Six Starter Tips for New CEOs

Last Updated Sep 9, 2008 10:05 AM EDT

arrowpic.jpg Great -- you've been appointed CEO. This is not the end of your story but the beginning of a completely different one. Personally, you may have not changed one iota, but the positional power that comes with the job title means that the people who provide you with support, objective feedback and a kick up the backside when needed are few and far between.

Know where you're going

Make sure your investors and board share the same view of your goals. There is no point in building a business that will hit its peak in five years' time if they want to sell in two.

Yes, I know they'll always want everything and may change tack with no notice. They may say they're in it for the long haul and then want to do a quick deal if the price is right.

Remember: investors are playing monopoly with real money and it's in their interest to push you hard. They've also got one eye on the CEO market -- is there anyone else out there who could make them more money?

Be self-aware and play accordingly

By this stage in your career you should have a pretty good idea of your strengths and weaknesses. When we look for great CEOs we're looking for the fabulous combination of quality thinking, huge motivation and excellent emotional intelligence. We rarely find this all in one person and so we want people who play to their strengths and mitigate the risks of their weaknesses.

Find sources to help you constantly build your self-awareness. This can be through

  • Formal assessment by an external professional.
  • Feedback from your team if you're sure it will be candid enough to be insightful.
  • Feedback from the chairman about the discussions surrounding your appointment.
On the whole, though, don't ask the chairman for detailed development advice -- they'll expect you to know what you need and go out there and find it.

Protect your thinking time

You don't have enough hours in the day to spend with the people who want to talk to you. If you delay your thinking time until there is a suitable slot in the diary, you will end up as a busy fool, operating on others' agendas rather than your own.

If it helps, work with an executive coach on a quarterly basis as a discipline to maintain focus on your goals and priorities, and ensure you're delegating effectively to your team.

Create a great executive team beneath you

This takes time and concentration, many away days and possibly a few changes of faces. Your reward will be the ability to delegate operational challenges and reduce your involvement in resolving internal tensions or squabbles. This should let you focus on creating additional shareholder value through co-ordinating strategy, innovation, external relationships and shaping the market in which you operate.

Bring in experts who have a proven track record of supporting great exec teams in successful businesses. Not only will they help you to get the team through the expected stages of development, they'll help get relationships sorted, strengths identified and operating processes optimised.

Seek and welcome challenge

Many people find disagreeing with the CEO a scary experience, so don't ignore -- or, worse, shoot down in flames -- anyone who is brave enough to try. This of course is on the proviso that they've disagreed with courtesy, intelligence and relevance--

Know when to push harder

As CEO it's hard to identify when a period of good performance is good enough. If it suddenly feels a little comfortable or mundane, you need to find a way to up the ante and spur yourself on. A friend running her first half marathon was given the advice: "If you feel yourself slowing down, speed up".

So, find that coach, get that feedback, and keep that thinking time. Being appointed CEO is not like winning a gold medal -- it's entering a whole new event. You've got to want to keep going and there's always a fast kid coming up on the inside track.

(Image by Luxamart, CC2.0)