CEO Coaching: Offensive Lineman, Quarterback or Coach?

John Common, CEO of Intelligent Demand, is a friend who’s helped companies with organic revenue growth for years. We had an interesting call recently, and he shared what CEOs do wrong, from a chief revenue officer’s (CRO’s) perspective, in supporting growth:

              1. They don’t know about or believe in One Revenue Team — they don’t view organic revenue growth as a highly integrated team sport.
              2. They think they’re above the One Revenue Team, not on it.
              3. They don’t know their proper role and seat on the One Revenue Team — they sit in everyone else’s chair instead of their own.
              4. They lose interest when it gets difficult, boring or ambiguous — they disappear.
              5. They think their primary job is to be a skeptic, say no or just manage costs.
              6. They don’t know, and aren’t interested in learning, the fundamentals of modern revenue growth.

It’s a good list that all CEOs should consider. In addition, and just as important, the CRO should make sure they understand the business from the CEO’s perspective. 

The same conversation could be had about any function a CEO needs to manage. I like John’s perspective that they cannot think about themselves as “above” those functions, but rather on the team. As CEO, you probably have plenty of expertise in one of those areas — the one you “grew up” in. However, if you run an organization, you shouldn’t play a functional role beyond CEO. So how should you be “on” the team?

Change your mindset. The challenge isn’t with “them” or “out there” — it’s ours. Should you have a key executive in charge of sales, technology, HR, etc.? Of course. But as their boss, coach and key supporter, you must feel a sense of ownership of the challenges and wins along with them. That doesn’t mean you take credit for their wins, but it does mean you’re accountable for failures and challenges. Teflon leaders seldom last long.

Your primary role “on the team” is to provide clarity on big issues and ensure that the corporate direction (e.g., vision, strategy, values) is set and resources are properly deployed. If you don’t have a clear strategy, it’s not your CRO’s problem that they’re going after the “wrong” customers — it’s yours. Without a clear strategy, it isn’t your chief marketing officer’s problem that they devised a marketing campaign that doesn’t leverage your strengths — it’s yours. If you starve your chief human resource officer’s recruiting and development budgets and have a weak team, the problem is yours. Even though those executives report to you, you’re on those teams and have a significant role to play.

As a CEO, you have to be nimble, observant and introspective enough to understand whether, at any given moment, you’re coach, quarterback or offensive lineman. You can’t be driven by what role you want to play, but rather by what the business needs!

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