CEO Leadership

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.

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!