A CEO who thinks of themselves as the top executive is doomed to failure. The only four ways to succeed as a CEO are to act as chief enabler, enforcer, enroller or customer experience officer. This is the final choice flowing from your overall strategic choice, which dictates your choice of culture, organization, how to operate and the CEO’s role.

The framework for “What It Takes To Accelerate Through A Strategic Inflection Point” is laid out in that earlier article. The main point is that you must align your culture, organization, operations and CEO’s real job around one of four strategies. The overall framework for CEOs’ focus is laid out in my article on Why Most CEOs Are Not Strategic Personally. This current article will dig into what it means to be the chief enabler.



Best in class design/inventing organizations are marked by the relative independence, learning, enjoyment (and flexibility) of their specialized artistic leaders thriving with freeing support led by chief enablement officers leveraging inspiring principles. Let’s unpack that.

Strategy – Design

The first choice is the strategy. Being best in class in design or invention means out-innovating everyone else on a continuous basis. This requires relatively high investment in research and development and in your researchers and developers. This is a hard competitive advantage to achieve – and to maintain.

Culture – Independent

Best in class designers and inventors throve on independence. They want to keep learning. They enjoy the experience of creating new things. They need flexibility. Everything about your culture has to support that.

Organization – Specialized

In many ways, a specialized organization is the hardest to draw out on a piece of paper and hardest to understand. The reporting lines are much less important than the information and decision lines.

Some of the historically best at this like IBM and Procter & Gamble actually had two tracks: a management track and an expert track. Expert designers or inventors could get promotions without having to manage people. They could end up officially reporting to people who with lower “ranks” than theirs and earning less money.

In any case, the key to the organization is for everyone else to do whatever it takes to support and realize the inventors and designers’ inventions and designs.

Operations – Freeing Support

The operations or ways of working flow straight from the strategy, culture and organization. In design-focused organization it’s all about freeing support. That means people doing whatever it takes to free the designers and inventors from any burden or distraction that takes them away from designing and inventing. That means everyone else in the organization having a mindset of supporting and realizing their stars inventions and designs.

CEO – Chief Enabler

This gets us to the CEO. With a design-focused strategy and a specialized organization, the “E” in CEO should stand for Enabler. The CEO’s job is to be the designers’ and inventors’ chief supporter and chief freer. They should do whatever it takes to inspire and enable designers and inventors to design and invent and everyone else to help them do so.

This means leading with principles – ways of thinking about actions. These are much less prescriptive or directive than guidelines that lay out preferred courses of actions or policies that mandate definite courses or methods of action that all must follow. Designers and inventors are going to love CEOs that do this right. Others in the organization won’t be so sure. Those that value stability will think the CEO is a renegade and too changeable and unclear. Those that value interdependence will think the CEO is disconnected and out of control and the organization is too siloed.

If you want everyone to appreciate you as a leader, take a more general approach to leadership. Help each and every individual be the best they can be and recognize and reward all your people equally. But if you want to deliver superior results, everything you and everyone does must drive your core over-arching strategy of design, product, deliver or support.