In this article and the following series of the articles, I will give a description and reasoning for the skills, values, competencies a CEO should bring to a company and why those are important and valuable for the company. In different companies CEO has different roles and there is no strict description of what CEO does and what CEO should be doing and there is even no “school for CEOs” (yet there is a debate whether there should be one – link).
Still there are certain traits someone who titles themselves as CEO should have. Using one of the basic principles of Sun Tzu’s leadership that I find very applicable to today’s corporate governance I will explain the importance of the clear communication with the company (Sun Tzu at the end of the article).Importance of a “message”
I use term “message” here for any important communication from company’s leadership to the entire corporation. Whether that is a company’s vision, mission, strategy, long or short term goals, or even some “ad hoc” information or anything we believe everyone (or almost everyone) in the company should be aware of and understand in order to be motivated and believe in the company’s future and general wellbeing. This awareness and understanding will consequently produce better results for both company and individuals within. If this message is stuck in the board room and no one except CEO and his/her assistant understand it… well, then we have a problem. No matter how smart, visionary, well sounding or award winning that message is, it is not meant to be heard by CEO only.In order to have a good message heard throughout the entire company, we need to overcome two basic obstacles: the quality of the message itself and the channels of communication.
The quality of the message
In a nutshell, to get to the right message that needs to be communicated, CEO needs to spend a lot of time with its direct subordinates as well as with other employees. This effort should be focused on understanding of the culture of the company and understanding what kind of messages will resonate among the employees and achieve the desired outcome. The only way to know that your message is clear and effective is to validate it continuously with your team, get the constant feedback from them, work with them and adjust accordingly.
Deep layers of communication
Unless we are talking about CEO of a really small company or a startup, CEO is a manager who manages other managers (at least in one level) and most likely those managers manage more managers and several times like that into the depth of the company’s organizational structure.
The deeper into the company structure you go, the more and more clutter you face. Anything you have designed and envisioned at the top is getting bleaker and bleaker as you go wider.
By the time that “message” reaches middle management, who is usually very deep into daily operational issues and always pressed with time and in most cases does not have any time or even patience to think about the meaning of the company’s vision or the CEO’s message, unless that message is really clear it will simply be put aside before it even reaches it targets. It will not even have time to be forgotten, it will just be ignored.
Although in the modern day and age with all of the technological advances (intranet, email newsletters, omnipresent connectivity etc.) it is very easy for every employee to read company’s vision, mission, strategy, CEO message, at any time of the day and from any place in the world, these messages will not reach the audience unless directly communicated to them.
How many times you went to your company’s website or intranet to read vision, mission, CEO message etc.?
These messages have to be communicated to the employees on a continuous basis and always in the right context. This can be done only by a direct human to human communication (no such sophisticated robots exist yet). So in this deep and complex corporate structure you have to have right “messengers” (usually direct supervisors) who are there for their team to convey this message. If you have “faulty” messengers among them (people who do not know, do not want, or are deliberately conveying the wrong message), you are in trouble and you need to act upon it.
So what can you do in order to assure that you are bringing a value to the leadership of the company. Here, I will simply revert to before mentioned Sun Tzu’s principle (and I admit I wrote this post inspired by it). The principle says that if the message that a leader has conveyed is clear and understood by the subordinates and yet the tasks are not done properly, it is the fault of the subordinate managers (managers between CEO and employees) and hence they need to be replaced. This is the case of “faulty messengers” as described in the previous paragraph. On the other hand, if the message was not clear and consequently the results have not been achieved, it is the fault of a leader.
This principle clearly states that one of the main things CEO needs to bring to a company is the clarity. He/she needs to be able to explain to everyone in the company what company’s vision, mission, values, purpose, strategy, goals etc… are. He/she needs to be able to talk in a language that is purposeful and understood by all.