Full Scale
CEO Roles
2021-05-27 /

CEO Insights: What Does a CEO Actually Do?

Most people think they know what a CEO does, but are often a little wrong. The best way to get at the core of what CEOs do is to become one. Barring that, you can ask actual CEOs for their insights, and here they are.

The term chief executive officer or CEO is a common one in business. Most companies have one, and most startups have their “CEO and Founder.” 

However, back in the day, there was no one acting as the chief executive officer as we understand it today. Business owners ran their companies like an absolute monarchy. That started to change as the world began to get more complex and the market more competitive. 

Business owners had to become more productive. They needed someone to oversee day-to-day activities, and that was the CEO. Some believe the term might have first come into being around 1917. This was during the time of the “first generation” of business owners that began hiring corporate executives to run the show.

What does CEO mean?

By definition, the CEO of a company is like the president of a democratic country. First, stakeholders elect someone to the position. Then that person becomes the face of the organization, makes major decisions that affect everyone, and manages resources as the highest-ranking executive. 

However, the CEO meaning is much less clear-cut than that of a country’s president. This is especially true when it comes to startups and small companies, where the executive roles tend to get muddled. In fact, some might not even have one at all.

Erik Perkins of Perkins Builder Brothers describes his working relationship with his brother as being “both sort of half in charge.” So what does a chief executive officer actually do? Read on.

What does a CEO do?

For established corporations, the CEO is at the top of the totem pole. To InnovateHer KC Founder and CEO Lauren Conaway, the CEO is “the big kahuna.” However, for startups and companies with a flat management structure, the role takes on softer shades.

Lead the Leaders

The CEO oversees the entire operation of the organization. Above all, as a good leader, this means communicating constantly with department heads to keep an eye on the prize. 

Full Scale CEO and Founder Matt Decoursey says, “I sometimes find myself having to bounce back and forth between different departments…to provide leadership, make decisions, or…just help other department managers or leaders.”

Andrew Morgans of Marknology believes the same thing. He thinks the CEO should “lead his company in every facet of the business; …lead it in communication, lead it in education, and serve.”

Set the Culture

Corporate culture is a collection of behaviors and attitudes that dictates the way employees interact with management and vice versa.

As a result, many people believe the culture of an organization has a profound effect on employee engagement and corporate success.  A case study of Google showed that the open environment creates a good connection between employees and management. 

Lauren agrees that corporate culture is important. In fact, she thinks that “the most important thing that a CEO can do is set the culture, set the tone, set the mission, set the vision, [and] figure out what are we all about and how is that reflected in our work.”

Keep the Faith

Many startups and small businesses start with just one person having a vision and mission. However, keeping faith in that vision and mission becomes more difficult as the organization grows. 

This is particularly true when unforeseen events happen such as a global pandemic. Lauren classifies a good CEO as someone “willing to roll up their sleeves and do everything with their team.” For Mixtape CEO and Founder Joel Johnson, he or she should “be looking years ahead of where their company should be.”

KC Hemp Co-Founder & COO Kyle Steppe thinks effective CEOs need to “completely understand the company…divvy out the responsibilities, oversee basically the future of the company, and with all the managers make sure they’re all doing the right things.”


Becoming the CEO of a company is the pinnacle of success for many people. The idea of being in charge of everything does sound great, but there is a flip side. When a CEO does well, the whole organization basks in glory. However, when a CEO fails, the cheese stands alone.

Joel cuts to the chase, saying, “I don’t think the job of CEO is ever easy for anyone…I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a CEO that says this job isn’t hard.” 

For many startup founders, the reality of the power-responsibility matrix can hit hard. Andrew admits, “I wish I knew how crazy being a CEO can make you feel out of the startup. Structure is so important to success and you can just feel a little bipolar, a little manic, honestly, when you’re doing a hundred different things.”

Matt puts it bluntly, “You have to be able to carry the weight of every decision that gets made in the company. Ultimately, the buck stops with you. So, if you can’t handle the truth or can’t make hard decisions, you’re probably not going to be a good CEO.”

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