‘C’ you soon! That’s right, the C-suite is set for a comeback. Recent benchmark data shows positive trends for executive hiring. ExecNet’s Executive Job Creation Index (EJCI) showed the rate of employers adding executive jobs in the next six months outpaced those planning to eliminate or postpone filling top roles. And Boyden Executive Outlook has revealed increases in upper management hiring in several major industries.

In the meantime, current CEOs are hanging on to their seats. According to the latest report on CEO turnover by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., the pace of CEO departures in 2010 is virtually even with 2009.

Yet before we get too caught up in retaining, increasing or adding to C-level talent, we would all benefit from asking a much more basic question first: what should top execs be good at doing, anyway?

What does a CEO do? Alright, insert jokes and sarcastic comments here. Recent events and publicity has certainly left one or two CEOs with a bum rap.

A CEO… fuels the subprime mortgage bubble, hedges against it, gets bailed out, pays out record bonuses, documents it all in emails. (Loyd Blankenfein, CEO, Goldman Sachs)

A CEO… oversees 4.9 million barrels of crude environmental disaster, promises to clean it all up, complains about the toll it’s taking on him, tells Congress “don’t look at me.” (Tony Hayword, former CEO, BP)

A CEO… has inappropriate conduct around reality TV stars, gets caught, gets fired, gets $35 million and a cool gig at his friend’s company. (Mark Hurd, former CEO, HP)

Not the most flattering track record. And it probably doesn’t help that all of your working life, the tasks and timetables of your company’s CEO have always been somewhat mysterious. From the outside, it often looks like a CEO yaks on the phone or in meetings all day without producing anything tangible.

So what does a CEO actually do? Or better still, what does a CEO do well?

Steve Tobak, a former senior executive himself and managing partner of Invisor Consulting, passed along some sage advice he once received from a VC, who in turn received the same advice 25 years earlier, and I am now passing on to you.

According to the elder VC, a good CEO delegates just about everything to the management team. Or as Sean Silverthorne explains, a CEO must prioritize time and do only what the CEO can do.

This is where many top executives have trouble transitioning to the role of CEO. Top execs plan their time by figuring out top priorities, then determining who is best equipped to implement them. Too often the answer is, “Me.” Even if this is true, being top dog requires holding yourself back from taking on other functions, distributing responsibilities and focusing on only the unique role of CEO. Many CEOs who have been great number twos flounder as number one because they rose to CEO by being very good at getting things done themselves. Now it’s time to get others to get things done.

A good CEO steps back and focuses on 3 key things:

  • Sets the overall vision and strategy of the company and communicates it to all stakeholders. Doesn’t pull it out of his you-know-what, as some do, but determines a unique market position.
  •  Makes sure there is always enough cash in the bank. Sets, oversees and drives the operating and financial model for the company, including profit, expense and growth targets.
  • Recruits, hires and retains the very best talent for the company. Ensures the management team is motivated, aligned and held accountable to achieve the company’s strategic and operating goals.

Did that third point catch your attention? I hope so! Recruiting is and should be a focal point for the most effective CEOs! Which is all the more reason to present yourself as a strategic business partner as well as a recruiter.

So whether you’re recruiting, hiring or working with a top CEO, make sure he or she can delegate responsibilities and do it with confidence into your forward-thinking, business-savvy, intelligent recruiting hands.