Inheriting the CEO Title, Now What?

Perhaps your dad or mom was a successful entrepreneur. Or perhaps you’ve been a hardworking, loyal part of the machinery that helped build a company. Now, however, you’ve been promoted to CEO and are wondering: “Do I deserve this? Will people respect me? How do I change course without upsetting Dad or Mom or the previous CEO? I was good in my previous role, but how will this be different?” All great questions! And if you’ve recently been granted the title of CEO, questions you thought of on Day 1 (or at least Week 1)!

I’ve spoken with a lot of you over the years and was a CEO in several different companies, so I understand your anxiety! (Hopefully you have lots of enthusiasm and some pride too!)

Let’s tackle those questions one at a time.

Do I deserve this? Maybe, maybe not, but here you are! Center on questions such as, “How can I do the best job possible?” Focus forward, not backward. If you obsess over whether you’re deserving, you’ll drive yourself and your team crazy. No one wants to work for a weak-kneed leader. Being vulnerable is good, but you must also develop confidence. Focus on getting better as quickly as you can. You can grow into it, but the clock is ticking!

Will people respect me? Yes, but only if you become a good leader. Positional authority only goes so far. Don’t worry about being loved; that will just get you into trouble. However, if your ideas (e.g., purpose, vision, strategy) are well-thought-out and developed collaboratively, and you communicate them well, you’ll be off to a good start. The list of skills that you must develop is long, so focus on “the people stuff” and financial acumen to get started. Get a coach to help.

How do I change course without upsetting Dad or Mom or the previous CEO? If you got into this job knowing that you have to chart a new course (i.e., the company is performing poorly), ensure that you have the support of your board or shareholders and other key parties. Create a clear, compelling new direction for the company, and then sell, sell, sell. Research change management before you start. Aligning the troops will be your key to success. It’s as much about how you go about this as it is about what you do.

I was good in my previous role, but how will this be different? In many ways! Your technical or functional skill from your previous role is of little advantage. You must now be a generalist, and your primary skill must be leadership (i.e., getting others to enthusiastically work toward the betterment of the company). You’re now always “on stage” — everything you do and say is important, and they’re watching! Remember, this is an entirely different job. You’re about to understand the phrase, “It’s lonely at the top!” Get some help.

You’ve got this! It’s OK to be anxious, but turn that energy into positive action.

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