This is hardly the stuff of a meaningful job description for the role of the Chief Executive Officer of start-up, let alone an established corporation, be it a hospital, a charity, or a for-profit company.
Let's move beyond the touchy-feely and look at what the CEO's job is all about through the perspective of the strategy system to be managed in any organization.
Managing eight strategies
Think of strategy as being choices of action and not just as being something about competitive advantage or value creation.
This was how Henri Fayol saw strategy on the first page of his General and Industrial Management, arguably the first book written on the newly emerging discipline of strategy management.
Peter Drucker identified 2 more in The Practice of Management, in 1954. They were growth and business definition (which Drucker called "mission").
These 8 strategies are common to all for-profit, nonprofit, and public sector organizations.
They are the basis of the strategic plan, the starting point for all strategy implementation planning, and the foundation of all organization design.
The CEO's job is to understand deeply how each of these eight strategies are being implemented and to ensure that each is properly staffed and managed.
Managing the strategy system
The CEO isn't just managing 8 separate strategies. These 8 form the basis of the strategy system found within any organization, be it for-profit or nonprofit.
One of the eight strategies is the dominant strategy for the organization. It represents what has been called the core competency of the firm. This strategy creates the dominant culture of the organization.
This is what makes, for example, banks, having financial management as dominant strategy, different from retailers, typically having marketing / sales as dominant strategy. Or car companies, having manufacturing as dominant strategy, different from insurance companies, which have risk as dominant strategy.
CEO selection should be aligned with the dominant strategy of the firm to ensure that the CEO has the requisite skills to manage that dominant strategy. This is why car company CEO's don't run banks and so on.
As for the notion that the CEO has to come up with a "vision", we would point out that dominant strategy is the source of any vision for the organization as a whole. This is because we define vision as being a description of the hoped-for outcome of long term successful pursuit of dominant strategy.
Our definition of a vision makes it clear that no one can manage a company by just having a vision. Managing a company requires understanding and managing the eight strategies of the company's strategy system.
Managing strategy to address emerging external reality
It is the CEO's responsibility to ensure that choices of action and strategies are consistent with the ever-changing external reality the firm faces, including changing major stakeholder expectations.
This is the essence of strategy management: using a comprehensive understanding of factors that cannot be controlled (e.g., industry dynamics, markets, customers, trends, competitors and best practices) to set strategies that recognize the opportunities and challenges raised by those factors.
But strategy setting by itself is meaningless without implementation. The CEO's job also includes the responsibility for setting and imposing clear expectations for strategy implementation.
For instance, it's not good enough to say "We've decided to grow by entering new markets. So just get it done and don't bother me with the details!"
Managers responsible for strategy implementation need clear direction.
Expectations form the direction and constraints on what constitutes acceptable implementation of strategy. The CEO's fingerprints should be be all over these expectations.
The CEO's job: The Takeaways:
Let's move away from the vague and meaningless notion that the CEO is responsible for everything.
Everyone knows that. It's time to get down to what a CEO really gets paid to do; which is to manage strategy.
Managing strategy means understanding the strategy framework common to all organizations, and in particular, the dominant strategy of the firm.
Managing strategy means staffing and allocating resources to the strategy framework appropriately.
Managing strategy means understanding the external factors impacting the firm and whether present strategies remain appropriate to do so.
Managing strategy means setting and imposing expectations on the organization for strategy implementation.
Managing strategy means holding folks accountable for meeting those expectations.
That's a big job with a lot of moving parts. Done right, the CEO looks like a hero. Done wrong and the entire organization is put at risk.
No wonder not everybody wants to be the CEO. With a proper job description, it is easy to see what a big job it is and what it takes to be qualified to do it.
For more on strategy, see The Alpha Strategies: Understanding Strategy, Risk, and Values in Any Organization