality sets in. The holidays are over and we have a lot to do.
  3. Some of Our Best People Are Gone.  Lots of employees wait until year-end to decide to move on. Losing just a few good ones can take the wind out of our sails.
  4. The Grind Factor. Sometimes, just sometimes, the job can be a grind. Let's face it, we are up early, we are up late, and we have been doing this for five to 10 years, maybe longer. There's no getting around it. Sometimes it's just a grind.

There's a good chance you aren't the only one feeling this way. Your team may be too. And they are looking to you, as their CEO and fearless leader. They look to you for tone, inspiration, energy, and clarity. And as humble as you and I are, we sometimes forget that. Have I gotten your attention?

Here are Three Things to Focus on to Have a Good Q1:

1. Find Your Energy. As you should always do, take the beginning of the year to reassess the way you use your time. Break it into categories: Strategy, Leadership Team, Day-to-Day Ops, Culture, and Sales—then ask yourself, "Is this where I should be spending my time?" Historically, I have always said to assess this with the company's strategic goals in mind, challenging CEOs to look at the best leverage for their most precious commodity, time. But, if you are feeling a bit ragged, ask yourself where you get energy from and where you don't. You are best in places where you have "flow" or energy, so, re-allocate accordingly. Don't burn out. There is zero leverage in that. Here's a Harvard Business Review article I wrote with more info to help you assess how you are spending your time. No time to read? Listen to this brief podcast.

2. Assess Your Personal Leadership. What is your personal approach to leadership? How strong are your leadership skills? Some ideas for continued assessment and growth include reading a book or article on leadership (here are a few of mine to check out) as well as committing to take some time to listen to your staff, your customers, and even your family. Q4 and Jan Q1 require the CEO to do a lot of talking. Normally, we reset the vision, articulate the goals, get people on board—now, it's March, and maybe you should just stop talking for a bit and listen and/or ask questions.

3. Review Your Culture Plan. Hiring and human capital management are becoming increasingly more important as differentiators. Ten years ago I would have said something different. And, as a reminder, I grew up as an Organizational Development consultant. Now, culture is more important than ever. Have you done an employee satisfaction survey recently? Do you have the right HR initiatives? Are you branding internally, as well as externally? Do you like the vibe in your organization? If you have answered "no" to more than one of these questions, I’m going to remind you that as CEO, a big piece of your job is building a sustainable, high-performing culture where people feel good about coming to work and are likely to spread the word as such—whether it be glass door or to refer friends. Your employees provide some of your best PR. Make the investment into that asset.

“They are all good days, just with some bad moments. Luckily, the moments go away and we are left with all good days”
— Ken Dryer, Former Vistage Chair, Former CEO of Eliassen, a CEO Collective Member company and mentor of Melissa Raffoni.

For Mature CEOs Only: Ask Yourself These 12 Probing Questions as You Close Out 2015

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO of The Raffoni Group

As we approach goal setting and planning for the new year, The Raffoni Group team asks CEO members hard, somewhat personal questions we think few people ask. Asking the tough questions and answering them honestly takes maturity. You ready?

Ask These 12 Questions:

  1. How do you want next year to look different for you and for your company?
  2. Are you happy with how you are spending your time, both at work and personally?
  3. How is your health?
  4. How is your family coping with the demands put on you as CEO? If negative, what are you doing to address their concerns?
  5. What was the biggest mistake you made this year?
  6. What is your biggest weakness as CEO?
  7. How much personal compensation did you take home in 2015 and are you happy with that?
  8. Do you like having investors? Would you do it differently next time?
  9. Is there someone you need to fire?
  10. Is there someone you need to hire to compensate for your weaknesses?
  11. Do you like being a CEO?
  12. What do you want to do next?

Just today, a CEO of a 300+ million dollar company told me that the CEO Collective has been invaluable, as there is no other forum where he can share and get input on these topics. These comments remind me of how lucky I am to have this job and how much I enjoy what I do. We are privileged to have these conversations with our members.

In my conversations with hundreds of CEOs like you during the past 20 years, questions like the ones above have uncovered some anxiety points that they are generally hesitant to admit. My goal is not to “expose” anyone, but to shed light on the fact that you have a hard job with many demands, externally and internally. You are naturally driven and as a result, take on superhero level responsibilities. You are a leader who holds your head up high, puts your worries in your pocket and charges full speed ahead with what appears to be grace and ease. But, the truth is, you are often carrying a heavy load.   

If you feel you are doing everything in your business, then you’ve got the wrong team. If you make excuses for not exercising or eating well, your priorities are wrong. If your family is begging for your attention, give it to them. Use the questions above to hold up the mirror and change some things for 2016. Life is short and one thing CEOs are good at is driving change. Make sure you are driving change in your own life to make it all you want to be.

@melissaraffoni on Twitter
mraffoni@raffonigroup.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 7 CEO Personal Development Goals for the New Year

Have you set your goals yet? Here’s what your peers are thinking about.

By Melissa Raffoni, CEO, The Raffoni Group

We always work with CEOs within our Collective to develop strategic plans for their organizations prior to their leadership team offsites. We strongly encourage these CEOs to vet their thoughts about business direction and strategic goals with their peers prior to going live with the executive team.

During our CEO Collective meetings, we encourage our CEO members to challenge each other, to expose the truth, and to band together in helping to improve the collective performance of everyone around the table. As a result, a part of this exercise also includes having the CEO articulate their personal development goals.  

Here are the seven recurring themes we hear from our CEO members who generally have five or more years of experience in the role and are running growing, profitable companies.

  1. My goal is to shift my work so that I am less mired in day-to-day operations and spending more time working on strategy.
  2. My goal is to help my leadership team to be less silo-oriented and caught up in the day-to-day.
  3. My goal is to be disciplined about setting up a good governance structure that includes highly effective strategy meetings at a regular cadence, separate from the operational meetings.
  4. My goal is to to be more strategically involved in sales. If I am pulled into a sales call, it should be for strategic reasons.
  5. My goal is to be more involved in sales, period. I have drifted from the sales process. I need to apply urgency and figure out what we are doing right and where we can improve. I need to get closer to the customer.
  6. My goal is to make better decisions about people, more quickly. My regrets always revolve around putting the wrong people in the wrong boxes.
  7. My goal is to take a vacation. I’m not sure when, but, I know I need it. My team needs me to take a vacation.

As you think of your own personal CEO development goals for 2016, I encourage you to ask the following questions of yourself:

  1. What’s the breakdown of how I spend my time? What percentage do I spend on strategy, operations, leadership team development, sales, culture and PR?  
  2. Do I want to shift how I allocate my time?  
  3. What do I want to do more of, and, why?
  4. What do I want to do less of, and, why?
  5. What energizes me to be the best leader I can be?
  6. What do I do well and not so well?
  7. What is my highest and best use?
  8. Am I acting as a bottleneck to my company’s growth in any way?
  9. Can the company scale properly as is or do I need to adjust the way I work to facilitate growth?

As CEO, you are the highest leverage point in the organization. The way you spend your time and the talent you surround yourself with will make or break your company. I encourage you to look in the mirror and commit one or two personal CEO development goals for the coming year. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised by both the personal joy you receive from your CEO job, as well as the results of the company. Just do it.

Email Melissa at mraffoni at raffonigroup.com

 

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Are You An Engaged CEO Champion? Ask Yourself These 3 Questions

Melissa Raffoni, The Raffoni Group

Recently, a CEO in one of my groups came to me with this dilemma. He said, “Since I’ve gotten the scorecard installed and the right people and processes in place, things are starting to really hum. We’ve got our management system functioning, people know what they’re supposed to be doing and we’re meeting our targets. Honestly, I feel like things are finally moving in the right direction. Now I have a different problem. With things working so well, I don’t feel like I’m needed. To be honest, I’m not sure what I should be focusing on as the CEO. How should I being using my time?”

I was struck by the sincerity of his question and wondered if other CEOs sometimes felt the same way. With that in mind, he used this challenge as the basis for a case study that led to a great discussion with the rest of the group on how CEOs should spend their time. It was clear that there are many things a CEO should be doing on a day-to-day basis and many varying views on exactly what those things should be.

At Raffoni Group, we see one overarching role that must be filled by CEOs at all times and at all costs: The role of the Engaged CEO Champion. 

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a champion as “someone who fights or speaks publicly in support of a person, belief or cause.” The cause in question here—which is specifically the CEO’s job to champion—is strategy and the execution of it. In order to help maintain the focus on strategy, we’ve identified three simple questions CEOs can ask themselves that will lead to better engagement as strategy champions.

1.)  Are you adequately prepared for your strategic off-site meetings?

For many organizations, the watershed event in the life of a strategy is the annual strategic offsite. It is at this meeting where the most important issues regarding the company’s future are discussed and decisions are made about goals for the future. Resource commitments are typically part of this activity, as well the output of a strategic plan — the document that will guide executive action. But too often the offsite is conducted with only a cursory look at past performance void of meaningful analysis and preparation for discussion. As Bob Frisch and Logan Chandler note in their article Off-Sites That Work, “The greater expectations, the higher stakes, and the unique nature of strategy discussions require special planning to ensure that meaningful and constructive conversations happen.”

Here is where engaged CEO champions set the bar considerably higher. In advance of the offsite, the CEO should mandate a comprehensive analysis of financial performance. Also, each leader participating in the session should complete a SWOT analysis to help identify major issues to be discussed. As a rule, no more that three to five major issues should be identified for the sessions.

This background information—coupled with an honest evaluation of the top team’s performance in the areas of alignment and effectiveness—should be complied in the form of pre-work and circulated in advance of the session. Preparing in this way ensures that the team arrives at the meeting engaged, informed and ready to tackle the most pressing issues of the organization. 

2.) Do you hold your leadership team to an agreed upon strategic planning process that ensures accountability and follow through?

An effective offsite and a well-crafted strategic plan provide an excellent foundation for focus and execution.  Sadly, many CEOs let their teams stop strategy work with production of the plan itself. Once that task is complete, the plan is neither reviewed nor revisited until the next strategy offsite. Here is where CEO champions can earn their pay by implementing a strategy execution process that maintains focus on the strategy long after the plan has been set on a shelf.  

What is strategy execution? It’s typically a set of activities that when taken as a whole enable a company to achieve its most critical objectives. Accountability and follow-through come from scheduling regular meetings to review the performance measures that gauge whether or not adequate progress is being made. Further, it’s the frequent review of the action plans and milestones that are directly linked to achieving critical goals. Strategy execution also incorporates the decisions that have to be made when the strategy begins drifting off course. Regardless of how well defined, strategy execution will not happen unless the CEO holds his team accountable to the strategic process AND the results that the strategy is designed to produce. The CEO is the one person responsible for making execution happen.

3.) Do you generally stay the course or are you prone to chasing shiny objects?

In an ideal world, a sound strategic plan and an effective execution process delivers results. The problem is executive teams don’t live in ideal worlds. The world around most leaders is rife with change, with some of it bringing genuine business opportunities. More often than not these so-called opportunities are little more than distractions, or as we at the Raffoni Group like to call them, “shiny objects.” There’s even a name for this behavior: Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS). 

As author and motivational speaker, Jack Canfield wrote in a blog post on the topic, “It’s easy to get distracted from the goals and commitments you’ve already made. Rather than seeing things through to completion, you abandon the goals and projects you’ve started to chase whatever new thing has just caught your eye.” If strategy execution is predicated by accomplishing goals and projects, a case of SOS is cause for an immediate distress signal for getting the strategy back on track.

Again, it’s the engaged CEO that must toss out the lifeline and reel in the team in order to refocus them toward the original course. A clear strategy and a well-oiled execution process can help in this regard, but effective CEOs have to have an innate compass that drives the efforts of the entire organization toward relentless achievement of the company’s most critical goals.

Most CEOs will tell you and the old adage is true:  it's lonely at the top. It’s lonelier still when the CEO questions what his best and highest value is to the company on a daily basis. Engaged CEOs don’t struggle with this question—they know the questions to ask as well as the answers they need to guide their teams toward their ultimate destination.

 

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