My ever faithful blog support team recently asked me what was unexpected about being a CEO. The short answer is: a lot. We are living in a world of seemingly ever increasing uncertainty. The byproduct of that uncertainty is a never ending series of surprises and challenges. We spend a great deal of time and effort thinking strategically about our business. We also spend a great deal of time responding to unexpected developments.
That’s the way it is, but it got me thinking about other elements of the job that the readers might not find obvious if they have not had the opportunity I have to lead a company of this magnitude. So I will offer a few observations about daily life as a CEO.
For starters, if a problem is easy to solve then I am not going to know about it. No easy problems get to me because there are so many talented professionals on my team to solve the easy ones and also most of the hard ones. For something to make it to me, it has to be challenging which usually means an issue that involves trade-offs between various strategies or conflicting ideas about how to achieve an objective. I try to discourage my people from asking me what do. It is fine if they identify different options but I expect them to advocate a specific recommendation. I will then try hard to go with their recommendation but sometimes I am privy to information that might change the answer. Often there are teaching moments that arise from these conversations. So while I’m the only member of my family who has never been a teacher (mother, father, two brothers, sister), I still get my chances.
My contribution is often to communicate to external audiences. Many of my teammates know exactly what to say but the situation demands the CEO’s voice is to express the point of view. This is especially true for constituencies such as the media, politicians and industry conferences. It’s a privilege to be the voice and face of a brand that makes 3.5 million guests happy each year, but it can be challenging to identify opportunities for rising stars to get experience in such situations. Yet an important part of our responsibility is to prepare the next generation of leadership in all respects.
Keeping with this theme, it is the CEO’s responsibility to place colleagues in situations where they are likely to be successful, where their skills are leveraged and where they gain critical experience. Given my background in sports, it won’t be surprising that I think of this in terms of a point guard in basketball knowing where to get the other players the ball to maximize their effectiveness.
There are certain recurring experiences that I am truly fortunate to have. One is the look I get to see in people’s eyes – especially our guests, occasionally travel agents or others – when they tell me how special their cruises were and/or how special our men and women are. It’s as if they see in me the embodiment of the totality of our brand and the phenomenal efforts of the people in it. It is a priceless look that reflects 42 years of excellence at Royal Caribbean International.
Internally, the bond I have formed with many of my colleagues who have been with us for a long time is really special. We have grown up together and we have devoted our professional lives to Royal Caribbean and our guests. That is unusual in corporate life today but there are many examples at our company.
There are many other aspects to being CEO. Some of them are obvious, such as the pressures of balancing time, maintaining involvement in family life and handling incessant travel. There are also the opportunities to have wonderful experiences, participate in community leadership positions and pursue my training with a lot of support.
I hope this blog entry has given our readers some insight into what goes into being CEO.