Diary of a new CEO – First things first.

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Week 2 in my first CEO role and what a ride the first week has been! I met with the Board Chair to clarify expectations, priorities and deliverables for the first quarter, my EA has filled my diary with appointments with key external stakeholders, the CFO has resigned because he didn’t get the CEO gig and my remaining leadership team are emerging as a combination of Machiavellian and politically savvy individuals. The Machs and the Savvys are both actively sizing up the situation in their own ways and calculating how to raise their image, or lower someone else’s. Everyone below them is keeping a low profile. The business is in much poorer shape than I had realised and I have to draw on all of my emotional fortitude to make some unpleasant and unpopular decisions. I reckon I’ve got around two thirds of the organisation with me, much of the remaining third sitting on the fence and a few individuals actively working against me.

Thankfully I have retained my executive coach to help me step out of the fray, take an objective view of the situation and prioritise my efforts. We are meeting fortnightly and in the first session we discussed my top 5 leadership challenges and how I can address them. Here they are:

  1. Delivering consistent, predictable top and bottom line results

This will require focus around understanding key drivers of the top and bottom line, when and how to make tradeoffs, being able to see around corners to understand the longer term implications of decisions and adjust my short-term decisions accordingly.

  1. Setting the organisation’s direction

I need to put my own stamp on where this place is going, as I’ve inherited a declining organisation with a shrinking market share and a growing bunch of disgruntled customers. So I need to be clear about where I intend to take the business and communicate a vision that is compelling for our people internally as well as our customer base. It will take all of my strategic acumen to effectively reposition the business in the current highly competitive and unstable environment.

  1. Leveraging existing leadership capability and covering gaps

There are some very loyal and capable leaders in this business, who are not performing to expectations, but I ‘m confident they can lift their performance and become highly productive. It is therefore critical for me to energise these people and provide the right environment for them to flourish. I also need to identify mission-critical roles and make the right appointments to these roles. How do I keep the right people engaged, productive and enthusiastic while also recognising who needs to leave?

  1. Maintaining the Edge in Execution

I am known for driving results, sometimes at a fast pace and so I need to continually seek feedback and assess how well I am performing and whether I’m bringing others along with me. As they say, it’s lonely at the top and I need to ensure I am hearing the bad news as well as the good. In my experience, it has become more difficult to receive honest feedback as I move up. I need to identify the most important and reliable sources for me to get the latest information and who I can trust.

This is a key leadership issue for me. I want to demonstrate that seeking and responding to feedback is critical for all of us to ensure we learn, grow and continually improve our performance. If I don’t demonstrate it, no-one else will.

  1. Managing the Enterprise in the Broader, Global Context

This is a big one, and needs attention. Managing and influencing external stakeholders including the broader industry and society is one of my key goals. This needs to be tackled concurrently with managing internal challenges.

Now it’s back to work – I can hear my EA approaching with my diary… The first piece of practical advice I have received from my coach is to find a time in my day to get into “flow” or “in the zone”, where I can be fully immersed and engaged in what I do without interruptions. This is where I am at my most creative and productive so I’ve decided to allocate two hours a day from 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM, when my mind is clear and fresh to deal with my most challenging issues without distractions. Then the rest of the day is for others. Here we go. I’ll be back in touch in a month or so to let you know how I’m going.

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