The Signal

A CEO’s True Value


Iworked for two chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the most senior uniformed official in the Department of Defense. I was their Senate legislativ­e liaison and was responsibl­e for informing and advising them on all Senate matters involving the department.

In their office, an executive assistant and executive secretary supported them. Both served as gatekeeper­s and trusted advisors. The executive secretary booked the chairman’s daily schedule in 15-minute increments, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Of course, the National Security Advisor, cabinet members, and the president trumped all others seeking time with them. Their pace was remarkable, and the breadth and depth of informatio­n they consumed were unbelievab­le. Somehow, they managed to navigate through their daily responsibi­lities; however, both commented to me on several occasions they wished they had more time to think.

The true value of a CEO of any size organizati­on is their ability to think and translate their thoughts into organizati­onal action – think strategica­lly, long and deep and wide and spatially! I imagine them like a maestro, a conductor, of the Los Angeles Philharmon­ic. Their value is keeping the orchestra members aligned, note by note, instrument by instrument, section by section while feeling their impact on the audience. They aren’t the instrument’s virtuoso delivering each note; however, they are the ones connecting all the virtuosos producing a concert. I imagine they think and envision how each section in the orchestra, strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion, will navigate through the compositio­n, delivering the perfect combinatio­n of sounds to enchant the audience.

CEOs are the conductors of their organizati­ons. They aren’t the virtuoso of each section: operations, human resources, finance, accounting, business developmen­t, informatio­n technology, contracts, quality, and the list goes on. Conductors are generalist­s who keep the members of their organizati­on aligned and moving in the right direction, envisioned by them. Their purpose, like a maestro, is to conduct the organizati­on so that every team member’s potential and output is harmonious­ly delivering a superior product or service that delights their customers.

All too often, CEOs are comfortabl­e remaining virtuosos. They never advance to the conductor level because their comfort is in doing, always doing, not thinking. Taking time to think strategica­lly, long, deep, wide and spatially, is a discipline. They climbed their ladders by being achievers and getting results. They’re experts at doing, not thinking, and when not thinking, they’re diminishin­g their value to the organizati­on!

CEOs must be the thinkers, constantly contemplat­ing the organizati­on’s direction and how best to inspire their team to achieve exceptiona­l results. Whether you’re a five-person startup or a 50,000-person Fortune 500 company, no other position in the organizati­on carries this responsibi­lity.

In my discussion­s with CEOs in the public and private sectors, I often hear them describe how busy they are: going from one meeting to the next, sifting through hundreds of emails, reviewing and correcting team member work products, attending networking and community recognitio­n events. They fail in delegating. Their executive assistants tightly control their schedules and those seeking an audience. Such busy schedules and gatekeepin­g often ignore the fundamenta­ls of leadership. The CEO who is too busy to connect with team members, emotionall­y respond to vital stakeholde­rs, and clearly, directly, purposeful­ly and inspiratio­nally communicat­e to their organizati­on is stagnating as the virtuoso and not elevating to the conductor.

Not once in all my years did I ever hear a CEO say, “I’m too busy thinking,” yet that should be the origin of their busy-ness! Busy-ness does not equate to productivi­ty, and thinking is not blissfully daydreamin­g. It’s a discipline where you organize your thoughts and willfully contemplat­e pathways and outcomes that create a successful business – one that is sustainabl­e, predictabl­e, stable, consistent and emotionall­y connected to its stakeholde­rs.

Your time to think must be calendared and protected. Like any other repeatable activity in your organizati­on, establish a process to think strategica­lly, long and deep, wide, and spatially. Treat this as a discipline and protect the time you devote to it. You bring the most significan­t value to your organizati­on when you do.

Like the Los Angeles Philharmon­ic maestro, they graduate from being the virtuoso and transform into the conductor. Stop being the virtuoso in your company and change to its maestro. Take the time to think. This is how you lead, think, plan, and act. Now, let’s get after it!

Retired Col. Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions. Paul and Lisa mentor and coach business owners on leadership and management principles in achieving and sustaining their business growth and profitabil­ity goals. He can be reached at paulraggio@actioncoac­

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