The only job of a chairman is to make you a better CEO. My goal for 2018 is to do that job better. I’ll start with one suggestion. When you set your goals, don’t forget your own personal growth.
Simple questions can be deceptive. At a dinner the before Christmas, an entrepreneur I know asked me: “What does a good Chairman do?” I gave a clumsy, vague answer. I find my own brain frustrating about stuff like this sometimes. I have a great memory for facts and I am pretty good at seeing through problems. But I struggle to recall fundamentals when asked on occasions.
On my way home of course, the clear answer returned to me. So Rebecca (CEO of Pick Protection) the simple answer to your question is this: Your Chairman’s only job is to make you a better CEO.
The Economy of Nature
I spent most of my career working in a culture where personal development was embedded deep in the DNA. Every year you had to show that you had made improvements in your skills and capabilities. And you had to have a plan to keep on with personal growth for the next year. Without these things there was no career progression.
This was an example of single mechanism that determined the whole culture of the business. People over complicate culture. It is subtle and nuanced but there are always a small number of rules and practices that regulate the whole system. I saw a similar effect when I was in Estonia last year.
Your business is a little ecosystem of its own. So I look at it as having its own Serengeti Rules. A simple change can regulate the behaviour and health of the whole system. In nature this is a predator. In business, its about how you value your team and how you treat your customers.
The triangle demands three complementary elements
I lived a culture governed by personal development for 29 years. I found some simple frameworks to make it practical and real. This gives me a basis to assess core skills. Analytic skills, management skills and so on. It also covers so called soft skills.
“Soft” in this context just means hard to measure. None of these things are fluffy or spongy in any way. They are the essence of the toughest part of your job - leadership. And there are no KPIs. So much for numbers!
I think about three dimensions.
How do you build relationships and influence key people outside the organisation? This is a wide range. Negotiating skills, social and business communication, listening and pitching. It includes maybe the vaguest thing of all. The shape shifting concept of impact or gravitas.
Can you find and attract the right people? Motivate them to perform. Bind them together into a team which is more than the sum of the parts. And help them realise their potential inside your business and beyond.
This sounds tough and it is. If you get it right you will help talented people achieve amazing things. Intercom wrote about this in the opportunities of growth recently. I would go much further. Growing with your company is the only reason good people will join you. Plus, I have always found this to be the most fun part of leadership.
I always circle back to the start. How have you grown? What have you learnt? What will you achieve next? In the short term this is about leaders growing with the business. Its also a long term thing. Being an entrepreneur can feel all consuming. Yet it is only a stage. Don’t lose sight of your duty to yourself. Who knows where the next 30 years will take you.
The Chairman's Charter
My only job is to make you a better CEO. There are no numbers or metrics or KPIs that track how well its going. You need to bring innovation, passion and commitment to make this work. All the fundamentals of a great entrepreneur in other words.
All I have to offer is experience. I have a simple test to check if I am using it well. The CEOs I work with should be capable of achieving more than I ever could.
Watching people grow into great leaders is the most fun I can have. Feel free to challenge me when I am not doing my best to make this real.
Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.