• Shayne Leslie

Stepping up to CEO – what you need to know

The role of CEO is very different to departmental roles. ‘Stepping up’ is a little misguiding as accepting the role of CEO is a whole new stratosphere of knowledge and leadership. If moving into a CEO role is on your career plan, here are some high-level pointers to start preparing the CV.

1. Leadership in Another Middle

A CEO is not at the top of the organisational chart. The CEO is in another middle. In middle management, you reported up to the CEO and down to staff. As CEO, you report up to the board (your employers) and down to management. Add to this reporting sideways as a company secretary, and being the ‘face’ to your industry and the community.

This is the hardest aspect of being a CEO; learning how to manage people (especially leaky boards or old-school directors), knowing your personal leadership style, and understanding situational leadership to problem-solve is critical. Understand perceived gaps in your readiness to lead and manage. Leverage opportunities to demonstrate leadership which you can summarise in an application.

To do:
  • Join a volunteer board to understand how boards work together and where a CEO can add value.

  • Complete a leadership course to understand your style and how that style will assist you in solving complex problems. Be able to speak eloquently about your leadership style.

  • Learn how to network within the industry effectively to build and maintain relationships.

  • Leverage opportunities to demonstrate your leadership.

2. Governance and Policy

The boards principal governance tasks are to set strategy and appropriate funding, appoint a CEO who can implement the strategy and control the CEO through board policy, monitor and evaluate performance, and lead.

The CEO is heavily involved in the governance of the club. However, the CEO’s level of governance is different to the board’s level of governance. Unfortunately, many club boards still don’t understand their role and abdicate decisions to the CEO, so you need to understand yours (and theirs) very well.

The board need to specify the role of company secretary through board policy as the role of company secretary varies from organisation to organisation. In the NSW clubs industry, Chartered Secretaries of Australia and the CMAA conduct a course which covers various requirements of a company secretary including compliance (e.g. (gaming, liquor, financial, audits, Corporations Act, constitutional, etc.).

To do:
  • Get educated in governance. Governance is a very complex topic so don’t just do the bare minimum; try to complete a few different courses to get different perspectives.

  • Use what you learn in your governance courses to make improvements on your volunteer board.

  • Improve your business literacy as you will need to write things down and interpret complex information. Written includes business plans, policy, minutes, reports, etc. while reading includes contracts, negotiations, policy, marketing copy, complaints, etc.

3. Levels of Planning and Budgeting

As a CEO, it's your job to manage the entire business. However, when levels of planning are confused, such as mixing strategic planning with business planning, it can clog progress because people are confused. Learn the difference between strategy, business and operational planning as early as you can. If you don’t understand it, use people like us to help you!

Learn to have one eye on the organisation’s vision and one eye on what you’re doing in the present. Even though the strategy may be set, a part of you needs to remain open to a changing future. That means staying abreast of trends; networking, staying engaged with your workforce and members, and reading blogs (like this one) will help you detect patterns.

Each level of planning has a different approach to budgeting. The overall budget is a financial expression of the strategic plan. However, if the operational plan is not budgeted correctly, followed by monitoring of budgetary measures, then the organisation won’t reach its strategic financial goals. Everything in the plan has a dollar figure; nothing comes for free.

Understanding the levels of planning will help you appreciate the pace. Strategy evolves slowly, business plans are often chunky and hard work requiring you to communicate and delegate clearly and efficiently. Operational planning is much more responsive, but too much tinkering in operations will cause a loss of momentum further up the planning hierarchy.

Which leads into financial literacy. Nothing helps a CEO make better decisions like a strong base of financial knowledge. Again, a different approach to financial literacy is required for different levels of planning. Not only logging the daily and monthly figures, but reporting back to the board on the strategic trends.

The last I’ll cover here is understanding risk. Understanding your leadership style will assist you learning about your appetite for risk. Managing your appetite for risk within organisational strategic objectives and board policy is another critical skill.

To do:
  • Learn the levels of planning; understand at what level you plan currently and if your success is limited by poor planning processes in your current organisation.

  • Write down your current plan and prepare a budget.

  • Take advantage of opportunities to increase your financial knowledge.

  • Put your hand up as Treasurer on your volunteer board.

  • Learn about risk at strategic and business planning levels.

4. Monitoring and Evaluation

Managing up to the board, a CEO must write and read many reports. From writing and reading, a CEO should be able to evaluate patterns and interpret complex events then eloquently report back to board members highlighting the key points. Quality reporting and persuasive writing skills from a CEO will assist in quality decisions being made at board level.

To manage down effectively, a CEO must develop critical thinking and mentoring skills to ensure reports and performance at the business level are helping you meet your strategic objectives. If your literacy or numeracy is poor, then you will either frustrate talented managers or employ people with less skill than you. That’s dangerous territory and won’t help you achieve your strategic objectives!

Part of managing down is learning about performance management and performance appraisal (two very different things). Also, learning about organisational design includes how to write position descriptions so every employee has a strategic reason for working within the organisation.

To do:
  • Read a book on how to write effective board reports (or follow our templates in 40 Board Policies) and start practicing this difficult skill.

  • Read different reports or items and learn how to summarise the key points.

  • Take a basic skills test so you understand you strengths and weakness and can build a team that matches you strength and weaknesses.

  • Learn about organisational design.

  • Improve the monitoring on your volunteer board to make better decisions.

The Edge

Finally, a great CEO creates a sense among people that they are part of something special, something bigger and more significant than any one part of the whole. An effective CEO can encapsulate the organisational vision in a sentence as well as be in the thick of things understanding how each person, tool and event is moving the organisation along the strategic journey.

What did we miss?

What insight can you share that we haven’t included in our list?

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