How to Go From Being ‘In the Weeds’ to ‘Sitting in the CEO Chair’

As the CEO, you’re the one responsible for the success or failure of your company.

A lot rides on your shoulders — operations, marketing, strategy, financing, creation of company culture, human resources, hiring, firing, compliance, sales, PR, etc. At times, it can feel overwhelming, and it can be hard to stay focused.

Admit it: Some days, you feel just like a “one-armed paper hanger.”

Sure, everyone has those days from time to time. Still, it’s important to monitor whether they’re the exception or you’re the norm. And if it’s the latter, then I suggest you take a step back and re-focus. The goal is for you to “sit in the CEO chair.” I say this to my clients all the time. It’s an important reminder.

If you don’t feel that you’re “sitting the in the CEO chair,” there are several actions that can be taken to get you back to where you should be — but we need to take it one step at a time.

Be Honest With Yourself

Start by being honest with yourself. Are you in the weeds, or are you subterranean — are your hands in the dirt?

If you have your hands on everything going on in your company — to the point where you are meeting with every client, reviewing every contract, reading people’s email before they send them — you are making one of two mistakes: over-functioning or micromanaging. Neither is healthy for you, or your organization, and neither is going to allow you to affect profitability in the way you should.

Let’s examine this further. I said you’re going to have to be honest with yourself. So, if you’re “down in the dirt” because you’re micromanaging, then ask yourself — why?

Generally, the response I get to this question is, “I can’t rely on anyone else to get the job done.” That’s a problem — and a great place to start. Addressing this issue is going to take some self-reflection. If you are surrounded by the wrong people, that can be addressed. If you have the right people on board, but you are micromanaging, you have to figure out if you’re willing to let go of the reins and start leading via delegation.

The Right People in the Right Places Doing the Right Things

In both scenarios, you’re not getting a good return on your investment. You’re a CEO. You know the key to your business’ success is one word — profitability! And everyone knows the largest expense on your P&L sheet is your investment in people. I suggest you make those investments wisely. If you’re PAYING people to do a job, then LET them do it! And if they’re not, FIRE them!

Now, I know it’s not always quite that simple, and there are many stages in between. I am an HR executive; I’m not suggesting that you fire your whole staff. However, what I am suggesting is that you create a strategy that allows you to “sit in the CEO chair” and refocus on what you’re supposed to be doing. You need the RIGHT PEOPLE in the RIGHT PLACES doing the RIGHT THINGS.

The CEO’s Real Duties Should Be …

Setting strategy and vision. The senior management team can help develop strategy. Investors can approve a business plan. But the CEO ultimately sets the direction.

Which markets will the company enter? Against which competitors? With what product lines? How will the company differentiate itself? The CEO decides, sets budgets, forms partnerships, and hires a team to steer the company accordingly.

The CEO’s second duty is building culture. Work gets done through people, and people are profoundly affected by culture. A lousy place to work can de-motivate and drive away high performers. After all, they have their pick of places to work. A great place to work can attract and retain the very best.

Culture is built in dozens of ways, and the CEO sets the tone. Your every action — or inaction — sends cultural messages. Your culture can form invisible bonds between members in your organization. People get a sense of purpose and belonging from the culture. If an organization’s business plan, culture and values are clearly defined, it allows team members to make decisions that are in alignment with the company’s overall goals and objectives, resulting in a profitably engaged workforce and you “sitting in the CEO chair.”

The Solution

I do a lot of work with CEOs who struggle with this issue, and I have turned companies around in relatively short order. It’s simple to get back on track, but you have to be honest with yourself, committed to making it happen, and willing to do the work. From there, it’s just a matter of putting a plan in place to do it. The solution? Create a talent management strategy that is in alignment with your individual business plan.

I liken it to being a coach in the NFL. Think about it: Your job as CEO is very similar to an NFL coach. A coach’s primary goal is to win the Super Bowl. To do that, he needs to have a game plan and draft the right talent. Then, they train and coach their team to win by calling the right plays.

The head coach also sets the tone in the locker room for the team to be successful, and a good coach is respected by his team members. They would run through a wall for their coach — in fact, they literally do, in every game!

Successful coaches not only build the right team, they also surround themselves with a very talented coaching staff. They have assistant coaches, defensive coaches, offensive coaches, etc. Most importantly, they hold these assistants accountable for making things happen in their respective areas. They also hold each individual team member accountable for doing their jobs, as well. They review tapes with their players, they point out where they did well and, they also show them the missed tackles; then expect them to improve. If not, they’re cut.

Imagine if your team had a star quarterback making millions of dollars and not winning games. Then, to add insult to injury, when you tune in on Sunday to watch, the coach is out there throwing the ball! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!

This would never happen in the NFL. So why should it be happening in your company? The coach creates the game plan, communicates the strategy, and then calls the plays from the sidelines. He doesn’t run the ball! You have to do the same. If you’re running the ball, you need to take a step back and figure out why — and then change your game plan.

This topic and more are included in the Vistage Connect™ CEO peer advisory sessions. Learn more.

Robin Barbacane is the president at BlueHawk Associates and a SHRM Certified human resources executive with more than 20 years of hands-on experience in HR. You can e-mail Robin at r.barbacane@yahoo.com.

Category: Leadership

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About the Author: Robin Barbacane

Robin Barbacane is the president at BlueHawk Associates and a SHRM Certified human resources executive with more than 20 years of hands-on experience in HR. You can e-mail Robin at r.barbacane@yahoo

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  1. Tito

    October 1, 2015 at 11:46 am

    I think I would take a slightly difenreft approach to one aspect of Dr. Bea’s response. If no-one answered the question, What are the ground rules? , then I would ask the question again in a difenreft way. I might say, So, what are the rules that you see the group using in the last XX minutes? What have you observed? . That might generate responses about the rules and it reinforces our goal as coaches of teaching the group to be more observant in action. My next interventions could then be, So, how are these rules working right now? I would use this approach because the silence in response to the question MIGHT be a reluctance to engage with a hidden conflict in the group such as avoiding a topic, ignoring a person, etc. It might be necessary for the group to notice the hidden dynamics because they might be impacting their ability to engage the problem solving in a meaningful way. Then again, the silence might be due to other factors not remembering the rules, fatigue, etc.

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