Every CEO deserves a great chairman…but they seldom do.
Leading an organisation is a lonely role. There are always challenges and the decision making never stops. Yet, running the day to day often takes most of the energy. It leaves very little time for the big picture, the future of any organisation.
CEO and chairman are an ideal partnership. The CEO handles the everyday, and the chairman is supporting him and concerning more about the future. The trouble in paradise comes when the chairman cannot commit enough time to his role.
This leaves the CEO juggling between the urgent and necessary. The constant switching between low and high beams is hard. The harder the everyday fog the more energy it takes to use the high beams and pierce through the short term reflections.
The strategic mindset does not like to be around operational worries. If you’re concerned with pressing issues the future feels rather irrelevant in the moment. And even if you have the nagging feeling of omittance it’s easy to ignore.
And this is where the chairman kicks in. He feels the pain, he shares it. He understands the mental pressure to get the daily business done and the drain the future focus requires. His role is to help the CEO and to be more concerned about the future.
The chairman role has fewer mental constraints to roam free in thoughts and ideas. He doesn’t need to think too much about how and what it takes to implement the ideas. The pain of actually executing the plan can filter out good or even necessary actions, often subconsciously.
Kicking butt and offering oversight when needed is a crucial role. Every great CEO needs that. Or at least the awareness that it will happen if he’s not at the top of his game.
At best, the CEO and chairman are like a jazz band improvising on stage. Both understand their roles and play accordingly. The end result can be something astonishing and the feeling of joint creation and accomplishment can be thrilling.
It’s like a true partnership where you have just become aware of an issue and your partner has already thought out a solution for it. You start a sentence and the other one finishes it.
But this requires effort, trust and experience. Doing the work and being good at it. Learning from mistakes, being brutally honest and most of all humble. Not all decisions are good nor are all the ideas, from anyone. A safe environment to show your vulnerabilities and hesitation, ask for help and admit your shortcomings.
Every CEO has a chairman but is it just a formality? The legal structure and oversight are there for a reason. But fulfilling just the formal necessities is only a starting point. What happens on top of it makes all the difference.
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