The Other Role of the CEO

Most people would agree that the job of a chief executive officer is critically important. The CEO sets the vision for the company, ensures internal teams have the resources they need to execute the vision, engages and works closely with the board of directors, grows revenue, increases profitability and performs a host of other strategies to ensure a company’s success. While many of the things I mention may be apparent, there’s another aspect of a CEO’s job that is under-emphasized, sometimes by the CEO herself; the chief executive must intentionally inspire their teams, not just their customers. Kendall Holbrook, CEO of Dev Technology Group, Inc, says “A CEO is the chief support officer of the organization, providing whatever is needed to allow all employees and teams to be successful. Some days that is simply providing strategy and direction, other days that requires rolling up your sleeves and digging in on an issue, and on more days than not it is providing encouragement and appreciation for those on the front lines of the organization.”

A CEO is the chief support officer of the organization

This task is more important than ever. According to Gallup News’ annual State of the Global Workforce survey, just 15 percent of workers are engaged in their jobs, meaning 85 percent are disengaged and functioning below their potential. If 15 percent of employees are engaged at work, then 85 percent of employees are not bringing their best ideas or their best selves to the workplace. This not only has an adverse impact on the employee, but it also negatively impacts the people around them. In a Harvard Business Review article, researchers Stephen Dimmick and William Gerken noted; “For managers, it is important to realize that the costs of a problematic employee go beyond the direct effects of that employee’s actions – bad behaviors of one employee spill over into the behaviors of other employees through peer effects. By under-appreciating these spillover effects, a few malignant employees can infect an otherwise healthy corporate culture.”

We know employee engagement leads to job satisfaction, increased productivity, performance and profits. We also know it leads to other positive outcomes as well.

Disengaged employees are often generally distrustful of leadership, which has negative consequences for the organization and its customers as well. They will either leave the company, or stay in jobs they don’t really like, making it hard to have a consistent external impact. Based on what we know about employee engagement, it’s more important than ever for CEOs to prioritize inspiring their teams, perhaps even more than they do their customers. To increase employee engagement, CEOs can:

Consider the Needs of Their Team Members.

To inspire a team, CEOs and senior leaders must recognize that the needs of their employees are just as important as the needs of the customer. This means identifying resources to meet the needs of the people around them. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs theory, most people have a fundamental desire to learn and grow. Executives can and should ensure that team members have opportunities to develop professionally. When team members believe leaders place their team’s needs before their own and are committed to the growth and development of others, they are more likely to be more engaged.

Share the “Why” Behind the Work.

Most people want to know the “why” behind their work. They want to know that their individual role contributes to a larger, grander vision and to be a part of a workplace that works together effortlessly. When executives take time to show their teams the “why,” connect it to a higher purpose, and show the impact of that purpose on others, they create an inspiring organization. While CEOs contend with many critical projects, they should prioritize emphasizing the organizational mission and how each role on the organizational chart helps achieve that mission.

Develop Always.

The job of a CEO is to cultivate a learning environment and a commitment to an employee’s long-term growth. Mistakes are viewed as teachable moments or opportunities to reflect, grow and learn. Leaders don’t just tell others what to do. They model it for them and do it with them. They provide stretch opportunities along with the coaching, support and feedback for the person to succeed. These leaders look for opportunities to celebrate successes – big or small – and recognize accomplishments and celebrate creativity.

Listen to Understand.

At the core, everyone wants to be heard. The job of a CEO is to listen with full intent. This means listening to the words as well as the body language and actions. It’s about being fully present in the conversation. It’s about paying close attention to what a person says and what he or she doesn’t say. Listening to understand is also about being clear on what motivates team members, and what’s likely to boost their engagement. When leaders truly listen to others, they listen to understand the context, motivations and desires of colleagues. When this happens, team members are generally more satisfied and more trustful of leadership.

“There is no end to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” General Colin Powell

Demonstrate Humility.

I was lucky enough to hear General Collin Powell share his thoughts on leadership at a keynote recently: “There is no end to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Inspiring leaders are humble. They recognize their talents and limitations. They understand that they are always being watched. These leaders are quick to credit others when things go right, and quick to take responsibility when things go wrong. They understand that the worst behavior they tolerate becomes their organizational culture. They are clear on what they want, what they don’t want and what they need to do to cultivate an environment that works for their teams.


When executives focus on their people, the focused attention creates a downstream effect, and everyone benefits, including the customer or client. In other words, the chief executive officer has a powerful platform to serve as a role model by connecting with and inspiring their teams and ultimately equipping them to win.




This article was originally published on my LinkedIn. Find it here!