The “Omnipotent CEO” is a term coined by leadership experts referring to the perceived high level of powers that the Chief Executive has in an organization. Many people believe a CEO has unlimited power and can run the organization as a dictator; the opposite occurs in a successful organization.In fact, the all-powerful CEO has proven to be ineffectual. The successful CEO requires the versatility to garner the willing cooperation and support of others; and, to “lead from behind” or “lead the way” as the situation requires. This high degree of versatility is especially true of CEO’s in membership organizations.
Picture the CEO as the catalyst at the core of the organization maintaining tension between the Board of Directors, membership, stakeholders, and staff. Just the right amount of tension is required to keep this high-energy ball of personalities and agendas moving forward. Finding common ground among these groups is crucial to maintain momentum and focus in achieving the primary mission outlined in your organizational strategy.
How can this be done?
Understanding the role of the CEO
First, understanding the role of the CEO is crucial. In a leadership role, the CEO must realize that there is a price paid for firing orders. Burned bridges are difficult to rebuild, and hinders the CEO’s ability to maintain cooperation among all players in the organization. Finding the balance between advancing the organization forward, and getting mired down in the mediocrity of committee-based compromise is a difficult challenge. The primary role of the CEO is to mobilize people toward achieving the mission.
Establish the process
Second, set the long-term direction of the organization. The CEO sets the strategy through indirect ways by capturing the needs of all players. An inclusive approach to setting the long-term direction garners cooperation and mitigates strong agendas. Putting a comprehensive strategy in place to achieve the mission enhances the effectiveness and relevancy of the organization. This includes establishing a professional culture and a high level of governance to ensure good decision making.
Grasp the culture
Third, grasp the culture in which the organization operates. Identifying and meeting the needs of the influencers among the Board, stakeholders, prominent members, and staff goes a long way toward achieving cooperation. The “omnipotent CEO” will quickly become irrelevant if they are unable to balance these needs.
Finally, working in the midst of all of these agendas, the CEO needs to monitor and address their energy levels and perceived sense of being powerless. This is especially important from those coming from entrepreneurial backgrounds where they may have had a higher degree of autonomy. Inability to do this will lead to burn-out. A focus on personal well-being helps the CEO maintain a clear perspective and the energy to get the job done.
The true reward for the CEO comes from harnessing the massive amount of people-energy; not by doing it themselves. It is difficult to avoid the belief that “only I can do this”. Once the CEO starts down this path, they are on their way to assuming the role of the ‘omnipotent CEO”; and a shortened, ineffective leadership term with the organization.
Stay focused, stay healthy.