Lifting the burden of the CEO crown by applying Holistic Business rituals

Lifting the burden of the CEO crown by applying Holistic Business rituals

How to eliminate the one-man show with a ‘whole system’ approach

CEOs or business founders are often seen as God-like figures who have been given a crown of ultimate authority by the board. On one hand, this may be true, since they have taken on the responsibilities that others don’t dare to think about. But how much can one person actually do? 

The CEO crown comes with a heavy burden. You’re expected to be visionary, think big, give direction, engage, focus, follow up, inspire, and give your people responsibility and freedom. You plot your course, but all too often the feedback is contradictory to the expectations. Before long, you’re told, “You give too much freedom. Try to control people and perform more, but don’t over command.” Or maybe even, “You are too ambitious. We don’t have a budget for that. Set more realistic goals, but still high enough to stretch people.”

The downfall of traditional management 

The story of traditional management often goes something like this: a new CEO steps in and the board provides the strategic direction, but usually with limited resources. The CEO does their best to translate the strategy into the organizational context and cascade it across functions through different goals and targets. While it is much easier to control a company that is divided into functional areas, it’s like trying to fix a car without knowing what any of the parts do, or how they work together to make the vehicle run.

A year or two goes by, each functional area works in their own silo to deliver their targets, but the overall business results haven’t changed. The board is disappointed, fires the CEO and hires a new one. This is where the vicious cycle begins. In the traditions of hierarchy, when business performance fails, the board blames the CEO for their inability to deliver, but success or failure cannot be the responsibility of just one man. 

A new approach for a new world

Businesses are now coming to realize that the limitations of that traditional management model do not fit the realities of the modern world. Companies need to be agile and dynamic; able to deal with and react quickly to the constant flow of information.  Rapid decision-making and constant communication are vital. A CEO that remains in the confines of their office and works through the protracted planning and reporting processes of the traditional hierarchy will struggle to succeed.

It takes courage and consistency, but CEOs need to step out from under the crown to understand how a company behaves beyond its functions; with its customers, suppliers, and how it creates value as interdependent parts.

How is this possible? What kind of system can board members and C-level executives co-create to eliminate the one man-show? The answer is a principle-based solution that discards traditional management rituals, enabling the board and C-level executives to move from ‘one man in a crown’ to a ‘whole system’ approach.

There are some important prerequisites for this solution:

  • The founder of the company is present on the board – they have the background knowledge and strategic vision to drive the process forward.
  • The board members and C-level executives embrace new practices – they will provide vital leadership in the process.
  • The founder doesn’t ask the board members “would you like to practice new rituals?”, he or she insists upon it – courage of conviction is required to break the vicious cycle.


Principles of the whole system solution 

There are six practical business rituals that the board and C-level executives must change to eliminate the one man show.

From Traditional Management rituals

The board decides the strategic directions of the company by sitting in the office, relying on reports, and inside-out thinking.

Strategic planning happens without an understanding of the customer perspective, pushing the CEO to do the wrong thing right.
Many strategic objectives are issued for the CEO to execute, with few resources.
Strategy is cascaded through targets and measures into functions, ignoring the inter-dependencies.
Many change initiatives start with no responsible teams assigned to them; no time blocked in teams’ calendars to execute them and consequently little is achieved.
Results are the same as those delivered before, no change in paradigm is achieved.

To Whole System Management rituals

The board and C-level spend 20 days per year (5 days every quarter) studying the enterprise end-to-end with its customers, suppliers, and people, outside the office.

Strategic plan is created from the customer value perspective and based on the company operating as an end-to-end system. The CEO is asked to execute the right thing.
One key strategic focus selected that has the biggest impact on the whole enterprise.
Daily end-to-end business discipline created with customers, functions, and suppliers engaged throughout.

Core strategic initiatives start with clear human and monetary resources. As well as 3-4 hours available time in the teams’ calendars to execute it to the last detail.

Paradigm change happens after 4 quarters. Better results are achieved through focus and discipline.
Making the transition

It’s time to end the illusion that one person – the CEO – can cope alone. For the vicious cycle to be broken, it is the founder that must take the lead. Left to the board, the CEO will continue to receive one way instruction and mixed messaging that perpetuate those traditional and failing management systems. 

Creating a new whole system management model will not only ensure that the board of directors deepen their understanding of the enterprise as an end-to-end process, it will also increase the value of the company itself. A founder has the right to expect their enterprise to deliver value and reward after they are gone, and managing the system in this holistic way, rather than relying on the CEO, will achieve this.



I’d love to have the opportunity to talk to you about your business discipline in more detail. And if you’d like to partner with somebody who can help you embed daily or weekly holistic business meetings, Holistic Enterprise is here. We cover the meeting topic in depth in our Masterclass “Beyond Growth”.


Laura Gerrits


Stop the vicious cycle of doing more and BEING all things.
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