Quick Start Instructions for the First-Time CEO

By: Eric H. Prensky

Assuming the top leadership role in an organization is a life-changing experience filled with emotions ranging from exhilaration to a feeling of isolation. Whether you are a founder who just launched your own company, a Fortune 100 CEO, or somewhere in between, this can be a daunting experience. Here are some quick tips as you embark on this journey.

Invest heavily in your team

Assess your team to determine where an upgrade in talent is necessary and act swiftly to make changes. Set a goal to have your team in place within 12 months. Then, identify what’s unique about the work of your senior executive team, set the agenda, and define how you will work with the team and how the team will work together. Implement a regular cadence of focusing on strategic initiatives while breaking down silos to improve cross-functional relationships.

Shape the culture

This is important for any CEO, but particularly in companies that have experienced rapid growth and where culture and values have not been deliberately established. Ask yourself questions such as, “What behaviors must my leaders consistently demonstrate? How would I want the external market to experience my company?” Then, identify a concise set of values, behaviors, and attitudes that you expect the organization to embody. Use this during the hiring process and in driving performance.

Manage key stakeholders

Identify the key stakeholders who are essential to your success (e.g., board of directors, investors, partners, customers). Determine the unique needs and dynamics of these constituent groups. Make a plan to address each group including how often to hold meetings, how best to influence each group, and hot-button issues. Get crystal clear regarding the outcomes that will be the markers of your success for each group.

Manage yourself and identify what is unique

As the CEO, you set the tone for the rest of the organization with the behavior that you model. Cultivate internal (self) and external (other) awareness because these are the links that ensure you are connecting your intent to your impact. Take time and recharge to ensure you model composure and resilience in times of extreme pressure. Determine where you add the most value to the organization. This may appear obvious at first glance, but as you ascend to the top job it is critical to reflect on what you achieved to get here and how you were effective. Identify the things that only you can do and use this to guide you on where to focus your time. You may also discover that some of the skills that got you here need to be checked at the door for you to advance your goals.

Seek a cadre of truth tellers

Taking the top role in an organization can be a lonely experience, and those who surround you will now treat you differently. This underpins the difficulty in obtaining unvarnished feedback. Therefore, identify truth tellers (either those on your team or trusted external advisors) who are willing to tell the emperor he or she has no clothes. Seek feedback and thought partnership from these advisors regularly. Be sure to pause and reflect on what you learn from these individuals and collect more data when necessary.

Regardless of the size or revenue of your company, the role of CEO presents enormous opportunities regarding your potential impact. While there is no blueprint for success as CEO, leveraging the strengths that brought you to the role while increasing awareness about your areas of development will lay a firm foundation.

This appears on the Chief Executive website.

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