The Role of the CEO – Driving Corporate Culture

The role of the CEOI’m sure there are many definitions of a CEO out there. Plenty of people will say the CEO should be a leader, manager, communicator and facilitator.  Other’s might say that the CEO is the person most focused on strategy and the ‘future’ of the business.

Investopedia defines the CEO as:

The highest ranking executive in a company whose main responsibilities include developing and implementing high-level strategies, making major corporate decisions, managing the overall operations and resources of a company, and acting as the main point of communication between the board of directors and the corporate operations. The CEO will often have a position on the board, and in some cases is even the chair.

Not a bad definition of the role. It does highlight the main functions of a CEO…but I’d like to add some commentary about the role of the CEO that isn’t highlighted in  that definition or in most definitions of CEO that I’ve found.

The one addition that I would add to the definition? Culture.

The CEO must be the owner and driver of corporate culture.  If culture is an important aspect of the competitive advantage for a business, the ownership of the company’s culture must live with the CEO.

If you want your business to be ‘customer focused’, that needs to be the main focus of your organization’s culture. You can’t just say to your front-line people that they should be focused on the customer…you have to live and breath ‘customer focus.’   If you want your business to be ‘agile’, you’ve got to ensure everything about your business screams “agility”.

Recently, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, was asked about his role these days. His answer? He focus on culture.  The full response was:

My main job today: I work hard at helping to maintain the culture. A culture of high standards of operational excellence, of inventiveness, of willingness to fail, willingness to make bold experiments. I’m the counterbalance to the institutional “no” who can say “yes.” I’m not going to be here forever. Many of the traits that make Amazon unusual are now deeply ingrained in the culture. In fact, if I wanted to change them, I couldn’t. The cultures are self-reinforcing, and that’s a good thing

Here we see the guy that started Amazon saying that his main goal isn’t making day-to-day decisions on operations (although he does chime in when he needs to) but his main job is maintaining and driving the company’s culture.

A company’s culture is pervasive and requires leadership from ‘on high’ like that provided by Bezos. One of the most important role’s of the CEO is to help drive and shape corporate culture. Sure, the other stuff is important as well, but without a culture that fits the business strategy, your business might just spin its wheels.

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