7 Roles of an Executive

In over twenty years of working in the business world, I have had the opportunity to observe great and not so great executives, as well as some in between.   I have memories of several executivesburned into my memory.  Below are seven things I recall the great ones doing well.

1. Provide Vision

Providing vision is the most important job of an executive.  This responsibility should be primarily the job of the Chief Executive Officer or possibly founder.   The vision should be re-enforced on a regular basis by the entire executive team.  Simon Sinek describes the importance of communicating vision in his famous Ted Talk "Start with Why".   An executive needs to answer questions such as: why do we exist, where have we been, and where are we going?

2. Set Standards

After providing vision, an executive should set standards.  Standards should include core values as well as goals.  I recall the stories Dan Warmenhoven told us at NetApp about how the executive team chose their values such as "Candor" and "Get Things Done".  Dave Hitz, co-founder of NetApp, wrote our business plan of how we would grow from one billion to three billion in revenue in five years.  Chris Hornbecker, CEO at Xgility, spends a lot of time with the employees and executive team re-enforcing our values.

3. Ask Good Questions

It has been said that a job of a good leader is to remove obstacles.  The best executives know how to help their team remove their own obstacles by asking good questions.   Great executives have great people.   The job of the executive is to help their team see the problem from new angles to get "unstuck".

4. Provide Recognition

When I was at NetApp, Tom Mendoza coined the phrase "Catch somebody doing something right."   I estimate that he spent 25% or more of his time calling employees of the company to thank them for their efforts.   Tom said, "Everyone needs inspiration but they don't need it all the time. My observation is it is often offered the most when it is needed the least (after a win), offered the least when it is needed the most (when someone is struggling). People never forget your supporting them in a time of need."   At Xgility we are still pretty small and we recognize our team members every Friday our corporate culture call.   As Lee Odden said, "People will work for a living but they'll die for recognition."

5. Identify Leaders

An executive needs to be constantly looking to the future.   The further down on the organizational chart employees are, the more they are working in the business and the less time they have to work on the business.   A good executive will constantly measure the company against its goals and identify the people inside and outside the company that will help them achieve their goals.

6. Develop Leaders

Developing leaders is another key job of executives.  As Andy Grove said,  "Most managers feel that training is a job that should be left to others, perhaps training specialists.   I on the other hand strongly believe the manager should do it himself."   Some the best CEOs I know including Andy Grove, Dave Ramsey and Jack Welch all personally taught leadership or new hire classes.

7. Provide Perspective

One of the best ways leaders can provide perspective is to tell stories.   These stories might be about an employee who overcame an obstacle or a challenge they faced in the past.   Stories can re-frame the problem, help people learn new skills, or provide inspiration.   Executives should constantly point employees back to their vision, values, and goals.  

This might not be a complete list but these are the ones I have observed.   Is there one you think I may have missed?   Provide your comments below.   I look forward to your feedback.