Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

What do C level officers do? 19: Chief Executive Officers and Presidents 5

Posted in career development, HR and personnel, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on March 1, 2015

This is my 19th 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 1-18.)

This is also my fifth installment to explore the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and what these officers do, and particularly when facing organizational challenge. And in this context, I offered a normative baseline scenario and a list of four alternative scenarios that deviate significantly from it, and certainly in how a CEO needs to perform if they are to effectively lead through them. To put this posting into that larger context, my list of four alternative scenarios that I chose to discuss comprised a succession of real-world complications in which a business is challenged from having:

1. Separate positions of President and CEO that are held by different people (see Part 16 for a discussion of this),
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 (see Part 17),
3. An alternative type of board of directors to that of my simplest case scenario as briefly outlined in Part 15 (e.g. where a business is saddled with a less functional, 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 began exploring the third scenario, above, in Part 18 where I began explicitly discussing ruggedly independent boards, as a taxonomic type, and the challenge of working with them as a CEO, and certainly in times of business stress and uncertainty. Then I ended that installment by noting that boards of directors are comprised of individuals, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, their own knowledge and experience, their own personalities and their own personal agendas and levels of willingness to work with and accommodate others. And I noted that resolving this dilemma to reach a workable sense of mutual accommodation between CEO and board is in practice, all about reaching out to and finding ways to work with individual board members. My goal for this installment is to discuss approaches to accomplishing that.

And I begin with what should be an obvious point, though it is one I have seen CEOs, and certainly less experienced ones overlook in the rush of their day-to-day work schedules: As a CEO it is always part of your job to work with board members as individuals, as well as working with the board as a group and regardless of the taxonomic type of board faced. At the very least this means getting to know who these people are and helping them to meet and understand you too, so you can more effectively collaboratively communicate and work with them and so you will know who you need to reach out to, among them, when the business faces a challenge that would call for board participation, or at least direct and immediate board understanding and cooperation.

Let’s assume that you actively seek to reach out to the board you work with and report to, and both to gain insight and advice from them and to keep them actively aware of the fact that you do not seek to in any way exclude them where they need to be involved. And let’s assume that you face what can only be considered a ruggedly independent board, for at least some of its more active and vocal members.

• What can you do to bring at least a select group of board members to be more constructively supportive, so that they would be willing to more constructively work with you?
• And how can you more effectively limit the impact of board members who would simply obstruct and challenge?

Finding a workable approach to answering these questions is not about achieving perfect results for either of them, or their challenges. It is about finding compromise results that can free up your hands enough for you to be able to do your job and with an effective enough level of authority for you to be able to do it, and with your areas of responsibility and the board’s level of responsibility mutually understood and agreed to.

Know your board and its members, and what motivates and concerns them. Who can you influence and reason with? Who can you negotiate with and on what issues and on what terms? This is all about establishing a level of mutual trust that both sides can and will be listened to, so that both sides can follow through on what they say they will do.

Who is so bound up in their own agendas that this cannot be made to work with them, and what can you do to limit their impact in your attempts to work with others and with the board as a whole? Ultimately, what I am writing of here is a scenario where a CEO has to in effect reframe the board, with its member’s support, into becoming more of a strategically aligned board, to use the terminology of my boards of directors taxonomy posting. And that can quickly become the most demanding, and I add the at least situationally most exasperating negotiations challenge that a new CEO can face.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment with Point 4 from the above list of alternative, more challenging leadership scenarios. 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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