It was my first day at Akamai. They were still small enough that the all new employees had group lunch with the CEO, George Conrades.
For those who don't know him, George is flat out impressive. Partially that comes from being smart, thoughtful, and well spoken. But it also comes from being comfortable in big jobs. Prior to Akamai, George was CEO of BBN and GM of IBM United States, part of his thirty year career at IBM.
Somoene asked George what he did as CEO, and George unpacked his stock answer. Something about products, people, and finances.
The new hire followed up: "No, George, what do you actually do?" It was a pointed question, and a bit smart-alecky. But it was also genuine, and George took it seriously. His answer stuck with me.
"I absorb uncertainty," George said.
He explained: If you get this many bright people together you're bound to have differences of opinion. Those can escalate into a real disagreement. Soon it gets heated and feelings and reputations are at stake. When this happens, the CEO's job is to hear and follow the discussion, know when forward progress isn't being made, and then make a decision. And then communicate that decision clearly so everyone can move on.
Making a decision absorbs uncertainty. Uncertainty disempowers your people and paralyzes your organization. A good CEO doesn't let that happen.
Now that's a good leader. Thanks, George.
PS - Googling around for this phrase, I see others might have used it too. One is Vittorio Cassoni, reported by Esther Dyson (video). But in my book, credit goes to GHC.