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  • Writer's pictureMatt Sitter

Hail to the Chief (Dot Connector)!

Of the many roles the CEO plays, tying your organization’s vision to reality is a responsibility that firmly rests on your shoulders.

In the Parable of the Stonecutter, we’re inspired by the third stonecutter - a man who is “just chipping away at a rock”, but knows that his effort will result in the creation of a cathedral. Because he has linked his efforts to a tangible value to the community, this stonecutter has a passion for his work that sets him apart. In our organizations, how do we make sure we have individuals and teams that are emulating the attitude of that third stonecutter?

Leading an organization isn’t easy. As CEO, you’ve brought people together to achieve a common goal that you could not achieve on your own. Furthermore, ensuring this collection of people is best able to achieve that common goal cannot be delegated. Enter your role as the Chief Dot Connector.

The Chief Dot Connector

A common goal inspires - “We’re going to revolutionize the widget market!”. Grand language and a lofty vision is supposed to result in the excitement of customers, employees, and shareholders alike. Evangelism is valuable, but it’s not enough.

The Chief Dot Connector knows and verbalizes the organization’s common goal. They also consistently enable others to see how they contribute to that common goal, what that common goal means, and how the character (culture) of the organization is critical to that common goal.

The Space Race of the 1960s readily demonstrates this approach. The research of Andrew Carton from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business conveys that a startlingly large proportion of NASA staffers not only connected their work to the goal of getting a person to step foot on another world, but that there was a powerful abstract value to this: “We want to go to the moon because knowledge and peace are there.”

Who Are You Connecting the Dots For?

The short answer? Everyone. As CEO, you sit at the nexus of your employees, the board, and the market. The perspective of each entity the CEO interacts with is impacted by their individual experiences and has a different version of reality. The stonecutter parable is an obvious and powerful analog for our employees. We see mountains of data on how many employees are not engaged; according to a Gallup Survey 67% of Employees Are Either Not Engaged or Actively Disengaged. Connecting their work to the common goal of the organization is critical. Outside of employees, some board members can be either less actively engaged or even overly objective and clinical in their approach. The CEO who actively acknowledges and connects what a board member contirubtes to achieving the company’s common goal will get the best advice and governance from that board member. And as an evangelist for the company, creating an emotional connection with the market is a massive win.

The CEO plays a critical role in connecting the dots between those viewpoints and the vision as well as connecting those different viewpoints to one another. Acknowledging differing perspectives leads to a more cohesive understanding of the vision and how different roles can come together.

The CEO Lives in the Cathedral

The reality of the CEO is that you live in the vision of the company (the metaphorical cathedral from the stonecutter example). You think about it all the time - your whole job is to achieve the vision! Without a constant connection to that vision, others are, at best, only visitors to that cathedral. Manifesting the vision for others means a constant repetition of the vision itself and drawing a direct line to how they contribute to that vision.

How often should the vision be repeated? Certainly more than the person repeating it wants to. The work of social psychologist, Robert Zajonc, on the mere-exposure effect found that to internalize a message, an individual needs to hear that message between 10 and 25 times. Connecting the dots moves beyond simply repeating the message though - joining the vision to explain individual actions has the impact of making that vision real for others.

The CEO who adds this to their public persona and the character of the company is taking full advantage of their opportunities. One of our members, Chris Barker from Spirit Health in England, runs a fast-growing Digital Health business. His self identification as Chief Mischievist allows him to tell the story of what the company is trying to achieve and gives you a sense of the culture of the business. You can get excited about how he and his team are evolving healthcare in the UK and his employees feel a connection to the character of the company portrayed by Chris.

Not Just Another Job

CEO is a number of jobs rolled into one. Mobilizing people is perhaps your most important job. Conceiving of yourself as Chief Dot Connector role will help you maximize your effect. It may not always be easy, but few things will enhance your impact more!

About Matt Sitter

Matt Sitter leads Advantary’s Executive Capital Practice and is CEO of the Advantage Foundry Network (AFN). He is passionate about optimizing team collaboration and harnessing the power of networks. Matt is an ICF credentialed executive coach, has led a wide variety of functional areas and served on multiple executive management teams. He received his BA from Brown University and MBA from the Tuck School at Dartmouth.

Note: The Parable of the Stonecutter is a useful story to reference engagement to one’s work. It’s reference specifically to a Cathedral and hence, my extension of that metaphor is an artefact of the Parable itself. Similar to a Cathedral, Mosques or Temples, have a religious implication and could easily be substituted. Instead of a religious reference, the overall impact of these structures as a symbol and Community Center is the prime focus of this article.

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