How I Use a CEO Mindset to Guarantee High Performance

There is considerable overlap between the roles and responsibilities of a CEO and any other leader. These roles and responsibilities include:

  1. Setting Strategic Objectives
  2. Implementing plans
  3. Budget and Forecasting
  4. Public relations
  5. Board Communications
  6. Performance Tracking
  7. Establishing the Culture

One mental hack I've used in my corporate life to ensure high performance is to pretend I'm the CEO of a company made up entirely of my team. This heuristic clarifies your responsibilities and instills a strong sense of ownership that is truly powerful.

Setting strategic objectives

CEO's are responsible for devising strategic plans to bring their visions to reality. They set clear objectives and help employees better understand the business roadmap.

But this isn't just for CEO's...your team needs to know what the business roadmap is so they can start tracking dependencies and creating roadmaps. They need you to clarify relative priority between projects so that the most important projects are completed. Just as CEO's do annual planning with their VP's, so should you with your Directors and Engineering Managers. What goals is the business taking next year? What kind of programs need to be created as a result of these goals? Are there internal themes you'd like to focus on? These are the types of questions to keep in mind as you are setting strategic direction for your team.

Implementing proposed plans

CEO's are responsible for the overall direction for their companies, but they also help develop strategies and plans. They communicate their plans throughout the company to ensure that business operations are aligned with the overarching strategy.

And like the CEO, it's your job as a leader to assist your team in creating short and long term plans for achieving business goals. What kind of work is required to meet the business goals? How do you organize that work into programs? How large should the teams be on those programs? Do your teams understand the scope and implementation details? These questions need to be answered for your team to execute against company goals.

Budgeting and forecasting

CEO's are primarily capital allocators; they decide where to invest and divest capital so as to meet company goals. Annual budgets are created considering factors like industry risk, acquisition opportunities, future growth, profitability of products and services, and many more. These factors are used to decide how programs are "funded".

As an Engineering Leader, you have probably been asked to audit your hosting costs, or been forced to give up headcount to another organization, or even shuffled people internally based on a change in business priorities. These are all versions of budget and forecasting, just at a slightly different level of leadership. How much is your hosting currently costing the business? Are you an outlier relative to other organizations? Do you have enough headcount or are you hiring fast enough to be able to achieve goals that are 3 quarters out on your roadmap? These are the Budgeting and Forecasting type of responsibilities every Engineering Leader will eventually own.

Public relations

The CEO is almost always face of the company and as the primary representative, all eyes on on them. Their actions and words are scrutinized publicly and internally and they set an example for the rest of the company. This can include disseminating difficult news, doing interviews with media, or reinforcing company values.

Similarly, you are the face of your organization and need to be a good steward of your team. You will frequently be called on to act as the representative for your organization; act like the CEO of your team. You can't afford to lose your cool, be brash or abrasive, or miss key meetings. You are the primary representative of your "company" and everyone to a certain extent looks up to the leaders around them. Treat people with respect, be transparent and honest, and work on being a proficient public speaker. These are the things to focus on to master public relations for your team.

Communicating with the Board of Directors

The Board of Directors is a link between the company and its stakeholders, usually investors. Investors expect boards to be transparent and accountable and so CEO's keep the board informed of key business decisions.

This one probably requires the most squinting. As an Engineering Leader you don't have a board, per se. But you definitely have VP's and a CTO who need to be kept apprised of your goals, intiaitives, and progress. Treat your superior engineering leaders like a board: be transparent, early, and clear in your communication; they are there to help. Accountability to these people will ensure high quality work.

Tracking company performance

Company performance is a key part of the CEO’s role. Revenue growth, gross profit margins, and other key performance indicators (KPI's) can be used to make adjustments to the business and ensure the company meets its goals.

Very similarly, as an Engineering Leader you should be tracking all sorts of performance metrics. Examples include program level progress, Production breaking incidents, velocity, individual performance, and so on. Metrics can be difficult to track and collect but I recommend investing significant time and energy here. Metrics are irresistible to management. Going into a "Board of Directors" meeting with all your metrics in hand will unlock doors you didn't know existed.

Establishing working culture

To ensure a well functioning company, the CEO needs to create a healthy working culture. This can be done through good hiring, company values, leading by example, or other strategies, but through these efforts CEO's are able to create a consistent, productive, and performant work culture.

And the same can be said of any Engineering Leader. The type of team you create will depend on your values, how you lead, who you hire, and the type of behavior you consciously or subconsciously reinforce. Be hyper vigilant of your team and the culture you are curating.

By thinking of yourself as the CEO of your team, your roles and responsibilities become more clear. Just as the CEO is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of their company, you are ultimately responsible for the success and failure of yours. This extreme ownership strategy creates a level of personal accountability that nearly guarantees high performance from you and your team and embodies strong leadership.

If you are struggling with how to tackle these responsibilities, or are interested in learning more, I offer paid coaching for a limited number of people. More information can be found on my Coaching page.