The Core Tasks of the CEO

And a showcase of the best KISS CEO job description you will ever find

by Ben M. Bartlett

So what are the core tasks of the CEO?  The stuff they should be doing on a day-to-day basis?

Some organisations have complex CEO job descriptions of up to 10 pages to outline what a CEO should be doing.  Not necessary. KISS – i.e Keep It Simple Stupid – is much better.

Fact is, you can articulate a CEO’s job down to summaries and bullet points.

Let’s start with the overarching skill of the CEO, which is strategic management.

Yes indeed, strategic management is what the CEO needs to be doing on a day-to-day basis.

And a more detailed, yet KISS, description?  Let me share one of the best ones from one of the pioneers of strategic management, and the father of modern-day management, Peter Drucker.

In his 1955 book, The Practice of Management, Drucker gave a detailed, yet KISS overview of strategic management with his list of the activities and duties of a chief executive.

Despite the fact that it’s more than 60 years old, this job description is still one of the best you will find:

The chief executive thinks through the business the company is in.  He develops and sets the over-all objectives.  He makes the basic decisions needed to reach these objectives.  He communicates the objectives and the decisions to his management people.

He educates these managers in seeing the business as a whole and helps them to develop their own objectives from those of the business.  He measures performance and results against the objectives.  He reviews and revises objectives as conditions demand.

The chief executive makes the decisions on senior management personnel.  He also makes sure that future managers are being developed all down the line.  He makes the basic decisions on company organisation.  It is his job to know what questions to ask of his managers and to make sure they know what the questions mean.

He co-ordinates the product businesses within the company and the various functional managers.  He arbitrates conflict within the group and either prevents or settles personality clashes.

Like the captain of a ship, he takes personal command in an emergency.

(Source: The Practice of Management)

Now let’s disregard the very male-centric nature of what Peter Drucker has written, and just focus on the tasks themselves. After all, the 1950s business world was dominated by older men.

So breaking the tasks down into a bullet point list, this is what we have:

  • Think through the business (Strategic thinking and visioning)
  • Set objectives (Goal Setting)
  • Make decisions (Planning and decision-making, establishing strategic position, vision and business model)
  • Communicate objectives and decisions (Communicate vision, strategy and business model)
  • Educate managers to see business as a whole (Teaching vision, strategy and business modelling)
  • Measure performance and results (Performance management)
  • Review and revise (Strategic reviews)
  • Recruit senior personnel (Strategic recruitment)
  • Develop managers (Coaching and mentoring)
  • Make decisions on company organisation (Organisational Structuring)
  • Ask questions (Performance scorecarding and accountability)
  • Coordinate products (Product development and strategic branding)
  • Arbitrate conflict and settle personality disputes (Relationship management)
  • Take personal command in an emergency (Leading from the front)

There you go.  14 bullet points. The core tasks and roles of a CEO. Very relevant and applicable today, just as they were back in 1955.

So put away the complex job description if you have one.  And instead focus on the overarching skill of strategic management, as well as Peter Drucker’s simplified CEO job description.