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Congrats! Now What?
July 9, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen

Ian Davis, McKinsey & Company’s former managing director, recently used Forbes as a forum to offer transition advice to a newly appointed CEO, which I read with great interest. You can read his full letter here, and it is well worth your time: http://www.forbes.com/2010/06/21/new-ceo-transition-advice-leadership-managing-mckinsey.html?partner=email. Here is a quick summary of Davis’ ten key points.

  1. Context is critical. Learn quickly and look through the eyes of important constituencies and stakeholders.
  2. Set your own timeline and specific transition goals.
  3. Establish your priorities and understand expectations.
  4. Control your agenda; be ruthless in managing your time.
  5. Construct your team, and build key relationships, early.
  6. Build a strong, respect-based peer relationship with your board and your board chair.
  7. Your personal assistant and support infrastructure are critical early decisions.
  8. Develop a clear transition communications strategy.
  9. Find a way to get honest, balanced feedback and information. This often means going around your direct reports and using outsiders.
  10. Establish appropriate personal ground rules so you aren’t on duty 24/7, except for when you have to be on duty 24/7.
This letter caught my interest, in part, because over the past year we’ve had a number of friends and clients who have exited and entered a CEO role. I continue to value and appreciate the trust of these leaders, and here are some nuggets from our discussions that supplement and reinforce Mr. Davis’ advice.
  • Identifying WHO you need to build relationships with to be effective, both internally and externally, is every bit as important as identifying WHAT you need to get done.
  • “I wish I would have moved faster on the people issues.” – Two recently former CEOs.
  • Real change, as in new agenda, new direction, new culture change, happens in uncomfortable, high stakes, one-on-one conversations. If you aren’t comfortable with conflict you need to make that piece of your leadership development work a top priority.
  •  As CEO your voice carries louder and further than you imagine. And your actions drown out your voice. Be very thoughtful about what you say and what you do.
  • “The last time I knew for certain what people really thought was the day before I was named CEO” - A current CEO. Davis’ point about finding a way to get honest, balanced feedback is right on the money.
  • Your ability to lead and effect change starts, and often stops, with your own personal credibility. Remember that you are not bullet proof, invisible or invincible.
If this topic interests you, I can highly recommend four resources we’ve used personally and with our clients.
Authentic Leadership, Bill George
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni
Crucial Conversations, Patterson et al
The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins

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