The title of this article should probably be expanded to “You Wear Two Hats at the Same Time.” Although this title may conjure up an amusing visual picture, it portrays an accurate representation that every CEO must constantly consider. The two hats represent the well documented roles of leader and manager. There are many books, studies, and articles that discuss, compare, and contrast these two terms. However, the reality is that the CEO must always play both roles at the same time with consistency.
It is easy to fall into the trap of artificially separating these activities. In larger organizations, it is not uncommon to hold an operations review meeting in which sales, shipments, projects, and other day-to-day activities are reviewed relying on well-established historical and forecasted data. These meetings are typically ended with the comment: “Now, let’s move on to the strategic discussion.” This flip-the-switch approach may seem logical on the surface but often leads to discontinuities of thoughts and actions. A convenient, but perhaps simplistic, way of differentiating leadership and management is leaders are responsible for defining reality, while managers are responsible for making it happen. Although certain elements within an organization function very efficiently focusing on managing activities, characterized with the quaint statement of “keeping the trains running on time,” the CEO does not have that luxury.
The CEO needs to keep the organization in balance by encouraging both leaders and managers to embrace two common themes in all of their activities and in dealing with every individual inside and outside the organization. Those themes are 1) operating beyond reproach and 2) being accountable. While individual roles and responsibilities between leaders and managers may vary, these two themes need to be bedrock, never changing, core characteristics demonstrated in every action all of the time. The CEO must exhibit these two characteristics and demand, yes, demand, unwavering adherence by everyone without exception.
It is easy to identify managers in an organization. Titles and organization charts show who they are for all the world to see. Leaders can be anywhere, independent of titles or structure. On the surface, it is easy to confuse top performers and leaders. The highest achieving sales rep, the superior software developer, and the fastest production person may all gain respect due to their accomplishments. Others may look up to them because of their performance but may soon be disillusioned if their performance slips or if they do not exhibit the beyond reproach or accountability characteristics previously mentioned. For true leaders, those two characteristics are never questioned.
So, perhaps the CEO needs to wear four hats simultaneously and never take them off. They need to be a leader that defines reality and the manager that oversees its implementation, while operating beyond reproach and being accountable. Clearly, wearing four hats is not easy. However, which one can be left on the hat rack or taken off from time to time? The answer is obvious, none can be left on the rack.