CEO or Chief Enablement Officer?

Leadership + Management


Leadership is about energising people rather than issuing orders, according to a recent article from Insead’s Knowledge website. The days of the CEO who knows and controls everything are over.

Enabling is one of the four crucial roles of the CEO identified in a five-year research project, documented in the book “CEO School: Insights from 20 Global Leaders”. According to the study, today’s CEOs cannot pretend they know everything in an organisation as many employees have superior technical skills to their managers.

Therefore, collaboration has long since replaced individual genius as the principal source of creativity, the study authors write. “Trying to apply the old model of determining strategy in the corner office and issuing orders is simply ineffective and inefficient today,” they say and explain that the CEO has evolved to become “Chief Enabler of the Organisation”.

What does this mean? It means that the CEO needs to guide and coach rather than offer “parental guidance”. His or her role is to enable other employees to perform. Based on the interviews during the study, the authors identified some specific practices, which allow CEOs to play their enabling role effectively.

·         Reducing uncertainty. Having only a few priorities, described in simple – and preferably quantitative – terms, radiates confidence.

·        Distributing leadership throughout the organisation, by increasing the number of leaders at different levels, who in turn take on the role of reducing uncertainty for their followers.

·         Streamlining organisational structure and governance by having as few rules as possible.

·        Using simple language in conversations and company documents, mentoring people to simplify rather than complicate things and making people accountable for creating unnecessary complexity.

·      Promoting clarity and transparency at all organisational levels. This can be done by making information and data accessible and understandable to all members of the organisation.

·         Encouraging collaboration and removing organisational barriers.

·         Making as few decisions as possible, giving the opportunity instead to other people in the organisation.

·         Supporting but challenging.

·         Educating. Enabling leaders make learning available to every employee and turn it into one of the company’s values. They build it into every job and create training programmes or corporate universities, rotating people across positions, functions and geographies to broaden their horizons.

·         Staying in touch with the business and the outside world.

·         Role modelling. 




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