Becoming a new CEO is so exciting. Finally, you have reached the summit of your career. Or maybe you were next in line and the inevitable next choice and you feel like you stumbled into it more than you care to admit. Regardless of how you got there, the honeymoon phase is not going to last long.
The executive team members are clawing at your chair. The Board of Directors sets high expectations for results while keeping the ship out of trouble; the shareholders expect a return on investment in the near-, medium- and long-term – practically always.
Then there are the employees who look to you for guidance. Where is the promised land? And how much can you provide safety on a stormy sea? All while the competition is not asleep at the wheel and market forces on the world economy remind you constantly that you’re not operating in a vacuum. Your day consists of endless hours that keep your head spinning and awake at night. Instead of being invigorated you feel tired.
Is this really what you had bargained for?
Regardless of your answer, you want to make it work. But how?
Here are six steps to point you, the new CEO, in the right direction:
1) Recognize that you have no one you can conﬁde in
The pull to be ‘part of the team’ is incredibly strong. You want to build a successful team and you hire and ﬁre to get a mix of executives that complement each other’s skills. It’s much like an orchestra of though. You are the conductor but you don’t play an instrument any longer. You are not running the business any longer. Instead, you’re charged with leading it. And by nature, leadership is lonely. No one else has the same perspective or the same pressure.
So who do you turn to? A board member? Some are interested and capable of being mentors. But most have their own companies to lead and their own agendas. Your wife? She has her hands full managing her affairs and she might not support your idea to move the headquarters to a different city even though it might be the right move. So who can you conﬁde in, strategize with, gain perspective from and reﬂect with?
You won’t be surprised to know I am advocating an experienced coach for you. Interview a bunch. Find out if there’s chemistry and if you can engage in this seesaw of support and challenge based on trust. You have to have the sense that your coach will have your back – no matter what. And that your coach has a good BS detector and tells you what you’re not comfortable hearing. It takes courage to be a good coach. So look for one who has varied life experiences or who has adapted to frequent change whatever happens. Once you ﬁnd ‘your person’ go into coaching with an open mind. You won’t know exactly where the journey will take you, but make it a fun ride. You owe it to yourself.
2) Build and inspire the best possible team
No, you don’t want a high-performance team in the sense that you want all A-list players, masters at their craft. If you do that what you’ll get is a bunch of prima donnas with lots of ego, but no clue how to work together. Look for the synapses, the connections between your executives. Much like on a soccer ﬁeld or a volleyball court, you need players that are good at their positions and who can support the other players in a way they need. They are all in this together.
You, on the contrary, are on the sideline. Again, you are the conductor, not one of the players, even though you may want to be. Resist the pull.
3) Gain clarity on where you want to steer the ship
First of all you need to be very clear yourself. Talk with whoever you need to in order to gain this clarity. Your life depends on it. Use your coach to reﬁne the message, test it and practice verbalizing it. Use your team to help you craft a narrative that works, is believable, inspiring and compelling to move everyone forward. Learn how to over communicate it. People need to hear that story at least seven times. And then they need to practice telling that story to anybody and everybody. It takes conviction and practice.
4) Heed your board’s advice
Your Board of Directors’ duty is to oversee and make sure the company grows and thrives. The members typically have great experience. However, resist the temptation to lean on them or alternatively keep them out of the loop. Find out what level of communication and what type of communication board members need. Some are hands off. Some want to be more involved. It’s up to you to practice servant leadership, to be the best steward of your business. It’s a delicate dance more based on relationships than numbers and data. Accurate data are a given.
5) Why you? Why your company?
It is imperative to be clear on why you’re doing what you’re doing. And why your company is in business to begin with. If you’re not clear on that, you’ll be out of business in no time. There are too many examples of this to cite. Who are you serving? And why? Why only you, your company and no one else? Use your coach to help you and your stakeholders gain clarity on this.
6) Juggle all the balls in the air while stuck in quicksand
You are operating in a fast-paced, ambiguous and very volatile environment. You never really know where the next challenge is coming from. Realistically, we are living in the slowest time for years to come. That’s right. Things will only get faster moving forward. So, how do you manage all the demands, and be a forward thinking and gifted steward? It’s not easy and it’s often more of an art than a science. It takes passion, humility and an adaptable mindset. Learning how to pivot when things seem steady at the time in anticipation of the next storm takes courage and conviction. But it can be done. And your leadership is needed more than ever. So don’t be afraid to step into the void for the ride of your life.