Leadership Bandwidth

From firefighting to growth driving How CEOs can achieve their full potential.

From firefighting to growth driving How CEOs can achieve their full potential.

The unwavering focus of the pilot of a plane is required in the cockpit. She cannot be pulled out of her hot seat to pacify a passenger or help the steward serve. That could pose a serious threat to the very existance of the aircraft.

The role of CEO in an IT services company is no less than that of a pilot. What altitude of growth the company hits depends on the vision, involvement and vigor of the CEO. And yet, in most IT services companies, more often than not the CEO is found to be missing from her cockpit and firefighting issues in the aisle. These day to day battles take away the focus from the CEO’s primary job of being the growth driver and bringing prosperity and harmony to the organization. Keep reading to know more about how operational inefficiencies and firefighting prevent CEOs of IT services companies from doing their primary job well.

How does a CEO contribute to the organization?

The CEO of any IT services company has a tough job - she is responsible not only for the present performance of the organization but also for crafting its future. The CEO adds value in numerous ways:

Providing strategic direction:

A company cannot survive on autopilot in this every changing world - it needs consistent strategic direction and guidance to succeed. The CEO, like a seasoned captain of a ship, comes with wisdom gained over years of sailing rough seas. She has a comprehensive understanding of the current landscape as well as an idea of what the future may hold. She knows the very pulse of the organisation. Her strategic guidance carries immense value and helps the organization move forward as a force.

Frictionless functioning:

One of the key responsibilities of a CEO is ensuring the frictionless functioning of the organization. She has to identify the bottlenecks and constrains and work actively to eliminate them. Once in a while she has to intervene into escalations to resolve them.

Generating business:

In IT service companies, the CEO is also the engine that drives business genera- tion. A CEO can expedite the sales cycle putting to use her effective selling skills, and deep knowledge of the offering. She can give confidence to the customer by answering the questions and concerns that are hindering them from making the decision. The CEO should be spending a good deal of time generating business for the organization.

Enabling the future growth:

A CEO has to continuously assess the risks posed by changing markets. This may lead to evaluation of the current offerings and research initiatives to explore new ones. A CEO also forges partnerships and alliances and decides which domains to invest in to ensure value generation in the future. The CEO has to watch financial health of the organization and ensure that they are ready to deal with the future.

Driving culture throughout the organization: A CEO embodies the values of the organizational and its culture. She is the biggest mascot of the organization. She is responsible for mentoring and inspiring the entire leadership team and the next generation to strengthen and nurture this culture. Innovation, character development, operational effieciency can thrive in an ethical and harmonious organisation. This requires consistant, long term focus and efforts and the CEO is the torch bearer.

Firefighting: How do CEOs get dragged into it?

Failure of internal delivery mechanisms:

For every IT services company their delivery teams are the core of their business. This is where the revenue is generated. The delivery teams are expected to perform optimally, but often, things drift away from that expectation. Sudden resignations of team members might put the project off the timelines. A faulty team configuration may risk successful delivery of the project. Unmanaged leaves and expenses may risk project profitability. Unexpected problems during delivery may leave the client unhappy and wanting to escalate the situation. Every time a failure like this takes place, CEO has to step in to intervene.

Lack of visibility leading to urgencies:

We all know that a stitch in time saves nine; unfortunately, most of the IT services companies lack a dashboard where they can identify where these stitches are needed. This opacity leads to simple issues getting overlooked and ultimately piling up to form some critical urgency. When a situation like this arises, the CEO has to take charge.

How to ensure that CEO does not get dragged into fire fighting?

The CEO is the most valuable asset of any organization. When a CEO gets deviated from her core job, the losses - both tangible and intangible, are huge. Here are a few best practices and guidelines to ensure that the CEOs remain focused on their core responsibilities :

Clear decision making power to leaders of various departments:

If the issues get resolved at the department level, CEOs will not be required to put their time and energy into them.

Unfortunately, in quite a few organizations, the line of decision making is not well defined. This makes a room for inaction or procrastination. When things reach a level of threshold, the CEO has to jump in. Setting up a clear line of decision making and accountability and giving the required authority to various leaders can help CEOs save their time.

Functioning optimally:

As the zen proverb goes, when the shoe fits, the foot is forgotten. In same way, when various departments within the organization start working optimally, the CEO is actually forgotten from the routine stuff. If departments are empowered to function optimally, a lot of CEO’s time will be saved.

Maintain Profitability :

At the end, everything boils down to the one non-negotiable factor - profitability. In IT services companies, not having a visibility into the project profitability in realtime can lead to surprises. Many-a-times it takes a long time to figure out that the profit margins in your heads are different from the actual profit margins. At such point, CEO has to actually leave everything and work towards bringing back profitability. If delivery, finance, RMG and other team leaders are equipped with tools to show them the profitability as they act, the biggest factor consuming the time of the CEO will simply disappear.

CEO as the growth driver!

When your CEO starts getting more time to spend in the cockpit, improvements can be seen on multiple fronts. When CEOs work as growth drivers as against firefighters, following positive changes will start happening :

Providing clear vision and leadership:

The CEO will be able to provide clear vision to respective team leaders and guide them towards excellence. When CEO gets time, everyone under her is aligned towards growth and excellence.

Make organization resilient:

Resilience is essential for survival today. Even well functioning companies can struggle for their survival if they are not resilient to sudden changes. When CEOs are spared from the firefighting, they can put in place a blueprint to bring in the resilience.

Making organization future proof :

What is working well today, might not tomorrow. Future is always unpredictable and a considerable resources of the organization are utilized towards making it future-proof. This will call for developing new products, carrying out multiple research and development projects etc. A CEO needs to have complete visibility, insights and market understanding to make organization future proof. This can happen only when they have time!

Building future leadership:

An organization does not only need future products. It also needs future leaders who can take the legacy further ahead. Most of the CEOs find building future leadership as one of the most difficult responsibilities. When CEOs are not firefighting, they can think through the future trajectory of the organization, identify future leaders and groom them.


It is actually impossible to quantify the value addition by CEOs to their organizations. The most expensive resource should be used the most judiciously. Are you a CEO who would like to shift to being a growth leader from a firefighter? Get in touch with me; we have something you might find very useful.