The common understanding of the acronym CEO is Chief Executive Officer, a weighty sounding title which inspires visions of personal jets and private washrooms. The daily reality though, for a CEO of a small growing business is very different. There is very little glamour associated with being the CEO of a start-up business. Instead, it's more often than not, the Chief Everything Officer for the company.
I argue that the acronym for the startup CEO requires a more expansive definition. To achieve that, I've aimed here to capture what other definitions for the role I have found that most CEOs of small companies need to possess.
Alternative Definitions of What the title of "CEO" stands for:
Chief Excitement Officer: As the Chief Excitement Officer of your growing company, your job is to create your corporate vision, both externally and internally, and then to lead your organization around this vision with excitement and passion every day. Excitement in your company starts with you, and if you do it right, it is then carried forward by others. Excitement by your team for your vision and the goals and measures of this vision should be what gets them out of bed in the morning, what keeps them at their desks past 5pm, and what keeps them loyal to your organization over time and during times of stress.
Being the Chief Excitement Officer of your organization is one of the best things you can do to enhance productivity. If you lack the excitement of your vision, the rest of the organization will float aimlessly like a sailboat on a windless day.
Chief Execution Officer: Business Strategist Peter Drucker once wisely said, "Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work." As the Chief Execution Officer of your company, it is always your job to be the leader of turning the vision of where you want to be into the actions, organizational coordination, and ultimately the results that drive your growth. It's hard work, it's grinding work, and it will require you to build a team to help you to get it done.
Make no mistake, combined with your role as the Chief Excitement Officer, it is the most important role you have in the company. One of my favorite quotes from Jack Welsh says it all, "Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion." Be that kind of leader through your devotion to taking the role of Chief Execution Officer for your company, every day.
Chief Empowerment Officer: As the Chief Empowerment Officer of your company, it is often your job to be the head of Human Resources, and, more specifically, Human Resource Empowerment. Said another way, it is your job to make sure that the team is recognized for their talents, listened to for their thoughts around your company and your market, and acknowledged for what they need to rise to your challenges. It is then your job to be the head of removing obstacles in their path so they can get to their greatness.
No one else in the company can better influence the path to your team's empowerment. It's your privilege as the head of the company to be the proxy head of personal empowerment, it is also your responsibility to act on this privilege.
Chief Excellence Officer: Defining excellence in your company is really about determining goals and objectives across the company and leading the process (versus owning the process). Where the result is that very executive, manager, rank-and-file employee knows what "excellence" looks like for them and how their goals and objectives roll up to the greater set of what defines the company. This is what being the Chief Excellence Officer means. As motivational speaker, Tony Robbins once said "Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible."
As the Chief Excellence Officer of your company, you are the leader of the goal-setting process. Everyone will take their excellence achieving focus from you.
Chief Excruciating Officer: There will be times in all businesses where pain needs to be felt. For startups, it is often due to missed targets, missed deadlines for releases, or failed product launches. The results of these challenges are often painful decisions like: cutting back on expenses, cutting back on people, or asking staff to work harder and longer to meet a release deadline.
As the Chief Excruciating Officer of your company, it is your job to share the pain of the company in a way that is obvious to everyone. If your development team is working evenings and weekends to meet a deadline and you are running off to your tennis game at 4pm or posting vacation pictures on Facebook, it won't be long before they are polishing up their resumes. Why should they suffer to hit goals but you don't? If you have to make expense cutbacks, then you have to lead the process of frugality in some obvious way for everyone. And if a key hire of yours needs to be let go, it should ALWAYS be you who does it.
Quoting Game of Thrones' Ned Stark, "The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword."Misery happens from time to time in all growing organizations, it's unfortunate but inevitable. And if there is one thing that misery loves, it is company - specifically, your company as the Chief Excruciating Officer.
There are a lot of different roles a CEO has to play in order to grow a successful business. It's going to hurt, exhaust, and even break your heart at times, but knowing that your job is so much more than "the boss", more than the number cruncher, or, simply, the face of the company is going to help you, your staff, and your business get there. You're a general, a cheerleader, a teammate, a shining gold star sticker, a thinker and a doer all wrapped into one. So go forth, redefined CEO!