The Blog


This is a question I have asked hundreds of Chief Executives over the years. I’m always fascinated to hear how they describe CEO work.  Most can’t answer this question succinctly or clearly.  Many have “bits” of an answer. Few could describe a comprehensive integrated management process that can be communicated in a comprehensive manner to their senior executive team.

Another question I’ve asked repeatedly over the years is, “what is the difference between leadership and management?”.  It leaves most floundering. Many have been chief executive officers of large organizations for many years, managing thousands of employees, but the majority have clearly not taken much time to consider the difference.  These CEOs end up being neither a manager or a leader, to the detriment of their own personal performance and that of the organizations they spearhead.

Their failure to differentiate between leadership and management also means they cannot define clear expectations for either.  Predictably, without clear definitions, their senior executives manage inconsistently.  This, in turn, leads to a lack of clarity for front-line managers and employees.  It ends up becoming a vicious circle.

The problem is that when you take on the management mantle of CEO of a company, the assumption is that you have all of the skills necessary to do the job.  As the chief executive of an organization it is assumed that you have the training and experience to help your organization fly with the same level of confidence and expertise a 747 pilot sitting on the runway with a fully loaded plane of passengers preparing to take off. The reality is often very different!

A 747 pilot is prepared for the job.  They’ve gone through a process that, to reference Malcolm Gladwell, has involved thousands of hours of practical experience. They will also have piloted the plane as First Officer under the tutelage of the Captain on many occasions.  A new CEO, on the other hand, often has not had the hours of job-specific training, nor the extensive study of the theory, principles and processes they need to effectively manage a large group of employees.

Many CEOs also take over accountability for their ‘aircraft’ in mid-flight! They often take over when something has gone wrong, usually something serious.  Yet, they are then expected to diagnose the problem, fix it, file a new flight plan, change heading and land safely – often at a destination that was different from the intended one. They are expected to do all this while learning how to fly a plane they’ve never flown before.

Thank heavens a company never leaves the ground!

From my experience, part of the success of a new CEO is the ability to provide their managers with a philosophy, a set of principles, processes and disciplines, and demand they practice them to an exemplary standard with clear accountability. It is the only way to attain a level of performance within their organization that enables everybody to perform to their best work.

I define this process as the Craft of CEO Management.  A Craft, since the Middle Ages, has been the lifelong pursuit of mastery in a chosen profession. For chief executive officers the profession is CEO management. It presents an opportunity to choose a management philosophy, structure, set of principles, processes and disciplines and then practice using them for the rest of their career.

A Chief Executive must strive to be a master the Craft of CEO Management.  Mastery of the Craft represents the single greatest great opportunity for performance improvement for senior executives.  Those who take on the challenge; reflect on it; learn from it; and integrate all the management work of their company achieve higher levels of engagement and better results.

Those CEOs who avoid this essential management work are unable to execute their duties to the best of their capability.  The performance of their organizations suffers because they are unable to get the best out of the hundreds of employees they manage.

So, do you dare to master the Craft of CEO Management? Which philosophy will you choose?

Nick Forrest

Utter the word “service” and what springs to mind? Servitude? Servants? Slavery?

Too bad. Because the concept of service should be elevated to a loftier level.

People used to go into public service because they wanted to contribute to a better society. Historically, many commonwealth countries adopted the motto, “Peace, order and good government”. This phrase describes the principles upon which Canada was founded. What a great saying: it oozes stability and contentment, which is what most citizens crave and need to succeed.

Likewise, top executives nowadays have forgotten that with great power, comes great responsibility. Their actions affect not only their shareholders, but also their employees (which may number into the thousands), their customers and suppliers, and the community at large. Repercussions of their actions may ripple across continents.

How about they stop, for a moment, and think about service? They are in service to the community.

Nick Forrest