“But what will I do?” a CEO asked us. He had a great COO who handled his company’s day-to-day operations and had just interviewed a perfect candidate to take over the financial side of his business. The only problem – hiring a CFO would leave him with little to do, or so he thought.

This is a dilemma that many business owners face as their company grows beyond a “mom and pop” operation. It’s important to understand the crucial, continual, and evolving tasks that CEOs perform. Focus on those and you will be working on your business, not in your business.

  1. Define the vision. Set the course and establish the company’s goals. It’s your vision that got the business started to begin with. Remember, Martin Luther King didn’t say, “I have a strategic plan.” He said, “I have a dream.” As the leader, it’s your job to create and reinforce a compelling sense of purpose that is shared by all employees and stakeholders.


  1. Continually focus on upgrading critical resources and filling in the holes. These resources include:
  • Financing sources
  • Personnel
  • Strategic partners
  • Vendors
  • Professional services
  • Advisors
  • Technology


  1. Create and fine-tune the team. Hire the best and fire the pests. If managing people is not your strength, hire someone to keep employees motivated, hold them accountable, and keep everyone’s actions aligned with company goals.


  1. Networking and relationship building. Forge coalitions with peers, associates, and key outside decision-makers. This is all too often either overlooked or not seen as the vital priority it is. If you haven’t done so already, join your industry associations and entrepreneurial peer groups. We recommend that you block out at least 2 to 4 days a month to build and maintain both internal and external relationships.


  1. Get and encourage feedback. Truly listen to your employees, clients, and vendors. Management guru Tom Peters calls it MBWA, or “managing by walking around.” You’ll discover how much your employees appreciate that you care about them, their ideas, and their opinions. Ask your people these simple questions and you will gain invaluable knowledge:
  • How can we be doing what we are doing better?
  • What do you need that will help you do your job better?
  • Where do you see waste and where do you see opportunity?
  • What are our clients telling you?

The best way to get feedback from clients is face to face. Surveys are useful, but they will never replace the dynamics of actually talking to and spending time with your clients. Here are some important questions to ask your clients that can open the gate to both serving them better and generating more business.

  • How is your business?
  • What are your plans and goals for this year and the future?
  • What are your greatest challenges?
  • What are we doing right, and what can we do better?
  • Is there anything our competition is doing better?
  • What other services and products would you like us to offer?

Your vendors are an invaluable source of information. They see and talk to your peers and competition, and are a great source of benchmarking for anything from displays to software. They also know what advertising and promotions are working, and may know what great talent is looking to leave their current company.


  1. Entrepreneurship. Locate future opportunities for the company that enhance its current systems and further its financial goals. Managing the status quo is more dangerous than launching into the unknown.


  1. Fiscal management. Ensure consistent cash flow and profitability by carefully monitoring expenses, cost of sales, and revenue streams. Nothing is more critical to keeping your business healthy than maintaining and managing your margins.


  1. Personal style. By your actions, you will set an overall tone of integrity, competence, and optimism. Leaders lead by the example they set and the behaviors they tolerate.


  1. Results. As the CEO, you must oversee execution to ensure you are getting the results you want and need.


Now, your challenge is finding the time to do it all.

Originally published on CBS MoneyWatch as “The 8 Crucial Tasks for a CEO” on April 18, 2012.

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