Follow the Leader… what every CEO, MD and business owner must do to enable success

Like any member of a team the most senior person in a business has an important and specific role to play to enable success.   For ease of reference I will refer to the person in this role as the CEO.  Creating a clear and compelling vision for the future,  developing and executing effective strategies, ensuring governance and building both the capability and spirit of the team are at the heart of what every CEO must do.  Optimizing business performance demands the CEO lead the way and hold other leaders accountable for leveraging the full potential of people and organizational capabilities such as products, services, systems and processes.  No matter whether the CEO is leading a large organisation or a small business, these priorities remain the same.


Arguably the most important role of the CEO is to take ownership of results and provide strong leadership.  To be effective in their role, it is a non-negotiable requirement that the CEO demonstrates personal commitment and consciously models the way.  They must strive to be a clear and visible example of what they need and expect from others.  In other words they must lead by example and be a visible champion through both their mindset and behaviour.  It is the CEO’s role to inspire and influence the engagement of all key stakeholders including the Board, executive team, managers and staff.

Vision and Strategy

To build a thriving and sustainable business a dynamic and ongoing approach to planning for the future is critical.  It is the CEOs role to lead their team to create their vision and regularly challenge it to maintain its relevance. The ability to imagine possibilities and identify both the best direction and strategies to adopt is a core competency of great leaders at the top of any business.  The CEO must be capable of guiding their team to identify the steps that need to be taken as well as the capabilities required to succeed.  Just as important is their ability to leverage the knowledge of their whole team to identify obstacles and challenges they may encounter along the way.

Turning vision into reality requires every member of the team to do their part.  It is incumbent upon the CEO to ensure clear understanding and personal ownership from everyone.  In other words the CEO must lead the way to ensure people not only understand where the organisation is heading but also the role they are expected to play to make it happen.   All too often, clarity and ownership is limited to those in senior management positions.  The CEO must lead the effort to inspire a strong desire of each team member to be a part of not only the destination, but also the journey to get there.

Making things happen – focus and discipline

All the best plans in the world add little value if not executed with focus and discipline.  The CEO must both lead by example as well as hold others accountable to delivering agreed objectives.  Of course reasonableness and flexibility always matter, but equally the CEO must work to ensure the team strives to successfully do what they set out to.

The CEO is responsible for ensuring the executive team understand and are committed to achieving business objectives.   As a leadership team it is critical that they adopt a determined, focused & courageous approach.  Every leader, starting with the CEO must consistently mandate and endorse agreed strategies, initiatives and policies aimed at achieving the organisations vision.  At the end of the day, success is determined by the extent to which the CEO holds themself and others accountable.

Building capabilities

CEO’s need to know how to build great teams – that is developing or acquiring the critical capabilities that underpin the potential for the team to succeed.  Leveraging the talent of other leaders, as well as specialist advisors, the CEO must ensure effective approaches are taken to training, team development and recruitment practices.

While the capabilities of every team member matters, the CEO is best placed to start with their direct reports.  Critically they must ensure leaders they appoint internally, as well as those they hire in, have what it takes to effectively execute strategy and get the best from people.  The CEO must always lead by example in prioritizing more than just technical competencies when appointing leaders or any other member of the team.  Beyond the skills, knowledge or experience needed, equal priority must be placed on values and behaviours of candidates being aligned with the organisations culture.

To take advantage of the talent built, to ensure the best possible decisions are made, the CEO must tap into the views and ideas of their team.  It is important therefore that they proactively foster communication and collaboration across the team.  They must not only ask for feedback but also demonstrate a sincere commitment to listening and learning from their team if they want people to keep offering their views.

Building and harnessing team spirit

The CEO is the custodian of team spirit; that is the strength of positive energy reserve that people harness to get their job done.   Much like the fuel that enables a plane to fly, teams need energy to strive and succeed.    For a plane to get off the ground, reach its intended destination, neither landing short nor crashing along the way, the right amount of fuel is needed.  The same is true of teams; it is the CEOs role to make sure the fuel tank of their team is full and effectively utilized.  It is the CEOs role to make team spirit a priority both by leading by example and expecting the same commitment from every leader.

For any organisation to have a strong team spirit the CEO must earn trust and respect; the things that matter most are their ability to act with integrity, have compassion, drive accountability and operate with transparency. The CEO must play a lead role in defining and executing strategies to grow, protect and harness the spirit of the whole team.  While often supported by specialist experts, it is very much the CEO’s job to coach and lead executives to tap into this positive energy reserve.  The CEO must expect every leader to focus on team engagement reflected in the emotional ownership each person has of the results they are there to achieve.

A critically important influencer of team spirit is undoubtedly the cultural environment created.  However, I often meet HR leaders and executives who are striving to improve culture but are frustrated by a lack of ownership and support from the CEO.  Through authentic demonstration of commitment to a healthy workplace culture the CEO has the ability to profoundly impact the spirit of their team.  The CEO must take the reins and with their leaders determine, communicate and apply behavioral expectations that drive the culture that is ultimately created.  While being careful to appropriately delegate authority and accountability, it is crucial that the CEO guide and influence culturally consistent decision making.

While there are many more things CEOs do, these are the most important priorities that will underpin their success in the role.  Unless the CEO leads the team with strength and clarity, unless they build and leverage potential, it is unlikely the business will reach the heights of performance possible.  Discipline, focus, accountability are important ingredients of leveraging human potential – that is the knowledge, skills, experience and energy people bring to the organisation.

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