Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

What do C level officers do? 15: Chief Executive Officers and Presidents 1

Posted in career development, HR and personnel, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on January 20, 2015

This is my 15th posting to a series on what C level officers of a business or organization do, that specifically emerge as job requirements for the senior leadership of an organization (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 376 and following for Parts 1-14.)

I have been discussing in this series, a succession of different CXO positions, for senior executive officers who would lead major lines on the table of organization for a business. In this context “major” refers to level of direct impact upon and importance to the overall strategic and operational planning for the organization as a whole – and not just on the headcount or degree of organizational complexity of that functional arm of that business. And I have also been discussing at least some of the issues that enter into developing and maintaining an effective balanced senior executive team as a whole, that meets the needs of a business without gaps or duplications as to who is responsible for what. My goal for this posting is to at least begin to address the issues of overall executive leadership of the organization as a whole, and of who functionally owns the business’ overall strategy and planning – and through that ultimate responsibility of ongoing operations too.

As such, this posting is about Chief Executive Officers and Presidents as indicated in its title. But it can at least contextually be considered to be just as much about business owners too, and major holders of overall business equity.

On one level, this discussion can be very simple and brief so I begin it with what might be considered a simplest case, baseline business model scenario:

• Business A is privately held as a for-profit or as a nonprofit and has one most-senior executive officer who reports to a board of directors but who manages and effectively holds ownership responsibility over the business as a whole, and its operations and strategy.
• A’s board of directors selects the executive to be hired into this position, and they hold specific oversight responsibilities that include but are not limited to providing advice and counsel to their CEO and at least through them to the rest of the executive team and to the business as a whole. And in this baseline simple case scenario, and citing a board of directors taxonomy that I initially outlined in Boards of Directors and Corporate Culture and Strategy, an early 2010 posting, I assume an effective strategically aligned board to use the board-type terminology employed there: a functionally effective board that actively seeks to work constructively with their CEO for the good of the business organization as a whole, and without overriding personal agendas in this.

If every business followed that pattern, this posting would be over here at 469 words. Most real world businesses and organizations however, add in at least some complications to that model that are not found in Business A. And the balance of the discussion that I start with this posting, builds out from that simple-scenario model to accommodate at least some of the real world complexities in this, that recurringly arise.

With the above-stated, perhaps simplest case in mind as a baseline for discussing complications in overall leadership and how it is established, I cite four possible alternative scenarios that I will begin delving into here, where a business has:

1. Separate positions of President and CEO that are held by different people,
2. An owner who takes a very hands-on approach to their business, and a most senior executive manager who works for them but who at least nominally holds senior executive authority over that business, and by whatever name that executive level officer would be identified by,
3. An alternative type of board of directors to that of my simplest case scenario as briefly outlined above (e.g. a ruggedly independent board, to use the terminology of my boards of directors taxonomy), and with all of the potential for conflicts of leadership authority that this can create, and/or
4. A situation that can be common enough in some industries and business sectors for it to be standard there, where operational and strategic policies are limited by outside regulatory authority, as for example by force of legal statutes.

I have seen a variety of other complicating variations on how executive leadership at this most-senior level can be determined and in how it can be supported or limited. As a case in point, that I will not be explicitly discussing here in this series but that I see worth at least noting, I have seen situations where a privately held for-profit business has an owner who prefers to take a more hands-off role and certainly for day-to-day decisions, but who has friends who work in the business who have been there from early on in it, and on whom he confers special authority that cuts across the table of organization and the “official” lines of authority and decision making. I will simply note here that situations of this type can land the overall decision making process in what amounts to the middle of a mine field, and certainly for C level officers there, the President or Chief Executive Officer included, who do not have this type of long-standing relationship with the owner too.

My point there, is that my list of four scenarios that I will discuss in this series is in no way exhaustive. My goal in selecting and developing these four as working examples of how leadership and lines of authority can be complicated, is simply offered to illustrate more general principles by way of a set of more commonly encountered complicating situations. And with that in place, I will start with Scenario 1 from the above list, and with the complications that can arise when there are two people at the top of the table of organization who both at least nominally expect to have a final and ultimate deciding voice on issues that are crucial to the business as a whole.

I am going to explore some of the details and implications of Scenario 1 in my next series installment, and will then proceed from there to discuss Scenarios 2 through 4 as well – and all from the orientation of working as an executive under these varying circumstances. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide. I also include this posting in Page 2 of my Human Resources and Personnel directory and also see its Page 1 for related material.

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