One of the things that is most surprising to us as we work with SMB owners and leaders is how few really get what the role of a CEO is all about.

The journey is often a typical one. You started a business because you could. Or because you had an idea that just wouldn’t go away. Or maybe it really was a burning passion and an ‘authentic purpose’. The business got off the ground through you own personal sheer force of will. Maybe it stays there today because of that same drive.

But, the days keep getting longer and the job seems to become more difficult all the time. There are employees spending your money doing God only knows what. And, customers and partners shaping and reshaping your business to meet their own needs. There’s accountants and financial people in your office all the time bugging you about decisions that need to be made on how to spend, save or frankly just conserve the money you have. Each day seems like a new fire drill.

Is this really what you signed up for?

The problem, it seems to us, is really rooted in lack of clarity about your own personal role and responsibility in developing your business. The simple fact is that what made you great at starting your business is really no longer relevant to being successful. Simply managing, growing your business, or even in making it consistently profitable has changed.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that your role (and sometimes you) need to change. When we walk a business leader through this transformation, they often tell us about all the advice they have received (or read) on the role of a CEO. Perhaps it’s the Jack Welch model. Or Steve Jobs. Or Jim Collins. Or some other source. We like all of these of course but our advice is always much simpler.

Your role as a CEO should focus on four things … in nearly equal parts every day:

The Role of the CEO

  • People. Your employees, partners and service providers should be carefully chosen based on their fit to your culture and strategy. Getting the right people aligned to manage, serve and promote the business is your biggest challenge. Spend time here and choose wisely.
  • Strategy. If you can’t articulate where you want your business to be in 1 year, 3 years, or 5 years … you’re missing a valuable leadership tool. People will follow a leader and company that knows where it’s headed, and why it will win. Refine your focus.
  • Execution. Nothing kills companies faster than thrashing at decision making around the basics of how to deliver a product, sell it or service a customer. These three foundations need to be systematized for you to succeed. Flawless execution is your friend.
  • Financing. Living hand to mouth is one of the most de-motivating experiences for leaders and employees alike. Plan ahead and don’t allow your company to get in that position. Aligning the business to have enough reserves to support the execution of your plan fully is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.


Every leader has a blind spot and areas of their performance that hold them back. Don’t let yours be the actual definition of the role itself. You need a balanced perspective on how you develop your business that ensures a healthy foundation is in place. The four focal points we recommend will allow you to always be focused on the things that matter most. We call it your Pyramid of Success. The foundation is the CEO and the clarity of his (or her) role.