Fallacy of One man Chief Executive

Even if the job is studied most systematically, organized most thoughtfully, and with the maximum of decentralization, it still is not a job one man could or should do. Indeed, 90% of the trouble we are having with the chief executive’s job is rooted in our superstition of the one man chief. We still, has Henry Ford as model chief executive of the modern business after the single proprietor of yesterday’s economy.

There will always be too many activities in the job for any one man’s working day. Half the activities in the list gave above should probably be taken out of the chief executive’s hands and given to other people. The remainder would still be unmanageable for one man; there would still be some fifteen or twenty major activities. Each of them would be of vital importance to the enterprise. Each would be difficult. Each would be time consuming. And each would require careful planning, thought and preparation. The job, if pared to the bone, would still exceed the span of managerial responsibility of any one man. An unlimited supply of universal geniuses could not save the one man chief executive concept unless they could also bid the sun stand still in the heavens. And even Joshua could accomplish this only once, whereas the one man chief executive would have to perform the miracle seven days a week.

The activities that together make up the chief executive job are also too diverse to be performed by one man. The list includes things that have primarily to do with planning analyzing and policy formulation, like the determination of the company’s business, the setting of objectives and so forth. It includes things that require fast decisive action: for instance, the handling of a major crisis. Some of these things deal with the long range future and others with immediate problems. Yet it is a rule that tomorrow’s business will not get done if you mix it with today’s – let alone with yesterday’s. Some activities require the skill of the negotiator: the arbitration of internal clashes or the floating of a capital issue. Others require the skill of the educator. Others still are “relations” skills and for some activities is probably the first requirement.

The least that would seem to be required is three distinctive characters: the “thought man”, the “man of action” and the “front man” as one of my friends in a top management calls them. Two of these characters may be found combined in one man. A schizophrenic is not really wanted in the chief executive’s job. All three mentioned above are most unlikely to be found together. Yet in all three major areas there are important activities that have to be discharged well if the enterprises are to prosper.

There is only one conclusion: the chief executive job in every business except perhaps the very smallest cannot properly be organized as the job of one man. It must be the job of a team of several men acting together. The first is the isolation of the chief executive.

The president of a company, whether large or small, is insulated by his position. Everybody wants something from him. His managers want to “sell” him ideas or want to advance their position. The supplier wants to sell him goods. The customer wants better service or lower prices. The president is forced to adopt an “arm’s length” attitude in his dealings with people in sheer self defense. Also, as soon as the business attains even modest size, everything brought to him for information or decision is of necessity pre-digested, formalized and abstract. It is a distillation rather than the raw stuff of life. Otherwise, the president could not deal with it at all. His social life (if he has any at all, which is unlikely considering the pressures of the job) is usually spent with other people of similar rank and station so that he rarely as much as meets people whose point of view, experiences and opinions are not similar to his. He may be the most easygoing fellow in the world; but his plant visits of his executive luncheons will have, without any fault of his, all the informality of a Byzantine state visit. As a result one of the shrewdest observers of management once said “there is no lonelier guy any place than the fellow in the president’s chair”.

Organizing the chief executive’s job properly will accentuate this isolation. For the things he should not do are precisely the things that break through the silken curtain that shuts him in. Everybody agrees that the chief executive should spend more time on thinking and planning. But this means that he should spend less time (or no time at all) talking to customers over the telephone, handling production or design details, seeing chance callers or charity canvassers, chatting with a newspaperman, or “being one of the boys” at a sales convention. Yet, these are all things that, however inadequately, break the chief executive’s isolation.