What Does a CEO Do?

What Does a CEO Do?

Every once in a while I come across something that sounds very real to me; Jeff Nolan’s description of the 4 main jobs of a CEO has just that ring of authenticity. From his July 31st post, the jobs are as follows:

  1. Plan. A CEO above all else must be able to think in the future about what investments are appropriate for the company, strategic directions to be embraced or abandoned, and ultimately, forecast future performance accurately and consistently.

  2. Control. A plan without the ability to execute on it is academic at best. If the CEO has a primary job it is clearly to deliver on forecasts and projections.

  3. Develop people. A CEO is also the chief human resources officer, it is his/her responsibility to create the conditions upon which all employees of the company feel rewarded appropriately, confident in the future of their company, have just just the ability but also the opportunity to grow professionally, and perhaps most importantly, apply accountability to management itself.

  4. Develop culture. Closely aligned to #3 is the notion of company culture, which is ultimately a reflection of the values that the company holds itself to and reinforces in every employee of the company, from the CEO down to the lowest level.


p>When I encounter statements of such clarity, I feel compelled to test my own assumptions against them. When I first created The Printable CEO, the idea was to create a kind of accessible “grassroots CEO mentality” from the bottom up, providing a clear menu of “rewardable accomplishments” through the weighted point list. One of my favorite aspects of the system is the bubble chart; it serves well both as a focusing point AND as a cumulative reporting mechanism, without requiring tedious double-entry of data (the kill-joy of many an administrative system). I think that these two elements support Nolan’s points 1 and 2, however a missing supplementary piece is the how to generate a weighted list of goals process; this is similar to Nolan’s “planning” job, with an emphasis on reducing the plan to something that can be communicated with ease.

I haven’t really addressed Job #3 and #4 yet, which is about building a community of shared values. As individuals, I happen to believe that we should be responsible for developing the people and culture around us. In the best case, I think this means you’re supporting the people around you, they’re supporting you, and you’re living and breathing what you believe is important. Taking this a step further means actively cultivating an organization to perform well with respect to a specific agenda; that’s a novel idea for me, that I can have an agenda and feel OK about convincing other people that it’s worth following.

Nolan’s post comes at a serendipitous time for me, as I’m reviewing the collection of Printable CEO tools and am considering how to refactor them into something a little clearer and more universal. More later!


  1. Senia 18 years ago

    I would add what I’ve heard several times as the single most important role of a CEO: to bring money into the organization (revenue, projects, contributions if it’s a non-profit, etc.)

  2. Dave Seah 18 years ago

    Senia: That’s a great point…it may be JOB 0, and perhaps the 4 jobs listed in Nolan’s post are the supporting jobs that make sustainable revenue generation possible. What do you think?