Tomorrow’s CEO Must Be An Active People Leader


The role of the CEO has always been split between management and leadership. In the past, however, the emphasis tended to be on management. The CEO set the goals, developed the strategies, and kept an eye on the competition while serving as the public face of the company.

In the course of achieving these “30,000-foot” tasks, many CEOs were somewhat removed from the day-to-day world. They sat in a corner office, insulated from the average employee who battled in the trenches. He or she seemed detached, mysterious and aloof.

As Work Changes, so Must the CEO

That type of CEO lived in a different world – a world in which work was a 9-5 endeavor, and employees had strict job definitions, but relatively little voice in how the organization was run. That is the world of “once upon a time …”

Today, people can work from anywhere, including their homes. They can perform their jobs with laptops and mobile devices, and they tend to hop from job to job, and company to company. To simply be competent at their jobs, they must develop more technical skills, and acquire more sheer knowledge, than their parents’ generation could have imagined.

The nature of work has changed, and so must the CEO.

Although the CEO must still be a manager of strategies and systems and processes, he or she must also become a more active, persuasive and inspiring leader of people.

The CEO must still set up the company for success by performing all the tasks described above. But the CEO of the future must also put more focus on these three areas:

1.    Motivating the troops. The CEO must inspire employees with a vision of what the company stands for and what it wants to accomplish. Money is a powerful motivator, but it’s not the only thing that gets people out of bed in the morning. Today’s workers want more from their companies. They want to work for a company that’s committed to a higher mission – one that lets them serve a nobler purpose than maximizing shareholder profits.

For example: as an insurance-sector company, my firm, ACD may not be changing the world in massive ways, but it does aim to make the lives of vehicle owners a easier during the stressful time after an accident. We develop technology solutions that speed the insurance claims process, so policyholders can get their lives back on track ASAP. As CEO, my job is to ensure that my employees are enthusiastic about, and committed to, this mission.

2.    Encouraging professional growth and learning. I believe it’s the CEO’s responsibility to create a culture in which employees are encouraged to grow – professionally and personally. At my company, when people want additional education and skills training, we encourage that. We encourage them to take classes, and we encourage them to better themselves so they increase the collective skills of our workforce. In several of my previous jobs, I was nothing but a number. I was exploited until I burned out, and then discarded. I want my employees to view our firm as an exciting, long-term opportunity, not a necessary evil.

3.    Communicate what’s at stake. The ultimate job of the CEO is to make sure there is money in the bank. The penultimate job is to communicate to employees how each of them can ensure that there’s money in the bank. At too many companies, there is a “disconnect” between the firm’s financial health and how each employee contributes to that health.

I want people to do a good job and – just as important – to realize that our financial success requires a team effort. One way for people to keep their jobs is to deliver great services to the clients, because then those clients are retained and we grow the company. Everybody in the company has a part to play, and it’s my job to communicate this message. At some companies, jobs are so compartmentalized that employees can easily lose sight of the role they play in maintaining their own job security.

In sum, the job of the CEO has become harder. In addition to the “traditional” responsibilities, the job requires more coaching, more thought leadership and more people skills than it once did. To some executives, the new roles may seem somewhat “squishy,” but they are key to building a healthy, forward-looking corporate culture.