The transition to CEO is understandably nerve-racking – after all, shareholders, employees, and board members will now hold you singularly accountable for the company’s overall performance. As CEO, you will have to make tough decisions about strategy, hiring/firing, company policies, and more on a regular basis.
Although the core responsibilities of CEOs haven’t changed much over the years, the traditional formula of what makes a good or effective chief executive is evolving. If you’re a newly appointed CEO, you can increase your chances of a successful transition by trusting your instincts, surrounding yourself with an incredible team, and carving out your own path. Many of today’s top executives got to where they are by breaking the stereotypes of how CEOs should act or what they should do, including these oft-repeated rules:
- Be the Face of the Company:
Most of us can rattle off names of high-profile CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Oprah Winfrey. However, when looking at the big picture, only a handful of CEOs are inextricably linked with the companies they head. Most CEOs prioritize running their companies over seeking the spotlight, and they also understand the importance of building a strong enough foundation that the company will succeed with or without them.
- Embrace the Latest Technology:
Thanks to fawning media coverage, it’s easy to be swayed into thinking your employees need the latest gadgets in order to keep up. However, constantly being an early adopter often turns out to be more time-consuming and expensive than not. Implement a mandatory evaluation period before switching to a new device or software to help your team make better decisions. Keep in mind as well that there are few technological substitutes for making meaningful connections, whether you’re exchanging business cards or treating your best clients to lunch.
- Focus on the Competition: Jeff Bezos credits Amazon’s focus on the customer as a key reason for its success. As he says, “If you’re competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering.” Your customers, not your competition, should be determining your company’s next steps.
- Stick to Your Original Vision: While it’s important for a CEO to stay true to the company’s overall mission, it’s equally important that he or she remains adaptable. Of course, some business principles, like hiring stellar employees and providing great value, should never be compromised. That said, you should be open to revising everything from product offerings to marketing strategies to even your own leadership style as consumer and employee expectations evolve.
- Have an Exit Strategy: Although conventional wisdom encourages entrepreneurs to have an exit strategy from the start, many new CEOs are rejecting this advice. As Amir Salihefendic, CEO of Doist, explained in his company blog, “What’s better than an exit strategy? It’s a long-term mission that your company truly cares about. It’s focusing on building a company that can outlast you and creating something of true value.”
Determining an exit strategy up front, whether it’s an initial public offering (IPO), acquisition, or other, can have an outsized influence on how you run your business. Rather, set a goal of building a strong, sustainable business so you’ll have your choice of exit strategies when the time comes.
- Don’t Get Involved in the Day to Day: As CEO, you want to delegate as much as possible, freeing up your time and energy for making major business decisions. That said, CEOs are also ultimately responsible for what happens at every level of the organization. There are 2 seemingly mundane but critical avenues that all CEOs should monitor on a regular basis – cash flow and customer satisfaction. Without both, your business ultimately cannot succeed.
- Expect to Work Long Hours: It’s natural to assume most CEOs spend long days at the office, whether they’re running small family businesses or international conglomerates. However, a CEO’s effectiveness is not measured by how many hours they work but how the company performs under their direction. While there will certainly be days in which a CEO’s constant presence is required, leaders should strive for healthy work-life balances in order to avoid burnout. By paying attention to your well-being, you will be in a better position to run the company to the best of your ability.
- Prioritize Growth Over All Else: A CEO’s performance is often defined by growth in revenue, profitability, and productivity. While these metrics are important, a CEO should not chase growth at the expense of a company’s most valuable resource – its employees. If you don’t care about your employees, they’re not going to care about your company, and that can affect the bottom line more than anything else. As Richard Branson famously said, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
- Immediately Make Sweeping Changes: As new CEOs take the reins of established companies, they’ll often start by transforming everything from the executive team to company perks/benefits in order to correct perceived inefficiencies and establish their position as the new decision-maker.
However broad, rapid changes can create confusion and demonstrate a lack of respect for processes that took years to develop. As you introduce new initiatives, ask for and take into consideration the feedback of all affected parties. Not only can they provide valuable insight into what works and doesn’t work about existing procedures, they’re more likely to feel valued and be responsive to the transition.
- Persevere at All Costs: Larry Page and Sergey Brin started Google while they were Ph.D. students at Stanford and within 10 years, Google had become a dominant search engine worth billions of dollars. In order to steer the company through its rapid growth and upcoming IPO, the founders hired Eric Schmidt, an experienced tech executive, to take the helm.
This story is more common than you might expect. Although Google’s founders persevered against the skeptics and the naysayers, they also understood that they weren’t fully prepared for the challenges that lay ahead. By stepping aside as the heads of the company while still remaining heavily involved, Page and Brin were able to prepare themselves for their respective current roles as CEO and President of Alphabet Inc. (Google’s parent company).
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