The 20th century was the era of the Chief Executive Officer, or CEO.
Should the 21st century be the era of the Chief Service Officer, or CSO?
At the moment the triumph of the CEO terminology appears complete. It’s even migrated from the for-profit sector into the not-for-profit sector.
Yet, as with so many trends, when it’s become so ubiquitous as to appear immutable, it may be time to “short” the notion.
The Rise of the CSO
Some enterprises have established CSO positions. They are generally a means to unite disparate service functions. This is intended to bestow validation, particularly where service functions are regarded as ancillary. So, too, it’s intended to provide a focus of accountability. It may also provide a rationale for a reorganization, with value added by the internal impetus of change.
In the 21st century, as outlined in Serve to Lead, the empowerment of stakeholders, internal and external, is redefining the role of the CEO.
Early Industrial Age CEOs often appeared to regard themselves as something like monarchs. Their individual value was so great that others in their organizations were often treated as mere instruments for their rule, for their personal direction. Stakeholder engagement was limited. Labor often had little leverage. Individual workers were routinely regarded as fungible. Stockholders were often of limited extent or power. Consumers were often bereft of effective remedies. Competition was often, as a practical matter, stifled or non-existent.
In the Information Age, all of those premises have been upended.
Serve to Lead
Effective 21st century leaders are servants first. This is not a mere ethical ideal. It’s a competitive reality.
The leaders who create the greatest value will be serving the greatest number of people and organizations most effectively, with unprecedented adaptive capacities.
To be sure, those at the apex of accountability will have to be executives, chief executives.
What’s new is that the guiding principle of effective executives is now service.
If the CEO title moves to CSO, that could reinforce expectations of service on all sides. It would reinforce the proper role of those with the perquisites of high rank and position. It would inform those ambitious for rank and position that the primary criterion for evaluation is service.
It would interlock value creation, accountability, and service.
It might, just might, help to reinforce organizational cultural norms focusing on service in all ways, great and small. Perhaps, just perhaps, it could serve as a ballast against the tendencies toward self-centered thinking and action that can suffuse the culture of any large organization over time.
Which organizations will lead the way to such expanded notions of service?
Which organizations will aspire to change thought and action by altering operative language, with an eye toward the future, rather than the past?
Which enterprises will transform the Chief Executive Officer into the Chief Service Officer?
From CEO to Chief Service Officer