CEO Coaching: The New CEO

Some of the most rewarding work I’ve done is work with new CEOs. The gap from senior executive to Chief Executive Officer may not seem that large but every CEO I’ve worked with would tell you that it is much larger than it appears.

An MBA doesn’t prepare you to be a CEO though it can help. A steady climb up the corporate ladder leading different functions may be part of the equation but is not a complete answer. Inheriting the business from your mother or father is definitely not going to cut it. Having a high IQ is a pretty good thing, but there are lots of smart leaders who fail.

It’s a weird job! Most CEOs will tell you that their initial reactions to the promotion were joy and excitement, but also fear, loneliness and doubt.

If you were recently promoted to CEO, my guess is that your days are full of problems. People naturally bring their tough issues to their boss and the bigger issues make their way to the top of the pyramid. It is a sexy, intoxicating thing to become the chief problem solver and some will admire you for it. It is also a deathtrap!

You may, if recently promoted to the top spot, realize that you are spending most of your day responding to others. It’s flattering that everyone wants a piece of you! “Please have lunch with us!” “Please speak to our industry group!” “Won’t you join our board?” These are all, once again, intoxicating. Presiding, however, is not leading. Your ego gets bigger, and your EBITDA gets smaller! 

Some of you may have, upon arrival at your mahogany desk, started to dictate orders to your troops. That’s what leaders do, right? You and you alone have most, if not all, of the answers! That’s why they promoted you. This job would be so cool if you could just get all of those other people to execute better! If this is you, you might be one of the 12% of executives who are certifiably psychopathic or perhaps you just learned about leadership from a flawed leader. 

So, what is a new CEO to do?

First, spend some time understanding what your job is. Ponder the seven questions that every CEO should work to answer. (The first three are purpose, values and strategy.) 

You are now, more than ever, a team leader. Learn how to do that brilliantly. It’s not about telling people what to do, it’s about fostering an environment that will allow great ideas to flourish. You will win or lose primarily based upon the effectiveness of your team and your ability to facilitate their energy and focus.

Find some resources to help you. A coach or mentor can be invaluable. Be careful, however, as your new title means that many people would like to be your friend and feed you good news. You don’t need another friend. (If you do, get a dog.) You need someone to tell you the truth!

Own your calendar! Your time is your most valuable asset. At the end of the week or month or quarter you should be able to look back and see that you were working on the right issues, not just the fun, sexy or urgent ones. 

Think that sounds easy? I’ve worked with very successful CEOs who are, many years after taking the big chair, still working diligently on two or three of those suggestions. If you are talented and lucky enough to have obtained the CEO title, view it as a passport to learning, not a destination. You haven’t arrived, you’ve just begun again!

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