The 6 Different Hats a CEO Might Have to Put On

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Veteran CEO; CEO, Black Box; Founder, Khorus
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How should CEOs spend their time? They may have to play six unique roles at any given time.

Much of my thinking on this topic comes from Jim Schleckser, CEO and managing partner of the CEO Project, a peer organization I have belonged to in the past. Schleckser developed the idea about the first five of these six “hats” that a CEO might have to put on in service to their business.

Here's a look at the six different hats (or the various roles) that a CEO might be balancing:

Related: Stop Being a Jack-of-All-Trades. Join the Billion Dollar Unicorn Club

1. Architect's hat. While wearing this hat, CEOs are designing the business model, the foundation for the entire business. They are working on pivotal questions such as Who is the customer? What problem is the company solving? How does the organization make money? “If you get the business model right, your life is easy," Schleckser says. "If you get the business model wrong, your life is hard.”

2. Engineer's hat. CEOs who wear the engineer's hat are building the systems and processes that help the business grow. Startups make up for a lack of systems and processes with talent. But as the company grows, it needs to make investments in order to run more efficiently. Failure to create more mature systems and processes will inhibit its growth.

3. Coach's hat. CEOs who don the coach's hat are working with employees to encourage the best outcome. Ensure that the right players are in the right positions at all times. Develop talent for future needs. Stay in close contact with the executive team about the organization’s staff requirements at all times.

Related: How to Motivate Employees in Less Than 5 Minutes

4. Player's hat. CEOs who pitch in to help complete a task or project at a discrete point in time are wearing the player's hat. CEOs may have excelled in a specific area such as sales, marketing, engineering or another discipline. It’s only natural that CEOs -- especially new ones -- want to spend time doing what they're most comfortable and talented in. This can be very effective, especially when a company is in the early stages of growth.

Some CEOs, though, spend too much time wearing the player's hat and fail to tackle the unique challenges that come with being the leader. Strategy is thus being sacrificed for short-term gains.

5. Learner's hat. Assuming this hat keeps the CEO at the top of his of her game. As the only person able to see the entire playing field, the CEO has a unique vantage point. Therefore, it is his or her responsibility to always be learning and applying insights to the organization. Devoting a few days every quarter to learning both about the business (about customers, products and competitors) and outside it (about other industries and academic disciplines) will be extremely valuable.

Related: The 7 Management Lessons of Pope Francis

6. Priest's hat. CEOs wear this hat to keep morale high. (Feel free to substitute another term to connote a spiritual or another type of advisor.) Walking around while managing lets employees appreciate that the leader cares. Be a sounding board for employees who have ideas, problems or frustrations, someone who's in a position to help or guide them in working within the organizational structure to resolve an issue or make something happen. Coach the managers in a subtle way. (Like a priest who hears confession, keep the source confidential.) Building trusted relationships with front-line employees is invaluable to a CEO.

How much time should the CEO spend in each role? This depends on the organization’s stage of growth, but three roles have the highest value because they continue to pay off over time: These roles of the architect, engineer and coach set the stage for the continued growth of the business.

The best CEOs spend in these three roles about 35 percent to 50 percent of their time, depending on the business' stage of evolution, according to Schleckser. No more than 40 percent to 50 percent of a CEO’s time should be spent on tasks outside of these six roles.

Related: Lead From the Top: 5 Core Responsibilities of a CEO

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