22/01/18,

The Changing Role of the CEO

Here’s some worrying news for the CEO. Careful how you share it.

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, which samples more than 33,000 respondents from 28 countries, found that the credibility and trust of Chief Executives is at its lowest level ever. It has dropped 12 points globally to an all-time low of 37 percent.  That should be a pretty worrying statistic for CEOs and Managing Directors, not to mention their Boards.

Of course we can all point to business models and leadership styles that pay scant attention to building an effective culture of trust starting at the top but increasingly there is a sense that this is out of date thinking and exposes businesses to undue risk.  Just ask Ryanair where their pilots were in their hour of need.

So, think about, for example, how digital technology has impacted the power dynamic between business and customers.  Twenty years ago holidaymakers relied largely on travel agents to promise them beautiful destinations, sumptuous food and wonderful accommodation.  If the reality was a half built hotel next to a motorway and an unfinished pool they could complain to the rep and then write a stiff letter to the travel company; and in return they’d get an apology and a £200 voucher redeemable against their next holiday – with the same firm.  All the time the travel company held the power in the relationship.  Now, before we even book a holiday we can get the unvarnished truth from other travellers and if we get held up en route we can start telling the world about our woes and the shocking customer service.

The transformation in travel is being quickly followed across all customer-facing industries - the customer has more choice and a louder voice.  This means that rigid structures led by a small number of top-down managers are becoming increasingly obsolete. More and more companies now understand the need to instill agility and responsiveness into their culture and structure, recognising that the most important relationship in the business is not between the CEO and the Financial Director or the Sales Director but the one between the client and the person providing the service or selling the product.  

And if this is all about meeting the needs of the customer today and tomorrow, we also know that our economy will only thrive and prosper in the long term through innovation and differentiation, not by competing on price.  When we think about innovation we are inevitably drawn to the importance of research and development and breakthroughs and that’s a vital part of our future.   But innovation doesn’t just come from the R&D team, it can come from every day work, encouraging people to try different ideas, getting the perspective of people closest to the day to day delivery – often the real experts. 

In some respects the thing which has changed least about the workplace over 100 years is our approach to leading and managing people.  Whilst technology, working conditions and automation have transformed work, our approach to leadership has been much more incremental than transformational. We’re still largely stuck with the idea that there are leaders and there are followers and that leadership is about a small number of talented people directing others towards a goal is increasingly flawed.  It’s a belief that is rooted in the era of mass production when getting people to complete repetitive tasks to a consistent quality was king.

We live in a very different world and you simply can’t order people to be creative or flexible.  The modern business needs people to think, not just to do their jobs.

The role of the CEO needs to change and a modern job description should include the following:

In fact, along with a new job description, perhaps we should go for a new job title for the CEO – the Chief Enabling Officer?

Re:volutionise your workplace and create #LeadersAtAllLevels

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