Chief Existential Officer

A wise and unusually successful corporate CEO mentor told me that “the CEO does what no one else can do.”

That was it. He gave no directive about what the CEO can or should do, just that the CEO does what no one else can do.

I’ve pondered this maxim over the course of my tenure as a CEO. My conclusion is that if someone else can do it, get them to do it. Hire the best people, passionate about the mission, to accomplish the goals detailed in the strategy. As CEO, my job is to get the mission accomplished. This means not doing the things others can do. I must however be capable to do anything required by the mission.

Recently, the process of letting go of a must “do” professional lens has led to a must “be” approach. I’m learning that my job is to embody the mission, making its achievement a central aspect of my very character. “A community free of hunger and homelessness” is not what I’m doing, it is who I am being. I must be the CEO who empowers others to not simply do what I cannot do, but be who we must be.

For the members of our team reading this, I want us to be the vision we seek, namely, a community free of hunger and homelessness. Every day, your commitment to the work at hand comes through in the attitude, presence, and ownership of our shared mission. Keep inspiring me!

As Results Based Accountability guru, Mark Friedman, implores of his readers of the internationally acclaimed 10th edition organizational behavior treatise, Trying Hard is not Good Enough: it is not enough to simply know what you do or how much of and how well you do it…you must know the difference you make.

This vocational cum existential quandary is where I’d like to update my mentor’s guidance – the CEO must not simply do what no one else can do, the CEO must be who no one else can be. And that is the hardest part of being CEO.

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