This is a post for new CEOs who want to stay the distance. It’s really a post for new leaders of any age. I hope it helps recognize what you’re feeling. I hope it guides you through those early months and clarifies your priorities. Most of all I hope it gives you the confidence to lead, because people need to be lead.
First of all, the job has never been easy but it’s certainly become more demanding. The pace of technology, the mindset of the workforce (post the great recession), and the legislative framework, have all added to the complexity. But remember leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Leaders appear on every part of the behavioral spectrum, from introvert through ambivert to extrovert. Therefore watching great leaders in action has value but be careful in translating these to your own style.
1st Lesson: Be Yourself
Driving a business forward requires confidence and confidence comes from a belief that your strategy will be successful. As a new leader, you have an unreasonably important chance to revisit strategy. You have the benefit of the doubt. Ask yourself and your leadership team these questions:
- What business are we really in? Amazon has no inventory, Uber doesn’t own taxis, Airbnb doesn’t own rooms.
- Can we continue to build a significant competitive edge?
- What do our competitors do better than us?
- How can we change our sector over the next five years before someone else does? Think Blackberry, HP, IBM who missed bends in the road and think Zenefits, Square, Dropbox who spotted a new need.
- Are we defining our market too broadly or too narrowly?
- Where is the leakage in our business that’s reducing our ability to fly higher and fulfill our potential?
2nd Lesson: Know where you are going.
How will stakeholders (shareholders, customers, employees, banks, partners) measure your success? It’s really important as a new CEO that you are clear on what you are trying to achieve? That clarity will drive strategic plans which will drive departmental tactical actions, which will create alignment of effort amongst your staff. This is rare! Of course alignment takes great insight, compelling story telling, and the ability to translate big audacious goals to meaningful nitty gritty actions for your staff. Every employee in a business should understand they are there to fulfill the objective of their manager (which might be the CEO). In my experience the CEO will satisfy most measures if he or she focuses on three big agenda items:
- Strategy – are we going in the right direction?
- Cash – Do we have enough cash to execute our plans?
- People – Am I acquiring and nurturing the right talent?
3rd Lesson: Know how to measure success.
As the leader of any business, you have an opportunity to set the pace. If you survey experienced CEOs, they’ll rarely tell you that they regret moving too fast. It’s always a regret of moving too slowly. So how do you speed up the pace of a company? Six thoughts to consider:
- Are you launching new products/services fast enough? (read the case study of CEO Brad Smith and Intuit)
- Are you having the right type of meetings at the right frequency?
- Are you holding managers accountable for their projects?
- Are you communicating to staff through Town Hall style meetings on all progress being made?
- Are you using acquisitions to quantum leap growth?
- Are you offering immediate on the job mentoring to your staff?
4th Lesson: Move your team forward at pace. Don’t procrastinate.
CEOs & Mentors
It’s lonely at the top but it doesn’t have to be. Of course all CEOs have doubts that they are doing the right things, moving fast enough, building the right team. You can never be certain a new initiative will work. But these days there are some great opportunities to build a mentor into your armory. Know-how takes years/decades to build. The ability to access that know-how can shave years off your timetable to achieve success. It’s priceless to be able to access an experienced executive’s know-how to help solve your problems. Technology comes and goes but it’s remarkable how classic solutions to people and process issues remain timeless. But do your due diligence. There are a lot of very average mentors who will not deliver. Smart leaders have worked out what works and what doesn’t. Getting access to the really smart ones with decades of experience in numerous industries, in multiple countries is a golden opportunity.
As a new CEO, find that access point. It could be your Group CEO, your Chairman, an appointed coach, or a recommended CEO peer group (email me for recommendations in New England).
5th Lesson: Find a mentor.
I hope these observations help you feel less lonely and encourage you to play the long game. As Seth Godin puts it so well: “Your goals and your strategy must be simple. You must have passion and certainty in order to make a difference. Your tactics, on the other hand, should be layered, multi- dimensional and reflect the patience of someone who cares about reaching a goal.”
See my video on mentoring here.