Why should we compare a CEO to a GPS unit? It may sound bizarre to many of you. However, a CEO at the modern organisation cannot be successful without getting a good briefing on ’the direction’ the organisation they lead has to take. We shall interchangeably call the latter Destiny or the North-star.
If not at the interview, CEO’s will ask for the organisation’s business plan or strategy document on their first day at work. CEO’s, good ones at that, think about the destiny of the organisations they lead, and the pathways they have to follow to get to that destiny.
Destiny to a CEO is like suckling to the newly born of a mammal – a calf born to a cow, a baby born to humans will soon after birth, instinctively look for the breast of its mother.
However, it takes a journey to arrive at the organisation’s destiny. A journey that needs planning and with many hard manoeuvres – that is how we relate a GPS unit to the CEO.
What do GPS units do, how do they work?
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a network of about 30 satellites orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 20,000 km. The system was originally developed by the US government for military navigation but now anyone with a GPS device, be it a SatNav, mobile phone or handheld GPS unit, can receive the radio signals that the satellites broadcast.
Wherever you are on the planet, at least four GPS satellites are ‘visible’ at any time. Each one transmits information about its position and the current time at regular intervals. These signals, travelling at the speed of light, are intercepted by your GPS receiver, which calculates how far away each satellite is based on how long it took for the messages to arrive.
Once it has information on how far away at least three satellites are, your GPS receiver can pinpoint your location using a process called trilateration.
The relationship between a GPS unit and the CEO:
GPS units define the most efficient and effective route to the chosen destination, on condition that you key in the right destination. Get the wrong destination in your GPS unit or enter nothing at all, and the unit will take you into the wilderness.
CEO’s don’t want to end up in the wilderness – they will have failed at their job. It goes without saying that CEO’s want their destiny clearly defined to enable them identify pathways that get them to such destiny, moreover efficiently and effectively.
The pathways are in effect the ‘GPS coordinates’ – CEO’s spend the majority of their time aligning coordinates to organisational destiny
Just like the GPS unit provides direction to those of us moving in complex urban environments, but only after we key in the unit the right destination; CEO’s need manifest-destiny from the owners of enterprises and their representatives (board of governors), to be able to steer towards such destiny. Anything less than the latter may condemn CEO’s to steering into the wilderness.
The pictorial below shows the relationships between an organisation and a GPS unit:
The Owners or Investors define the direction the organisation should take. The Owners are represented at the company by the Board of Governors; the Board of Governors is the interface between the Owner and Management – i.e. the CEO and their team.
In this Owner, Board of Governors, and CEO relationship-maze are various reciprocal stakeholder interactions. The Owners directly interface with the Board of Governors and between them, articulate the overall direction the organisation should take. The Board directly interfaces with Management through the CEO and between them, they approve the ‘GPS coordinates’ that the CEO and team choose to steer the organisation towards the owners defined destiny. Also, the Board and CEO monitor the ‘GPS coordinate’ alignment to Owner defined destiny.
There is also the occasional interaction between the Owner and CEO. This is a ceremonial relationship that often happens when the owner visits the organisation. Interaction at this level is less to do with business
In the middle of this pictorial is the overall North-Star or Destiny for the organisation. It ought to be recognised that the relational interfaces between Owner and Board and Board and CEO need to happen to realise alignment to the North Star (destiny). The two are non-negotiable.
Of course, It is the CEO’s job to ensure that the organisation they lead is aligned and moving towards its North Star. However, that can only happen if the Owners and their representatives (board) have done their job and defined the North Star
So, CEO’s should ask for the organisation’s Destiny or North star all the time; not doing so is setting themselves up to fail
What if the Destiny is not defined?
It may be that for certain organisations, destiny is not defined by the Owner or their representative.
In such instances, the CEO should not sit on their laurels waiting for destiny to drop like manna from heaven. The CEO should wear the owners hat and ‘define’ direction – however, the CEO should remember to have, whatever they define as destiny, signed off by the Owner or their representative. Not doing the latter is tantamount to usurping the powers of the Owner – and good CEO’s do not do that
Confusing as it may be, yes, CEO’s at times need to do more than define ‘GPS coordinates’. They do the latter, instead of whining about the lack of direction. CEO’s have to learn to swing like a pendulum between management territory traditionally cut out for CEO’s, but also when necessary, step on to the ‘sacred’ ground of – the Owners and their representatives.
CEO’s that do the above need to exhibit quintessential political savvy skills – this is extremely dangerous territory to tread on. It almost is a thankless task, but one good CEO’s have to be ready to do as and when required
However, even when called upon to do more than what is normal CEO work, CEO’s should always remember to return to their cardinal role: defining ‘GPS coordinates’ that get organisations to a chosen destination; a destination that should be defined by the Owner or their representative.
So, the CEO’s role still remains: ‘GPS coordinates’ definition and dealing with the accompanying dynamics. That is why you get your CEO pay cheque every month
Categories: You, the Leader!