Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!
Summary of all Chapters
- Make faster decisions.
- Make fewer decisions.
- Look back. Learn from your past decisions.
- Look inward. Ensure you are physically and mentally ready to make clearheaded decisions.
- Look forward. Gain distance from the decision at hand. Consciously apply a “future” lens to the current decision.
- Look around. Ensure the diversity and robustness of your information in an effort to screen out bias.
- When things go poorly, take full ownership and mine the mistakes for learnings.
- Define your intent. Align your aspirational intent (your most important big-picture goals) with your transactional intent (your goal for any one interaction).
- Deploy perspective getting to understand various stakeholders.
- Build routines to enlist stakeholders behind your intent
- Operate with personal consistency.
- Take a mind-set of radical accountability.
- Proactively shape expectations in the first weeks on the job and revisit as conditions change.
- Build a business management system to drive repeatable results.
- Train your adaptation muscles: Pick up a new skill or hobby; immerse yourself in an experience or place that you find uncomfortable; take on a job or volunteer assignment in a completely new area.
- Let go of the past: Conduct annual “spring cleaning.” Ask yourself and your team which habits, practices, and assumptions hold you back today or in the future. Pick the one that feels easiest or most valuable to let go. Let it go.
- Build your antenna for the future:
- Assemble an “Inspiration Cabinet”: a network of people in different fields who expose you to new unexpected ideas and information and help you see things from new angles
- Schedule “Foresight” time at least twice a month: actually block time on your calendar to consider the big picture view and future scenarios. Pick a location, time, and conditions that put your mind in the best state for insight.
- Conduct full immersion into customer experience: regularly spend time walking in the shoes of your customers
- Get curious and ask questions.
- Optimize your career choices at each stage:
- Stage 1 (first 8 years of your career): Achieve breadth and rapid pace of learning
- Stage 2 (years 9–16): Demonstrate measurable results
- Stage 3 (years 16–24): Become an enterprise leader
- Deploy Career Catapults to accelerate your trajectory:
- Big Leap
- Big Mess
- Go Small to Go Big
- Own your blowups and turn them into learning opportunities. Stay connected to your supporters as you undertake the Career Catapults
- Conduct an annual CEO-readiness assessment looking at:
- your mastery of Four CEO Genome Behaviors
- your portfolio of experiences against typical CEO requirements (see this page)
- catapults that can help you accelerate your path
- Career success = Get Results x Get Known. Work on both parts of this equation.
- Invest in your relationship with your boss and her boss.
- Actively build sponsorship.
- Build critical mass of relationships with key people rather than spreading yourself too thin.
- Ask for what you want.
- Rock the boat—for the sake of business results.
- Speak as if you belong at the executive table
- Understand what is on the minds of your interviewers. What does a “safe choice” look like to them?
- Make it clear you are the safe choice.
- Exude confidence, competence, and comfortable positive energy.
- Share memorable and relevant stories.
- Set the agenda.
- Most important: Make sure you are taking the right job!
- Congratulations! You’ve made it! No matter how excited or stressed you feel right now, it’s normal. It takes about two years to get comfortable in the CEO role.
- Overinvest in figuring out what you walked into. What you don’t know will hurt you.
- Own your calendar and the incoming requests for your time—don’t let them own you.
- Get used to life in the permanent spotlight. Smile! It’s good business.
- Use all the levers of the CEO role. If you are seeing the world through your old lens, you are not doing your job.
- Breathe. And get support to help you navigate the trials and tribulations in the CEO seat
- You probably think you’ve got it all figured out with your team. There is a one-out-of-four chance that you are right. Seventy-five percent of first-time CEO mistakes are about not moving quickly enough to build the right team.
- There is never a second chance to make the first impression. Seize the moment with a powerful inaugural address.
- Develop your people plan—in writing. Use at least as much objectivity and analytical rigor in your people assessment as you use for other business decisions.
- Know where stars are needed.
- Minimize personnel “projects.”
- Use small gestures to connect with your team
- Take an active role in building a highly effective board, starting early in your CEO tenure.
- Get “up close and personal” with each board member. Understand individual needs, agendas, and interests. Gauge group interactions and power dynamics on the board.
- Engage board members actively to support the business and align with them on clear roles and rules of engagement.
- Avoid surprises!
You get fired on results but hired on perception
Successful CEOs stood out for decisiveness itself—the ability to make decisions with speed and conviction. Decisive CEOs in our study are twelve times more likely to be high performers. Steve had pushed forward decisively—not because he knew he was right. He did it because he understood that a potentially bad decision was better than no decision
Become Decisive. As you strengthen those Decisive muscles, focus on three things: make decisions faster, make fewer decisions, and put in place practices to get better at decision making every time.
Effective CEOs—and high performers at all levels of their careers—move faster by finding ways to make the complex simple.
He ultimately simplified the various viewpoints by framing the decision in the very simple terms that legendary GE CEO Jack Welch had made famous: Can we become number one or number two in that sector?
Effective decision makers actively involve others in their decision process. They do that for two reasons. First, to get multiple inputs to improve the quality of the decision. And second, to pave the path to smooth execution by building ownership and buy-in for the decision with relevant stakeholders. So when the time comes to execute, those who have to carry out the decision become champions and willing volunteers, not chain-gang prisoners
Everyone has a voice but not a vote. Top CEOs recognize that there is an art to gathering input as part of the decision-making process. Yet they do not wait for consensus.
“Being consensus-driven can be too slow and often pushes toward least-common-denominator solutions,” Christophe told us. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t be collaborative. Allow people to speak out and express a different point of view, then make a decision and communicate.”
A powerful additional benefit of simple decision frameworks is that once they are embraced by the organization, CEOs can step back from the vast majority of the decisions that now can be made by their employees
Do not step in when the decision rights reside with others in the organization who have the information and experience to make the decision.
Steve Kaufman, former CEO of Arrow Electronics and a lecturer at Harvard Business School, shared three questions he uses to triage decisions:
- Does this decision need to be made now, or can we wait a week or a month without causing irreparable harm? Not all decisions require immediate action. What is the cost of waiting? How important is this decision to the goals and priorities of the business? Understanding the levers behind the business and being crystal clear about what matters most allow leaders to figure out the right time line for each decision.
- Will waiting bring some additional insight and information that can help make the decision? What is the benefit of waiting? If additional information is attainable and could significantly shift a high-impact decision, it may be worth waiting. If, on the other hand, it is unlikely you will know more in three months or six months, then what is the benefit of continued analysis?
- Could the issue resolve itself? Many CEOs told us that there were countless instances where time solved a problem better than they ever could have. But we suggest you proceed with caution on this one.
Your job is to decide on the what and empower others to decide the how.
Decisive leaders don’t belabor the decision in search of evasive perfection. They recognize that there is a cost to perfectionism. Instead, they move forward and continually improve.
Below is his advice on the art of apology, which is instantly applicable whether you aspire to be a great CEO or simply a good partner and friend:
- Be personal. Assume personal responsibility rather than simply act as a spokesperson for the institution you represent.
- Be focused. Address specific acts or mistakes as well as impacted parties, so it is clear that you understand the ramifications of what went wrong.
- Be genuine. Convey in both words and tone honest remorse and atonement for mistakes made and any resulting damage caused.
- Make no excuses. Avoid shifting blame, minimizing harm, or whitewashing a bad situation.
- Act swiftly. The sooner an apology is given, the better the chance the apology will be accepted by those who count.
- Be comprehensive. Get all the facts out, admit all known shortcomings, and clearly articulate what has yet to be determined.
- Prevent recurrences. Articulate an action plan to correct what went wrong and to make sure the same problem doesn’t recur.
- What follows is the series of practices we’ve distilled from Andy and the other CEOs we have encountered over the years who have learned to use their decisions as a platform for growth and evolution.
- Look back. Make mistakes your laboratory. Avoidance of the word failure isn’t spin for these CEOs. It reflects their true attitude: Errors aren’t fearsome embarrassments but inevitabilities that provide the most reliable laboratory for future improvement. SAS research pointed to a tangible benefit of not dwelling on the concept of failure: CEO candidates who used the word failure in talking about their mistakes were half as likely to deliver a strong performance in the seat as CEOs who did not. Successful CEOs learned to take mistakes in stride and take ownership for them as the necessary scars of battle. Another interesting point: These CEOs somehow learned intuitively what we saw in the data, that having a career blowup doesn’t obstruct your future performance as a CEO but, rather, prepares you.
- Look inward. Condition your mind for decisiveness.We found that maintaining emotional distance from their decisions helps leaders learn from mistakes.
- Look to the future.Some leaders apply a different frame of reference to improve their decision making: getting into a time machine. They think forward to the future they want to see and reason back to the type of decisions they need to make to get there
- Look around. Seek contrarian perspectives. The great “gel versus foam” debate at CHOP we mentioned earlier points to another truth: CEOs routinely have to depend on others for answers when delegating or when seeking input for the decisions they’ll own. Many or even most of the decisions they have to make lie outside their own expertise. The best CEOs are extremely intentional in whom they reach out to. They realize early on that not all input is created equal. Through what lens is an advisor or division head viewing the issue? What personal biases affect their point of view? Do they have an agenda? Are they able to think beyond historical approaches?
Successful CEOs engage with others for impact rather than affinity
Leading with intent requires a leader to a) clearly articulate the intent to herself, b) consistently align her daily actions with her intent, and c) act on her intent in each interaction based on deep understanding of her audience and context.
Misalignment between aspirational and transactional intent is always costly. The cost may not be immediately obvious, but over time it is corrosive to a leader’s effectiveness and ultimately to his or her credibility.
To translate intent into actions effectively, ask yourself the following questions before each interaction: What is my one most important goal? [Your aspirational intent.] How does this interaction fit within that goal? What is the outcome in this interaction that would best contribute to that one most important goal? What do I want this person or this team to t Think, Feel, and Do? [Your transactional intent.] What will it take to deliver that outcome?
Perspective getters recognize the need to go straight to the source to find out what people think and feel, whether board members, customers, or employees.
The Rule of Sevens: Any message has to be repeated seven times in seven different ways before an organization has any hope of hearing it. Formal memo. Videotape. A blog. Posting a printed memo on the bulletin board. A town hall meeting. Parking lot talk as you’re walking. Chat around the water cooler. You’ve got to push. You can’t over communicate.
- Marry corporate, date the field: A concept in Kaizen methodology suggests managers “go to where work is done.” Effective CEOs get out of their office to meet their teams in their own comfort zones, where the work is being done.
Rate yourself using the questions below; get feedback from trusted colleagues:
- Do your teams feel that your organization has too many priorities?
- Do people leave performance review meetings you conduct with them unable to clearly articulate their strengths, gaps, and what’s expected of them?
- Do you move slowly to determine how to handle a loyal team member who is unlikely to fit with the company’s future?
- Is the word nice in the top three adjectives used to describe you?
- When considering a decision, is your first thought about how it will impact relationships?
- Do those around you (your team, your boss) say you avoid or minimize conflict?
CEOs who are known for being reliable are fifteen times more likely to be high performing, and their odds of getting hired are double those of everyone else
The pillars of Reliability are personal consistency, setting realistic expectations, practicing radical personal accountability, and embedding consistency into the organization.
- The successful CEOs we meet who understand the critical importance of reliability know that the little stuff matters. They work hard at being reliable in everything they do:
- They are on time for meetings, for planes, for phone calls.
- They make individual commitments (who is taking what actions by when) clear in meetings.
- They follow up on agreed-upon actions religiously.
- They make lists (to do, to read, mistakes, people to keep in touch with, useful resources, etc.)—and put those lists into action.
- They are aware of their mood, words, and actions in their interactions with their teams—are their actions and words having the desired effect?
- They keep the people who need to know in the loop, so that no one drops the ball.
Wherever you are in your career, you too can shape expectations to ensure reliable delivery. When you’re handed a project, your response shouldn’t be, “Okay, I’ll get to work on it.” Say instead: “Here’s what I’m going to deliver by when. And consider it done.” And then make sure you follow through.
CEOs who excel in Reliability practice radical personal accountability with their stakeholders—employees, customers, clients, partners, and the board. They earn the right to hold others accountable by holding themselves accountable to the highest standards.
Assess your reliability. Ask yourself:
- How consistent was I this week in my interactions with customers, colleagues, senior management, and the people who work for me?
- When am I thrown off my game? Is it situation specific? How do I manage those situations?
- Does everyone on my team understand what is expected of them? Do they own their results? Do they embrace responsibility and hold themselves accountable?
- What are my boss/colleagues/clients trying to do? And how can I help them get there?
- What expectations do my stakeholders have of me that aren’t being openly discussed?
- What am I expected to deliver? Have I written it down? Have I shared it with my boss, peers, and team?
- How often was I on time for meetings in the last week?
Research shows that CEOs who adapt boldly are roughly seven times more likely to be successful than those who wait for change to confront them
The CEOs who are best at adapting themselves and their organizations to changing conditions have learned to welcome discomfort, conflict, and change. They take the attitude, If I am not uncomfortable, then I am probably not learning or changing fast enough. Being uncomfortable in leading the organization is actually a goal
- Assess your Adapt behavior. Ask yourself:
- Am I uncomfortable now? What is driving that? What am I working on improving personally?
- When is the last time I shed something—product, process, practice—that had made me or my business successful in the past?
- Am I doing this simply because I’m comfortable doing it this way or because this is what is needed in this situation?
- Am I approaching divergent points of view with an open mind?
Your career trajectory is the output of two factors that have a multiplying effect: getting results in the right roles and getting noticed for those results.
CEOs’ careers are roughly divided into three stages. Each stage has a role to play in preparing one for the top.
Stage 1: Go broad (years 0 to 8). The position of CEO requires one to be the ultimate generalist. We see roots of that profile early in future CEOs’ career trajectories. They build a wide breadth of skills and experiences early on by moving across functions, industries, companies, and geographies. Making unconventional moves is both easiest and least risky at this stage.
Stage 2: Go deep (years 9 to 16). If stage 1 is about learning above all, stage 2 is about measurable results above all. Years 9 to 16 are typically spent building leadership ability, depth of industry experience, and a track record of results. The CEOs in our sample had on average 13 to 16 years of experience in the same industry as the company they were seeking to lead. In these years, future CEOs work toward general management roles that directly drive topline and/or bottom-line revenue or profits. That might mean running a P&L, or it might mean being a functional leader in sales, marketing, or operations. Most important, future CEOs are demonstrating that they can lead others to produce outsize measurable results.
Stage 3: Go high (years 17 to 24). Stage 3 is where we see careers of future CEOs take a dramatically different turn. While many will remain effective functional leaders, middle managers, or even P&L operators, future CEOs differentiate themselves as enterprise leaders. As enterprise leaders, they make decisions taking into account the context and impact on the entire business rather than confining their view only to their own area, and they impact results beyond their immediate scope of authority. At this stage, future CEOs impact success of the entire company.
Don’t look at your career as a succession of jobs to land; instead, look at your decisions as a portfolio of experiences to build.
Career Catapults are inflection points that accelerated strong performers to top-level leadership, both in terms of their capabilities and in terms of how others saw their potential
- Career Catapult #1: The Big Leap
When it comes to proving CEO mettle, there is no more powerful catapult than what we call the “big leap.” What do we mean by that? Accepting the challenge of a role that is a big stretch from what you have done previously—either because the role is much larger than anything you’ve done before or because it takes you into unfamiliar territory
- It doesn’t take a promotion or luck to practice your “stretch” potential. Here are ways you can make your own luck:
- Seek out cross-functional projects at your company to learn more about departments such as sales, marketing, IT, accounting, etc.
- Get involved in the integration of a merger.
- Volunteer to lead or participate in a top-priority business initiative.
- Ask how you could best contribute to the business.
- Ask your boss for additional responsibilities, especially those that will add to your skill set.
- Proactively look for and solve problems before you are asked.
- Make a habit of saying yes to greater opportunity, even if you don’t feel ready.
- Seek out relationships that are broader or more senior in your customer organizations than what is customary for someone at your level.
- Look at your personal life as a way to practice big leaps and build new skills: Take on civic leadership roles, from city government to the school board; volunteer in a leadership role or even form a new nonprofit; look for public speaking opportunities if that’s a big development area for you.
- Career Catapult #2: The Big Mess
- Often the best opportunity to accelerate your career comes in a seemingly unattractive package: what we call the “big mess.” About 30 percent of the Sprinters we studied had led the way through a big mess.7 It could be an underperforming business unit, a failed IT implementation, or a recalled product. It’s a big problem, and the person who solves it will prove her ability to Reliably Deliver where someone else failed. To clean up a big mess, an executive must have the ability to figure out what’s broken, decide how to fix it, and then flex her Engage for Impact muscles to rally others to deliver results. Often, there’s significant time pressure to fix the problem—the company, or the part of the company she is responsible for, is in crisis. Decisions must be made quickly and under pressure. Learning to lead through the uncertainty of such chaos requires the courage to take risks, persevere in the face of adversity, and set a path without a clear playbook to follow.
- One tactic for those who feel they’ve been overlooked for the most plum assignments: Take the job no one wants. This is the job that no one considers important—until you see and realize the potential to make it amazing
- Career Catapult #3: Go Small to Go Big
- Smaller companies often offer opportunities for a faster career trajectory. Incoming CEOs at large public companies on average have had four to six more years of experience than those coming in to run midsize and small businesses. “Going small” as a Career Catapult can also mean starting something new within an existing company. Roughly 60 percent of the Sprinters we analyzed had taken a smaller role at some point in their career
How you handle blowups is critical to your success in any leadership role. CEO assessments we have analyzed reveal two common mistakes. First, CEO candidates who talk about a blowup as a failure are half as likely to deliver a strong performance compared to leaders who see setbacks as opportunities to learn
The second mistake we see too many potential CEOs make is hesitance to take ownership for a blowup.
- Building a portfolio of experiences that covers at least five of these areas makes it easier to get on the slate of final candidates.
- Industry experience
- P&L leadership on a similar scale
- Evidence of strong people leadership—signs that you can attract and develop talent (people look at your Glassdoor ratings!)
- Proven success in a relevant context; e.g., M&A if the company needs to grow through acquisition, growth if that’s the primary goal, etc.
- Breadth of experience across different types of business problems and roles; e.g., delivering growth and improving operational efficiencies
- Strategic vision and ability to set direction and champion change
- Operational and financial acumen
- Ability to work with the board and external stakeholders
- International experience (where relevant)
- How to Catapult Without Crash Landing
- Catapults are a high-risk, high-reward approach to career choices. So how do you ensure a catapult propels you up, not out?
- Align supporters: Taking risks with people who have witnessed and invested in your success improves the odds that if you fail in a risky assignment, it will be interpreted as an outlier and a valuable learning experience on an otherwise strong trajectory.
- Align senior management on the risk involved: Get multiple perspectives on the probability of success. Make sure it’s clear to key senior people, including one to two levels above your direct boss, that you are taking an extraordinary risk for the benefit of the business. You’ve agreed to take on a big challenge, and there will be value even in the lessons learned from potential failure.
- Ensure you have the resources you need: Assess and secure the budget and talent you need to deliver, and ensure you have authority to make the decisions necessary to drive results.
- Stay connected: Stay actively engaged with your network, even if it isn’t immediately relevant in your current role. Regular communication and consultation with senior players will help ensure there are no surprises and help you identify the next role when you are ready to move on
Getting to the top seat is the output of two mutually reinforcing factors: getting results in the right roles and getting noticed for those results.
- Visibility with the Right People requires you to
1. Pick your boss.
- No one has more control over your visibility and success in an organization than your boss. Best leaders are able to avoid the two most common pitfalls of the employee-boss relationship. One, they hold their own—even engage in conflict—without their bosses feeling attacked. And two, they distinguish themselves in the organization without leaving their bosses feeling upstaged.
- Understand your boss’s goals. What does success look like to her? How does your role fit into that? How can you best support her? What are her career goals? What motivates her? Know which individuals in the organization are most important to your boss, and look for ways to get her noticed by them.
- Don’t guess his or her expectations and preferences. Ask. What are her top goals for your work? How does she prefer you communicate with her? And don’t just ask once; priorities shift over time. For example, you might turn in a project a day late to double-check the numbers, assuming she expects perfection, while she needed to make a quick decision, even if the data wasn’t perfect yet. A good way to make this conversation less abstract is to ask about the best direct report your boss ever had: What made him or her so great?
- Let your boss help you. Keep your boss looped into your career goals, and connect your interests to the organization’s. You want to keep these at the top of your boss’s mind so that when your boss is in a meeting and your dream assignment is mentioned, your boss has both the knowledge and the motivation to say, “You know who would be great for that…” and name you. On the other hand, if your boss hears you’re considering a job opportunity in another division without consulting her first, you can turn a fan into a critic overnight. People who see themselves as being invested in your success want to be consulted and involved in your important career moves.
- Master the regular update on the things that matter. Send a focused update on where you are on your boss’s top priorities with respect to your work. The appropriate time frame and medium for these updates will vary depending on your boss, company, role, etc., but the consistency shouldn’t. The message to get across is: I understand what’s important to you and to the business. I’m on top of it. You can count on me.
2. Build your tribe.
- We found that in addition to strong relationships with bosses, almost half of the Sprinters we studied had powerful sponsors throughout their career. Sponsors are those individuals, often people more senior than your own boss or residing in other parts of the organization, who have the influence and the access to open doors and introduce you to valuable opportunities. Support from an influential sponsor can help accelerate you in an organization.
- Rather than passively waiting for your luck, you can proactively create sponsors.
- Share your aspirations—not problems or issues—with potential sponsors. This creates positive energy and demonstrates that your goals are aligned with the business’s and the sponsor’s objectives.
- Ask a potential sponsor for advice on topics relevant to her. If you want someone to feel invested in your success, give her easy opportunities to contribute to it. Advice is a powerful sponsorship-building approach. Most people enjoy giving advice, and the very act of doing that encourages them to be more invested in your success. Not to mention the value of the advice itself! Close the loop later by letting the sponsor know how the situation played out and how her advice helped you.
- Make clear, specific requests that are easy for your sponsor to fulfill. For example, if you want to get more exposure to senior clients, asking the head of sales is a lot more fruitful than going to the head of manufacturing.
- Give sponsors your genuine gratitude. Acknowledge anything they did that helped you—no matter how small. Thank them for advice or an opportunity and share how that’s made a difference. People tend to do more of what earns them positive recognition; senior people are no exception.
- When you ask for a sponsor’s help, don’t drop the ball. Follow through. For example, if she makes a requested introduction, don’t let the e-mail sit. Take the ball and run with it.
- Bring rare goods. One way to break into closed networks and attract sponsorship is to offer new, needed skills. One of our investment clients works primarily with people the firm has known for decades. However, as they look to infuse cutting-edge digital practices into their business, they are beginning to court new partners, purely because these individuals bring a needed skill. Invest in building valuable expertise and become known as the expert.
3. Build a bonfire.
Pick a village and build a bonfire, Strovink was saying. Stop flitting from place to place throwing off sparks. At some point in your career, intentionally focusing your relationship-building efforts is critical. The key is to decide where to invest your time and energy to build a critical mass of relationships that help you stand out.
Keep in mind: ‘At your level, to get promoted, it’s not enough just to check the boxes and meet expectations. You need to make a contribution that moves the needle for the company. Something that is visibly and meaningfully core to what drives value.’
Executives are perceived as strong and capable when they:
- Speak a little louder. This immediately communicates authority, competence, and confidence—whether or not the individual has any of those.
- Speak more slowly. This is generous to their audience, as it allows the time for them to digest the message. It also shows that the speaker believes he or she is worthy of airtime, another sign of confidence.
- Master the deliberate pause. Those with executive presence use pauses sometimes for clarity, sometimes for dramatic effect.
- Make every word count. In America, we typically use three times as many words as needed to communicate a point. Fewer wasted words compel the audience to pay attention.
- Know their opening and closing sentences before they enter a room. They never stumble their way through greetings. They understand that “Good morning” and “Good afternoon” are what everyone else says and does. Strong CEOs make themselves and their points memorable.
- Constantly scan for cues that their message is gaining traction. This allows them to custom-tailor their approach to the room.
“Borrow from Frank Sinatra.” The strongest CEOs, as Lynda likes to say—“they do it their way. And their way is authentic to them.”
The people who ultimately get picked are those who lead with fierce competence delivered with genuine warmth
A successful first interview lies somewhere in between those two extremes. It’s a delicate balance of push and pull. Of course you can’t take total control, because you’ll deprive the board of their authority. Yet you’ll be much more successful if you can take charge and show them the way while still being sensitive to their concerns.
You have to enter the room knowing what you want them to take away from the conversation. What do you want them to know and remember about you?
“You interview the way you lead. You have to set the expectations.”
- Don’t take the job if…
- Your gut tells you no. If it weren’t for the title of CEO, you couldn’t see yourself in this role or in this company.
- You don’t have credible validation that the business is sound or can be fixed.
- You don’t have a clear sense of why your predecessor left or was let go.
- You don’t have the decision right to hire and fire.
- You don’t get along with an important board member or several key board members who are unlikely to be moved off the board.
- You don’t have complete visibility into the financial picture—especially the cash position—of the company.
- You see yourself having to change significantly who you are to succeed.
- Your Year One Checklist:
- Assess the shape of the business and get skeletons out of the closet
- Set vision and strategy
- Set the baseline and new expectations for plans, budgets, and projections with your board (and the market if applicable)
- Score a couple of early wins
- Assess and upgrade the team (as required)
Smile Rule : “As a leadership team, we can argue, debate, whatever….But when we leave here, we all smile,”
Your new reality is this: Every move matters. Every gesture is profound.
In the cab that day, Ted Hall offered Dom this leadership truth: “There are three stages to a leader’s career. First, you’re known for what you can do. Second, you’re known for what you know. Third, people want to follow you because of who you are.” This is true of all leaders and especially CEOs.
The first question every new leader should ask when it comes to talent is this: “How can I move this from being the team to being my team as quickly as possible?”
Your inaugural address should include:
- Your assessment of today: What is your take on the current health of the organization? As you reflect on what you have learned about the business, it is critical to show genuine respect for the accomplishments and wins that came before you. It is also important to frame gaps and opportunities. Vivid personal details and examples will demonstrate your connection to the people and the business.
- Your vision for tomorrow: Average CEOs have a task list. Great ones paint a picture of a point of arrival. JFK’s daring challenge to put the man on the moon and bring him back down to earth safely before this decade is out is aspirational and concrete at the same time.4 They make the destination crystal clear, specific, and compelling. That’s the level you’re shooting for when it comes to conveying your vision: a tantalizing glimpse at a future that is both aspirational and supremely concrete.
- Your values for the organization: What values do you see as essential to achieving that vision? Mary Berner, while at Reader’s Digest, for example, committed herself (and the organization) to six principles, with operational efficiency at the top of the list.
- Your broader view: What do you see happening in the world that will affect the industry, the company, and your own decision making?
- Your call to action: Remember Bill Amelio, who was charged with turning around the turbulent helicopter company? He credits an early call-to-action speech to his senior team with creating the needed momentum. After laying out the severity of the company’s financial situation, he said, “We are getting killed—in the market, by creditors, and by the board. We are in a battle together. I need everyone’s best ideas and nobody shooting each other in the ass. We’re gonna go get this done. You’re either in or you’re out. Put your hands on the table. If you don’t want to be in, tell me, and you’ll be out tomorrow. Now let’s come up with the best ideas we can.”
- Your leadership style: Your people are preoccupied with figuring out how to work with you. Getting ahead of this is actually simple: Tell them. How do you plan to involve yourself in the organization? How will you spend your time? How do you like to be communicated with? We recently worked with a CEO who had a background in sales. When he took the helm of a tech company, the other senior executives assumed he’d be so sales-driven that he’d ignore technical and product constraints and sell things that weren’t deliverable. In an early meeting, he reset their expectations: “You probably think all I care about is the new deal pipeline. It’s not. I’ll be spending time with the product team and with customers in my first year to make sure I understand how our product works, what we can deliver, and what we can’t. I expect you to hold me accountable to that.”
New leaders feel vulnerable. And that vulnerability can lead to inertia and poor judgment at the very moment when bold, decisive moves are critical.
Every minute you spend putting Band-Aids on someone else’s subpar performance, you are not doing the one job you were hired to do—be a CEO.
Assess your team looking forward through the windshield, not backward through the rearview mirror: How well suited are each person’s capabilities and experiences to what you’ll need over the next one to two years? Over five years?
Best CEOs start talent discussions from a zero base. Rather than assuming that you have to live with what you have, imagine you had to redraft your entire team for the sole purpose of winning against company vision and goals.
“Ninety percent of CEO leadership is behavior modification.”
Once a board gets concerned about a CEO, if that concern is not resolved, on average it takes boards just under two years to move out a CEO
The CEO may not have the formal authority to lead the board, but he has the responsibility to put the company on a path to success, even if that means taking risks with the board.
“If you want to win people over, first understand who they are and what they care about.”
Succeeding with your board (or with anyone else, for that matter) starts with understanding how their performance is measured and motivated. With that grounding, you also need to go beyond the numbers. Get to know your board members one-on-one and understand their context and their pressures, dreams, and fears.
Trust is built on alignment of interest, credibility, and familiarity.
- Ask your board members one-on-one within six months of your hiring:
- What excites you the most about being on this board? With these questions, you’re looking for clues to their primary motivations: Relevance? Status? Stimulation? Compensation? Most board members genuinely want to add value, but understanding why can help you engage them more deeply.
- How did you get connected with this board? The answer may lend insight about whether they’re likely to have an independent point of view or be beholden to a founder or investor.
- Whom on the board do you talk with most often? This seemingly innocent question is a giant tell, often answering a key question: Who’s influencing whom? This question will help you understand the behind-the-scenes coalitions so that you can manage them and bring back-channel conversations into the light.
- Where have you focused your time and efforts in the past? This question will help you understand the person’s competencies and also shed light on how (and how well) the board has functioned prior to your arrival.
- Where and how would you like to engage in the future? This is an opportunity to proactively engage board members on issues where they feel they can add value. It will ease their doubts about how to participate and be useful and also give you a clearer picture of how much of their time and attention you’re likely to get.
- What does success look like, for the company and for me as CEO, in one year? In three years? This is the start of many conversations you’ll have around expectations and strategy.
- “Communicate early and communicate often,”
How to handle setbacks:
- Communicate early and often to ensure no surprises.
- Own the issues, and aim for a tone that is balanced and focused on course-correcting the business; don’t be overly apologetic or defensive.
- Don’t be defensive. Clear and succinct root cause analysis shows you own the issue. Excessive explanations that sound like excuses and deflect responsibility will only put you deeper in the hole and erode trust and credibility.
- Apologize if an apology is warranted and then move on. Don’t let your energy wane or your tone become obsequious.
- Discuss forward-looking early-warning operating metrics, not just the rear-view prior-month revenue and profits. By the time you miss P&L targets, it is too late to adjust course.
- Come with a plan that identifies what is happening, the ultimate impact to the business, the root cause, and the roadmap to address it. If the plan is not yet clear, discuss what you need to know or what help you require to get there.
- An occasional “I don’t know. We’ll look into it and get back to you” builds a lot more trust and credibility than trying to wing it.
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