The scope of an organization’s managerial work is vast, encompassing functional agendas, business unit agendas, multiple organizational levels and myriad external issues. It also involves a wide array of constituencies—shareholders, customers, employees, the board, the media, government, community organizations, and more. Unlike any other executive, the CEO has to engage with them all.

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The epitome of leadership – The CEO in the lexicom of management

While CEOs are the ultimate power in their companies, they face challenges and constraints that few others recognize. Running a large global company is an exceedingly complex job.

The CEO must be the internal and external face of the organization through good times and bad, of course, having a great deal of help and resources at their disposal. However, they, more than anyone else in the organization, confront an acute scarcity of one resource. That resource is time. There is never enough time to do everything that a CEO is responsible for. Despite this, CEOs remain accountable for all the work of their organizations. 

The way CEOs allocate their time and their presence—where they choose to personally participate—is crucial, not only to their own effectiveness but also to the performance of their companies.

 

Where and how CEOs are involved
In determining what gets done and signals priorities for others it can also affect their legitimacy because a CEO who doesn’t spend enough time with colleagues will seem insular and out of touch, whereas one who spends too much time in direct decision making will risk being seen as a micromanager and erode employees’ initiative.

A CEO’s schedule (indeed, any leader’s schedule), then, is a manifestation of how the leader leads and sends powerful messages to the rest of the organization.

A crucial missing link in understanding the time allocation of CEOs—and making it more effective—has been systematic data on what they actually do.

Research on that has tended either to cover a small handful of CEOs, like the 1973 study in which Henry Mintzberg closely observed five chief executives (some of whom led nonprofits) for five days each, or to rely on large surveys that cover short periods (such as our HBS colleague Raffaella Sadun’s 2017 study based on daily phone surveys with 1,114 CEOs from a wide variety of companies in six countries over one week).


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