Imagine you’re a camp counselor. You love your job—being around the kids, planning events, and doing what you love in general. Your director has a hike planned for all of the campers. She wants you to come as support because she’s seen how well you work with the kids. During the hike, she leads the group off the beaten path. On a moonless night, with the stars covered by clouds, she slips and twists her ankles. She also went so far off the main path that she doesn’t know how to get back. The only person capable of leading them all out safely is you. Everyone is looking to you to step up.
Similar to a camp counselor taking on a new role—but without the bugs—there will be challenges for new CEOs. After years of hard work, you’re now in one of the highest positions of the business world. The job will have its rewards, but, more often than not, you won’t have a clear path to follow. So, as you rise to the challenge of more hours, more work, more responsibilities, and more expectations, here are a few ideas to help you keep your footing.
- Conserve your energy – You’re only human, which means you only have so much energy to expend. At times, it will feel like people will be asking for more than you can give. It won’t help anyone if you burn out in your first week. Focus on the tasks that are either the most important or a unique strength of yours. If it’s not urgent or that task can be done down the line, set it aside for later and don’t forget to delegate roles as needed to take work off your plate. That will allow you to invest your energy in the tasks that are high priority for you. Delegating will also give your employees training in leadership, allowing them to improve personally and professionally.
- Be prepared to win over your employees – Change is hard, whether you’re the newly appointed CEO or the employees working for a new boss. If you were promoted internally, then you hopefully have strong, positive relationships with most, if not all, the other employees. That rapport can make the transition easier for all parties. If you don’t have established relationships, then you’ll have to put in more work to show you’re capable and trustworthy. Either way, accept that your employee relationships will need some attention as you assume your new role. If you have collaborative ideas that are within the scope of your employees’ abilities and the documentation to back them up, the people you work with will be more agreeable. Invest in them, and they’ll return the favor.
- Try to act instead of react – You’ll most likely be coming into your position in the middle of projects and meetings. Things will be happening quicker than you might be prepared for. Your first instinct on how to respond may only be a temporary fix. Take the time to gather your bearings and determine where the company is with each of its projects. Document your progress and processes, so you can share updates to the appropriate parties. Having this foresight will help you act instead of react to issues that may arise.
As we’ve established, being a new CEO is tough. But what if you’re a young CEO? One analysis found that only 28 of 493 CEOs of S&P 500 companies are under 50 years old. That’s just 6%. It’s understandable why a board of directors would pick an older applicant with decades of experience. However, that discounts a pool of applicants who could be just what the company needs. If you’re one of the select few who’s made it to the top before hitting 50, here are some tips that may come in handy. These points can also be added to those above and vice versa!
- Don’t be afraid to adapt the company vision – Hopefully, your company has a clear vision of what it wants to accomplish and how it will impact the market. It’s important to define, document, and share that vision because it’s what will drive your employees and unite your effort toward a common goal. That said, time waits for no one. As a CEO, you may need to adapt the vision to meet new challenges and opportunities, and that’s okay. You’re the visionary, so don’t be afraid of a fresh perspective. Just be sure that that fresh perspective is tangible and realistic, so your employees can accept and implement it.
- Assert yourself – As a young CEO, you will meet people, both internally and externally, who won’t take you seriously because of your age and/or lack of experience. While you can’t snap your fingers and make yourself older, you can act like the leader you are. You may have employees or stakeholders with more experience than you, but they’re coming to you, not the other way around. You have the authority to take up space because it’s your job to command that space. Remember that you were chosen for a reason and be comfortable hiring smarter or more experienced people to advise you. Doing so won’t make you less of a leader. Whatever wisdom these smarter and more experienced people can impart can be its own kind of training for yourself.
- Communicate – Sharing information with your supervisor or a handful of colleagues is a far cry from doing so with an entire company of employees. On top of that, you have your board and other stakeholders. Keeping your channels of communication open is vital. You have to show that you’re able to relay information promptly and correctly. To do that, make sure all of the ideas in your head are on paper, so you know exactly what you want to share.
- Be patient – Coming into your new role, you’ll probably have a slew of ideas on how to change the company. However, changing everything immediately isn’t the smartest first step to take in your starting weeks. While it is important to embrace and implement change, it has to be change that’s for the good of the company and the employees. You’re not going to please everyone, but you should take the time to get your team’s buy-in and explain the motivation for your changes along the way. If you’re at least prepared with documentation of all the ideas you’re considering, you’ll be prepared for when the right moment comes to put them into action.
Whether you’re new, young, or a combination of the two, being the CEO will test you in new and difficult ways. Take the above tips and apply them as needed. Find what works for you and for your company. Listen to the naysayers, but don’t let them discourage you. You may have to wander through the dark to guide your campers to safety, but that’s okay. Keep moving and use your skills to navigate the best path forward.
- “How New CEOs Can Change Organizational Culture,” ASAE, December 2015, https://www.asaecenter.org/resources/articles/an_magazine/2015/november-december/how-new-ceos-can-change-organizational-culture.
- “The 3 Challenges Every New CEO Faces,” Harvard Business Review, January 23, 2019, https://hbr.org/2019/01/the-3-challenges-every-new-ceo-faces.
- “CEOs under 50 Are a Rare Find in the S&P 500,” The Wall Street Journal, May 22, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/ceos-under-50-are-a-rare-find-in-the-s-p-500-11558517401
- “5 Challenges Young Executives Face and How Coaching Helps,” John Mattone Global, Inc., December 19, 2019, https://johnmattone.com/blog/5-challenges-young-executives-face-and-how-coaching-helps/.