Who’s in the Cockpit? (Part Two)

posted by Administrator on 04/06/2023 in Blog Posts  | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,
By Tom Cramer


As we discussed in Part One of this series, the role of and the makeup of the C-Suite is constantly evolving. The basic needs of leadership and technical specialties and skills are increasingly essential to survival and success. However, the ability to respond to a changing business and work environment is more vital than ever.

One empirical proof of this aspect of the change in the C-Suite is the job descriptions provided to executive search firms for various C-level executives. The experience and skills are still listed. Increasingly, those will be almost secondary to seeking individuals who, according to HBR, “are able to motivate diverse, technologically savvy, and global workforces, who can play the role of a corporate statesperson, dealing effectively with constituents ranging from sovereign  governments to influential NGOs; and who can rapidly and effectively apply their skills in a new company, in what may be an unfamiliar industry, and often with colleagues in the C-suite whom they didn’t previously know.”

For the largest of those enterprises, you will now find a growing number of positions with “Chief” in front of their title, including chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief operating officer (COO), and chief information officer (CIO). However, the increasing complexities of the business environment mean you will also find far more of these titles:

  • Chief Compliance Officer (CCO)
  • Chief Human Resources Manager (CHRM)
  • Chief Security Officer (CSO)
  • Chief Green Officer (CGO)
  • Chief Analytics Officer (CAO)
  • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)
  • Chief Data Officer (CDO)

For the smaller to mid-sized firms, many of those C-Suite skills and responsibilities will be combined and expected to flow from the CEO and the COO. Thus, it makes it vital that each individual in each position have clear guidance as to what their role encompasses. Of course, the specifics of the job description will vary by the company and its size. This, however, makes it even more critical to clearly delineate those roles and responsibilities.

Even in smaller businesses where the idea of a “C-Suite” might seem too presumptuous, it is a mistake to think such. As the business leader and manager, it is very useful to look to how large companies organize their teams and where they assign specific tasks and responsibilities. If you are called upon to wear several hats due to the size of your organization, carefully evaluate the “big league” players who fill those slots. Ask, “What are they expected to accomplish when they wear each of those hats.”

Here we will drill down on the top two C-Suite positions that virtually every business must fill properly. Those are the Chief Executive Officer and the Chief Operating Officer.

You can find any number of business school definitions of these two roles. One would include
the following:

 What is a CEO?

The CEO meaning is Chief Executive Officer. This is the highest-ranking person in the company. CEOs formulate business objectives and make strategic decisions (e.g., expansion in a new market or development of a new product).

 What is a COO?

The COO meaning is Chief Operations Officer. This is the second-in-command to the CEO. COOs take the CEO’s vision for the company and turn it into an executable business plan. They oversee all operations and ensure that teams work toward achieving the business goals.

As these abbreviated descriptions imply, the CEO is the chief pilot – they determine where the company is going and the general route for getting there. On the other hand, the COO is focused on execution, the specifics of successfully implementing the plans and achieving the agreed goals.

In Part Three, we will examine these two roles in more detail, including a discussion of how the two executives interact with each other, with other leadership, and with the rest of the company’s team and employees.

We will also briefly examine several of the other C-Level roles of the largest companies to help you evaluate how you are addressing those leadership and mission-critical functions and responsibilities.