Leading a team is demanding work, but the ascension to the role of CEO elevates the challenges, triumphs, and lessons of leadership in an entirely new way. You are the face of a company, and everyone– customers, partners, employees, and the broader market– is looking to you for focus and clarity. Having the right focus as CEO will allow you to improve the manner in which your team works, which in the end, will allow you to develop better customer solutions, faster.
I’ve spent most of my career driving and leading teams in sales, developing global expansion plans, and delivering my department goals and expertise to the CEO. Now, as a first-time CEO, my responsibilities are elevated, and instead of reporting to the corner office, I inhabit that corner office. After one month ‘on the job,’ there are four immediate actions I’ve taken that I believe are applicable for many new CEOs in the first 60 days.
Listen and learn.
No matter how your organizational structure is set up, all company stakeholders will report to you in some form. While you will likely have regular status calls with the rest of your executive team on an ongoing basis, it’s important to use this time of transition as an opportunity to listen.
Ask your team about their departmental priorities and challenges and be prepared to hear feedback— positive or negative. You should also learn as much about their teams as possible, how they are working with one another cross-functionally, what drives success, and what presents unique hurdles. Skip-level meetings, in which you meet with employees without their direct manager present, can be particularly helpful in establishing a 360-view of the organization.
You will likely realize that the view from the ‘top’ is a birds-eye-view and having direct conversations with leaders within your organization will not only help you unify all departments, but it will also lay the relationship groundwork for difficult conversations down the line. It’s much more productive and meaningful to engage in a difficult conversation with someone you’ve established a relationship with as opposed to a leader you’ve hardly engaged with beyond a quarterly business review (QBR).
Identify a common goal.
Every CEO has a charter. What’s yours? Whether it’s customer acquisition, new product development, another round of fundraising or a public filing, you need a roadmap to execute successfully. It will be important to ensure that your immediate day-to-day priorities map back to this.
If you are actively working on a round of fundraising, make sure you are firing on all cylinders and engaging with the right stakeholders in and outside of the company. Make sure the story you are selling is resonating with investors and your metrics deliver on that promise. If you’re approaching a public filing or another large financial event, it’s important to identify the work that needs to be done.
Determine where your organization stacks up, not only on the financial side but in terms of diversity, governance, etc. Spend time and energy in the areas that will elevate your organization to that common goal.
Double down on aspirational culture
With nearly half of U.S. employees contemplating a job change, it’s crucial that your culture is headed in the right direction. Determine what your aspirational culture is– when an employee is asked about your company, what do you want them to say? Identifying that aspirational culture extends far beyond office cornhole and unlimited paid time off (PTO)– it’s how the living, breathing organism of a company feels.
Identifying and doubling down on your company’s aspirational culture is separate from the day-to-day, tactical execution of the business. Whether you are an early-stage startup with 25 employees or a publicly traded company with 2500 employees, the aspirational culture is something that should constantly be top of mind, no matter what the immediate organizational charter is. In many cases, it is the CEO who sets the tone for the rest of the company so you should define how you would like the organization to be perceived by employees, customers, prospects, investors and the marketplace more broadly.
Last, but not least– authenticity is critical to being the best leader and executing on all fronts. Remain humble and remember the qualities that differentiate you as a leader. Although it may seem unbelievable at times, you have been presented with the incredible privilege of leading a larger team and sharing in the successes, failures, and lessons your company will experience.
There will be new things to learn, but don’t lose sight of the reasons you have been given this seat at the table. There are aspects of the new day-to-day that simply won’t feel normal or natural, particularly as a first-time CEO. Remember to surround yourself with the right people who are ready to work with you and challenge you to be the best leader and representative for your entire company.
By taking these four initial actions, you will frame your priorities and business initiatives around foundational values that will allow you to hold the reigns steady to propel the business forward.