What advice would you share with someone who has been appointed to their first CEO role?

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During the Easter break on the one rainy afternoon we encountered, I decided to take a look at the myriad folders that I had been storing in several cupboards. I am guilty of being a bit of a hoarder, the evidence of this being the oldest of the folders I found was dated in the early eighties. My justification for keeping these folders is that over the last 30 years I have participated in some outstanding development programs led by brilliant teachers.

A lot of them focused on pre-digital times and are no longer relevant so ended up in the recycle bin. In amongst them I found some pure gold that is as relevant today as it was two decades ago.

One of the many pieces I came across was advice offered to me when I was appointed to my first Managing Director role. It is prescient that I found these pages amongst hundreds of others because not more than two days earlier I had been contacted by the daughter of a good friend who had been advised she was the successful candidate for her first CEO role in a mid-sized private company, and which she had accepted. The purpose of her call was to ask if I had any advice for her on things she could focus on between now and when she takes up her new role and in her first days in the role. We agreed to meet this week.

This is the list of steps I shared with her which are a combination of my experiences over the years and that advice I was given all those years ago.

My advice to her for between now and when she takes up her role is:

  • Meet with the owners and the advisory board to confirm KPI’s have not changed.
  • Obtain copies and review the strategic plans for the past three years.
  • Review the current strategic plan.
  • Ask for and review any reports prepared by outside consultants in the last two years on any aspects of the company’s operations.
  • Ask for and review any current and relevant research about the industry sectors in which the company operates.
  • Ensure there is a communication plan in place that ensures all internal and external stakeholders are advised of your appointment – it’s surprising how often this is poorly planned and executed. The outcome you don’t want is your people, customers, or suppliers reading about your appointment in sources other than those planned.

Once she takes up her role my view is that speed is of the essence:

  • It’s important to have her hands on the business quickly, so to speak; my points were:
    • Set up a program to learn about any aspect of the business you do not understand. Learning about and having a comprehensive understanding of the business is essential as there is an expectation for decisions to be made.
    • Meet with key team members to:
      • Understand and assess current focus, projects, and workload.
      • Pinpoint possible problem areas.
      • Set a time for each senior leader to introduce you to people at all levels of their business unit.
  • Commence setting standards, expectations, and behaviours – communication is a good place to start to ensure two-way channels remain open.
  • Develop a 120 day plan with clear outcomes and ensure they are communicated to the owners.
  • Engage an executive leadership coach. Set clear outcomes you want to achieve. You will need the objective, impartial support of someone who is committed to enabling you to maximise your potential.
  • Set meetings with key clients and suppliers.
  • Practice leadership by walking around. Demands of the role will be such that it will be easy for you to become desk-bound. Resist this – be visible.

The key is to realise that everything cannot be done at once, it will come down to pace, focus, choices, and quality of decisions.


Viventé Australia enables leaders and managers to create the conditions that allow their people to do their best work every day thus creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its outcomes.