Surprises That Trip Up New CEOs

Last Updated Oct 23, 2008 8:33 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton campaigned that she would be prepared to lead the country from Day One, but many new CEOs are not really ready to run their companies early in their tenure.

Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter and colleagues Jay Lorsch and Nitin Nohria outline the Seven Things That Surpise New CEOs in an excerpt from Porter's the new book, On Competition, reprinted on HBS Working Knowledge.

Here are three takeaways from the authors.

  1. Manage Time Don't get bogged down in the weeds. "The CEO must learn to manage organizational context rather than focus on daily operations," write the authors.
  2. Loyalty is Earned It may be uncomfortable, but all eyes are on you. "CEOs can easily lose their legitimacy if their vision is unconvincing, if their actions are inconsistent with the values they espouse, or if their self-interest appears to trump the welfare of the organization."
  3. Forget Perfection Ego may have helped you get the top job, but it won't help you keep it. "The CEO must not get totally absorbed in the role. Even if others think he is omnipotent, he is still only human. Failing to recognize this will lead to arrogance, exhaustion, and a shortened tenure."
The article is a handy little check list that can benefit all new leaders. When you took command for the first time, what did you realize you did not know?
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.