I deal with many CEOS who are incredibly capable at their job. They can also do the job of many of the people who work for them. They may even be an expert in their area. The problem is that if CEOs step into what I call "Player Mode" too often, they can be masking an underlying talent problem that will eventually cap the organization's growth.
Let me explain.
Taking One for the Team.
When you make a hiring decision to bring an executive-level person onto your team, you're making that decision based on the person's skills and confidence that they can work, most of the time, independently. In other words, they are fully capable of solving problems independently without your assistance.
Many times, when an executive isn't competent, the CEO drops down and helps do their job. There are times when this can work in the short term, where you can help coach this person before backing out. It can also feel good to think you are taking a team to help them get through a tough spot.
Unfortunately, I have observed that once CEOs start covering for an employee, that tends to continue, especially if it involves an area in which the CEO is highly competent.
How Do You Spend Your Time?
Consider an example of a CEO I worked with who was exceptionally good at working with numbers. This CEO had a CFO who worked for him--someone the CEO rated as a solid B player.
But as I talked to the CEO about how he spent his time, I learned that he was often stepping in to help his CFO close the books every month. He was also helping to correct errors the CFO was regularly making. It was all so easy for this CEO to do, so he got used to just fixing the errors.
When I got him to take a step back and see how he was spending his time, this CEO recognized that he was essentially doing half of the CFO's job for him.
As I told him: "You just traded your CEO hat for that of a high-priced CFO."
This CEO had become blind to the fact that his CFO was a C player--or maybe worse. But he hadn't noticed because he enjoyed solving the problems his CFO was creating.
Eventually, the CEO woke up to this fact with my help and his peer group. He replaced the old CFO with a new, highly competent one. As a result, the CEO gained all kinds of time during his day that he could spend on other high-value projects that would help grow and scale the business.
The Addiction of Problem Solving.
Solving problems can become addictive. That's especially true for CEOs with high control needs and who gain gratification from solving problems. As I write in my book, Great CEOs Are Lazy, engaging in Player Mode has its benefits--for a time. But then you need to back out and take a more strategic look at how you spend your time, and why you found yourself covering for your employee.
That's when it's time to ask yourself if you are covering up the fact that you don't have the right person for the job. That can be tough to assess, especially when you find yourself enjoying solving the problems.
But unless you take a step back and look hard at how you might be covering for a weak employee, you might become the constraint that keeps your company from growing because you have failed to bring in the best talent possible for the job.