The “simple” job of the CEO – setting the pace and context for decisions

I play bass guitar. I have since my junior year in high school when a buddy of mine came up with the improbable notion of forming a soul/funk garage band to play at local high school dances. Playing bass seemed easy and innocuous enough.

It is neither.

While lead guitarists and drummers get all the attention, it is the bass player who—almost surreptitiously—drives and defines the song. Just altering exactly when a bass note is played and how—soft, slap, punch or busy—can take the same song and give it an entirely different feel, ranging from rock to blues to soul to jazz. We bassists call that the groove. Also, the nature of low sound frequencies is that they are pervasive — they saturate the room. (That’s why you can put your home sound system’s subwoofer anywhere you want in the room and you can still hear the low notes no matter where you are sitting.)

The same is true with my third observation on the key characteristics of the CEO — setting a pace and a context for decision-making.

You can tell pretty quickly whether a CEO or business owner has that rhythm in how decisions are handled. A desk that is over-taken with pending and over-due decisions (what we all call a bottleneck) is most often the desk of an executive who has yet to understand how to create a context for others to make decisions. Too often, we share the decision itself, but less so the considerations that lead to that decision. The result is that too many decisions pile up with the CEO and the organization loses its pace — that sense of rhythm that keeps people moving and focused. Just like bass frequencies that saturate a room, when people in your organization start to feel that too many decisions are getting bottled-up with the CEO or executive team, they lose their groove. Sometimes they lose hope.

One antidote is to create and articulate a context so more people can make as good or better a decision as you. What are your priorities? What is your strategy? What values guide you? Who is affected by the decision and what are their views? What are your cultural norms? What are the odds of success and failure? Most importantly: Who is willing to own the decision and nurture it to success?

Pace is crucial. Decisions that take too long fall victim to over-analysis. People start to believe that the success of a decision is based on one more piece of data, rather than a personal commitment by a champion to make it a success. I like the way one of my clients puts it: Don’t spend all your time trying to get the small stuff right. There are only a few decisions you have to get right as CEO, and more often than not, they turn out right because you make the call and then work them continually.


About paulheagen

I am an executive coach, advisor and confidant who helps leaders better understand, refresh or redirect their purpose in their business and personal lives. Over my 35-year career as a corporate executive, communications consultant and trusted advisor, I have guided executives through “defining moments” – those unique times when the decisions they make, the words they speak, and the qualities they exhibit can influence not only the destiny of their organization but also their own lives and careers. When it comes to my clients and my life work, I am ferociously passionate and restlessly inquisitive about uncovering the unique dreams, vision and purpose that lead to exceptional leadership.
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