by Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
There is much discussion and debate about how much a leader (whether a CEO or not) needs to be involved in the day-to-day operations of his or her organization. Being an engaged leader is essential, but that is not the same as being involved in virtually every detail of organizational life to the extent where the leader is driving, pushing or directing so much of what is going on that members of the team simply wait to be told what to do.
The question that most of us who lead have to ask is this: When do we need someone in between us and those on the front lines? You can call it a buffer. A chief operating officer or a director of operations. It doesn’t really matter what you call it, but it is a top-level professional whose job it is to manage the day-to-day activities of team members.
While this person clearly needs to have certain leadership skills, he or she is not the CEO or the visionary leader who must be thinking and planning about the future of the organization.
While the CEO is building external relationships and representing the organization’s brand to a variety of key stakeholders, the job of the organization’s day-to-day operational manager includes the following critical functions, which often require superior communication and leadership skills:
1. Following up and following through on important project deadlines and assignments to ensure staff members are staying on track. It would be great if every team member were so motivated that they didn’t need someone monitoring their progress, but that’s just not always realistic.
The director of operations can touch base in the following fashion: “How are you doing on the Johnson project, Bob? I know it is due to the boss by end of day Thursday. Let’s talk through where you are on the project and identify any areas where I can help.”
Doing this will identify if Bob has actually even begun work on the Johnson project and will also communicate the message loud and clear that the so-called “buffer” between him and the CEO is there to keep him focused.
2. Another critical function is for this head of operations to keep the organizational leader up to date on where important projects stand. So, if Bob is in fact behind or doing a bang up job on the Johnson project, that information gets passed along to the CEO. Further, if the problem persists, it is the job of the director of operations to recommend that Bob get some special coaching or possibly be confronted on his poor performance.
3. The director of operations also can play a critical role in filtering information from team members to the organizational leader.
This is a tricky area because even though it is important for the CEO to have access to important data, he or she can be overwhelmed with too much information.
However, if this operational leader filters out or edits critically important information because of an agenda that goes against the organization’s larger goals, this can be a serious problem.
That is why it is absolutely essential that the CEO and the director of operations have tremendous trust in one another and share a mutual bond about the organization’s strategic goals and objectives.
4. Finally, this director of operations also needs to be prepared to confront team members who need to be confronted for a variety of reasons such as poor performance, poor attitude or a lack of commitment to the organization.
This uniquely qualified professional cannot be afraid to be unpopular in certain circumstances.
What other qualities does a first-rate director of operations or chief operating officer need to succeed? Write to me with your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.