Five things every CEO needs to do

by Rodney Reider

It is a truth.  As CEOs, we are pulled in many directions.  The incessant priorities, though seemingly always valuable, will consistently distract us from our most meaningful impact.  How does a CEO maintain their focus and discipline on what is important when everything is significant?  They must focus on what is central to the organization’s success.  The following five imperatives will aid in this journey. 

1)    Visible Listener: 

The CEO must be a good listener who spends time greeting, listening and positively interacting with the individuals on the floors and in the clinics.  Ninety-Five percent of your time should be spent listening.  Hearing from the people doing the work who can keep you informed of the issues they are solving through the work-around of their own ingenuity.  You have an opportunity to develop relationships, listen for trends, solve problems and gain credibility as a CEO who cares about the people enough to make them a priority in your busy day.   

2)    Be a source of Encouragement and Energy: 

Who doesn’t like to be around someone who is upbeat and positive?  You always feel better and are often sorry to see them go.  However, let’s take the contrast for a moment.  Think of the friend who is always complaining.  How long can you endure before you are either caught up in the same mentality or your energy level has been so drained you can barely get out the chair to leave.  Organizations have a tendency to complain a great deal when utilizing human nature as their source.  Leadership is the reason for changing the focus.  When you round on your teams, you become a source for encouragement and inspiration by recognizing them and what they are doing.  Catch them doing good things (there are so many) and thank them.  Express your appreciation for all they are doing.  Unlike leaving the negative friend (who you feel obligated to stay with) with a great reduction in energy, the charge of encouragement and energy you leave your employees with is a positive contagion which will be passed on from one to the next for much of their remaining shift.  They will carry the spark with them and pass it on when they tell everyone over the next week that the CEO was recently on the floor.  Your positive actions have increasingly valuable reverberations throughout the organization.  They grow and grow and it all starts with you and your interaction with your team at all levels.   

3)    Keeper of the Culture: 

The foundation on which the organization is built must be continually bolstering in every word, action and deed.  The leader must be an example of the foundation in interacting with his leadership team to build trust and reinforce the positive culture that has been built over time.  A poor leader can quickly extinguish a thriving culture built over time.  The legacy must be honored for the leader’s entire tenure.  We all know the CEO only has the platform for a short period of time.  Esteeming the legacy and reinforcing its benefits is the job of leadership. 

In fact, who better to tell the story of the founding of your organization -- why it exists and modeling it daily -- than the CEO!  The CEO must remind the front-line and all employees about the calling and the responsible joy which comes from caring for others.  The CEO strengthening the legacy can carry the day for reminding the team of the difficulties overcome in the past and complimenting them when celebrating all the compilation of successes together for the future.   

4)    Reminder of Reality: 

It is so often easy to be enamored with one’s own strategy and one’s own leadership team.  When asked what the key strengths are of the health system, I have seen leadership teams go around the conference room table and without hesitation revert to “this leadership team and our strategy.”  It felt embarrassing and limiting.  Humility when dealing with competition and market forces is always a wise source of growth.  The CEO must set the tone of confidence with the talk of ‘how far we have come and how much we have accomplished,’ while simultaneously keeping the leadership team humble with how far is still necessary to provide the ideal care -- with the world-class patient experience and lowest costs possible for the patient and their employer.  In reality, we can and must always do better.  It is the CEOs job to make sure this focus and discipline remains. 

5)    Set Direction: 

Simply put, the CEO directs to where the organization must arrive.  There are many requirements to do this correctly.  Initially, it is imperative for the CEO to be a deep thinker.  The leader must understand the depths of the industry and the needs of the organization.  Leadership must always be influencing, moving and directing the organization’s position towards maximizing success.  Everyone is exercising strengths and skills for personal and organizational betterment; therefore, a CEOs definitive responsibility is to build into all the tactics the people’s support for fulfilling the vision.  We often say “Vision” with lofty esteem; however, the essential need of vision is its practical application or implementation for short and long-term success.  The CEO is to work with the team, set-direction, strive for buy-in, implement the plan and hold everyone accountable.  The plan must flow with clarity and direction.  It will have been developed by study with data and facts.  Operational Excellence, World-Class Service, Lowest Cost in addition to the Highest Quality, are all options frequently discussed.  Whichever the choice and necessity, ultimately, the CEOs job is to make sure it gets done.    

There are a myriad of daily options in which a CEO can spend their time.  As CEOs, we know the best leaders are able to discipline and focus themselves (and the organization) upon what is most important, not what is most urgent.  It so often comes down to a simple judgement call and deciding what is the BEST use of time, knowing there are any number of things that qualify as a “good” use of time.  When making that judgement call, look at it through the lens of “which task at hand will make the most lasting positive impact upon the organization?” and move decisively in that direction.  We each only have this CEO platform for a short period of time, so as the saying goes, “use your time wisely.”