Direct involvement Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2007

At one of our recent events, Steve Demetriou told our audience that if he is spending a lot of time with his direct reports, then he has the wrong people in those positions.

Demetriou, chairman and CEO of Aleris International Inc., a $5 billion metals company, really struck a chord with that comment. While it may seem that the role of the CEO should be to spend a lot of time with his or her direct reports, that’s not really the case.

If you are spending a lot of time managing your management team, who’s working on the major strategic issues facing the company?

It’s always tempting to jump into the fray and solve day-to-day problems, particularly in the parts of the business where you have a lot of experience. If you came up through the ranks on the sales side, there will always be the temptation to meddle with sales and get things done the way you used to do them. But now you have someone else that’s in charge of that function, and you need to let that person do it his or her way.

There’s always a time and place for the CEO to get involved in the details, but these opportunities need to be chosen carefully and should produce maximum results.

This goes back to Demetriou’s comment. If you are spending a lot of time with a particular department head to straighten things out, then you probably have the wrong person running that department. Short-term fixes are fine, but if it’s a regular occurrence, you need to think twice about what is going on.

You also have to give your key people the wiggle room to get the job done. Give them the parameters in which to operate, then get out of their way.

The great American general George S. Patton is credited with saying, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” Sure, you hold them accountable for results, but if you find the right people to begin with, then you don’t need to be managing how they manage others. CEOs have their own role to play within the organization.

Some like to spend more time with their front-line people — who are closer to customers — to stay current on trends and specific needs. Some like to talk to customers directly to make sure the product and service offerings are relevant in a changing market. Others like to tweak long-term plans and spend time refining the corporate vision.

The point is, no matter how you prefer to be spending your time, if you have the right people in your key positions, then you will have more time to focus on the things that are most important for the long-term success of your company.

So if you find yourself spending a lot of face time with your direct reports, you have to ask yourself two questions: Am I micromanaging these people? And, is this the right person for the job?

If the answer to the first question is yes, then it’s a matter of trusting them with the responsibility and the authority to get the job done — and hold them accountable to that. If you aren’t micro-managing them but you’re still spending a lot of time with them fixing problems, then it might be time for evaluating whether you have the right people in your most important positions.

Ultimately, if you’re having to do their jobs, then who is doing yours?

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or