Archives September 2019

5 Steps To Keeping The Waters Calm When A New Boss Enters The Pool

… of all the things that can cause ripples in our ‘pond’ changing CEO’s should be considered the equivalent of doing a cannonball dive into the water …

A quick note from Steve:

This article focuses on the new CEO or ED, but the discussion can apply to anyone taking on the role of ‘New Boss.’



As leaders, we often consider changes within our organization that impact our culture or our progress towards successfully achieving or goals.

The change could be a location change; IT changes, new strategic plans, economic downturns or a myriad of organizational changes that can cause ripples in our corporate waters.

In my experience, one of the least managed organizational change is a leadership change.

And of all the things that can cause ripples in our ‘pond’ changing CEO’s should be considered the equivalent of doing a cannonball dive into the water.

An additional complication is that boards of directors are increasingly seeking leaders from outside of their organization. 

In 2017, 44% of US companies & organizations searching for new leadership hire from outside the organization.

Often outsiders are chosen to deliver strategic course corrections, restructures, mergers, culture change, or digital transformation and under short timelines incoming CEO’s need to have a deep understanding of their leadership competencies and effectiveness. 


The new CEO as an organizational change challenge.

Most incoming senior executives, internal or external, get off to a rocky start. 

Society for Human Resource Management research shows that 58% of senior leadership hires still struggle in their new positions after 18 months on the job. 

18 months!

Therefore, it’s crucial to plan a new chief executive’s integration carefully. 


What is the key to success? 

Success must be gained by building momentum across the whole organization.

Not by acting frenetically, but by thoughtfully choosing the speed that will help the whole organization mobilize, execute, and transform effectively. 

The incoming CEO must need to:

  • gain knowledge of board expectations,
  • understand the bench-strength of the leadership team; and,
  • appreciate the organization’s culture.

This will help the CEO understand when to gather insights, when to make fact-based decisions and when to execute at pace.


Five steps to speed up new CEO integration

In my experience, new CEOs who take the following five steps have the best chance at successful acceleration.


  1. What are your unique strengths

The characteristics that have served you well so far may not lead to success in a new role as CEO. 

Success in your new role is dependent on the ability to navigate the organization’s current cultural context and to quickly understand what the roadblocks to performance are. 

Self-awareness is crucial. The ability to reflect upon and assess your strengths and weaknesses and leadership style will enable proper planning on how to change the culture and increase performance.

Consider the following questions to help align your and the organization’s unique strengths: 

  • Why was I hired for this role; what is my differentiation?
  • What is my vision for this organization? 
  • What distinctive strengths can I leverage in this context? 
  • What might derail me within this organization?
  • How do I become more self-aware and plan for my blind spots? 
  • What do I hope my legacy will be?

 Read the 7 career-saving questions you should ask before starting a new project

  1. Build an effective influence base

External CEOs are typically brought in to drive transformational change.

Everyone is expecting change, so the new CEO’s every move is evaluated and scrutinized for meaning. 

Understanding of the formal and informal sources of influence within an organization takes time.

You need to talk to your people to get a clear view of what people love, what they hate, what they see as most broken, what gets them excited. 

As a new CEO, there will be a lot of pressure—from the board, from your leadership team, from the culture itself—for you to show up and make change happen quickly. 

Don’t fall into the trap of making big decisions too quickly—you don’t know enough to know if they are the right decisions or not. 

By getting to know the key stakeholders will help new CEOs develop a plan to build the relationships that can quickly transform influencers into advocates.

Addressing the following questions is a significant next step: 

  • How do I identify the key influencers? 
  • Where are the real influencers within the organization below my leadership team?
  • What questions should I ask key constituents to build my knowledge base?
  • How do I effectively structure a listening tour?
  • How will I structure my personal story and share my vision for the organization?


  1. Define success and priorities

Incoming CEOs typically have high-level alignment with the board and other senior executives on what constitutes success and what the priorities are. 

The new CEO needs a detailed definition of what success will look like and what needs to be addressed first. 

Taking the time to define the high-impact opportunities that impact customers, products, systems, and people is essential. 

Careful management of the first 100 days to be critical to the new CEO’s success. 

This is the time when stakes are highest for both the organization and the reputation of the incoming CEO. 

Ideally, the 100-day playbook will accelerate the new executives’ integration into their new environment, while prioritizing quick wins and longer-term, strategic capabilities.

Addressing the following questions will get CEOs started on this step: 

  • What are the performance indicators for this role?
  • How will my performance be evaluated in six months and a year? 
  • How (and from whom) will I receive feedback?
  • How will I get oriented to our markets, customers, and organization?
  • How will I get clarity on and manage board expectations? 

Read more about managing competing priorities

  1. Mobilize the top team quickly

Most often, a new CEO makes changes to the senior team. 

In 2017, 91% of S&P 500 companies indicated that the CEO change would be accompanied by additional changes at the director or senior executive levels.

Given the change agenda, new external CEOs need to develop an understanding of the senior team’s performance and quickly make decisions on how to bolster the team’s effectiveness.

Addressing the following questions will help new CEOs shape and mobilize their top teams: 

  • How will I assess my team’s baseline level of performance?
  • What are the business goals or outcomes are my team members mutually accountable for?
  • How will I determine membership on my top team?
  • What operating norms do I think are needed on this team?
  • Who will support me on the development of my team to accelerate performance?


  1. Shape the culture

Organizational culture is both a key driver of change and a barrier to execution. 

In my experience, everyday cultural strengths and liabilities have become so ingrained and automatic that they are not questioned. 

If the cultural fit between the new CEO and the organization is off, execution can feel like pushing a rope.

This challenge has been defined as Culture eating Strategy’s lunch because dysfunctional cultural habits can chew up any improvement the new CEO is trying to make. 

A major study shows that 70% of all change efforts fail to achieve their intended objectives. 

The new CEO must get up to speed quickly on the cultural values, the unwritten rules, and the practices for how work gets done in their new organization. 

Addressing the following questions will give new CEOs a cultural grounding:

  • What are the strengths and liabilities of the current culture?
  • How do I shape the culture to align with our new strategic direction?
  • How do I improve high-performing behaviours such as accountability and collaboration?
  • How can I better understand the shadow of my leadership team?
  • What is the execution effectiveness of my organization?

 Read more about culture


Newly appointed leaders are at risk of failing unless they take steps to address the speed bumps that get in the way of the organizational and personal success the CEO seeks. 

If poorly made, the initial set of decisions and actions that a new CEO makes will create unintended consequences that will be difficult to reverse. 

Therefore initial actions and decisions must be carefully planned.

An acceleration requires new CEOs to:

  • assess and develop themselves to be most effective in the new context; 
  • understand their organization’s influencers and culture, 
  • how to leverage both for success; 
  • develop a detailed and shared understanding of success and priorities; and 
  • mobilize their top team. 

Those who take the time to do so put themselves on the best path toward lasting success.

Three Things to Remember on Your First Day as a Leader

If you Google the term ‘first day as a manager,’ you’ll get almost three billion results.

What does that tell us? 

That a lot of people are looking for ways to succeed as a new leader, boss, or manager. 

It also tells us there are a lot of people offering advice on how to do so. 

But what if I told you there are only three things you need to remember to succeed on your first day as a manager? 

I’ve been the new boss many times. 

Each time, I found myself with more responsibility and in charge of more people. 

And each time, there was a nagging voice in my head telling me the same thing: I was in over my head.

When self-doubt creeps in, it doesn’t just affect the impression our employees, peers, and bosses have of us—or how we see ourselves. It can also have lasting negative effects on our performance and success at work. 

Here are three things you should know to quiet self-doubt and be the best boss possible:

1. Your boss has confidence in you.

You’re in a leadership position for a reason.

I once told my boss that I didn’t think I was ready for my pending promotion. 

It didn’t take long to get sent out of his office with the words, “I’ll be the judge of when you’re ready,” still ringing in my ears. 

Fear of leadership failure is a real thing. Remember, your boss believes you’re ready to lead or you wouldn’t be there. So run with it!

If you want to explore this topic further, don’t miss this post. 

2. Don’t rush.

I remember seeing a brash young captain standing in front of his new command. 

The first words out of his mouth were: “there’s a new sheriff in town and there’s going to be changes…” He looked like an idiot.

In that moment, he completely lost all credibility. 

What could he have done differently?

He should have entered calmly and slowly, asking people for their names and stories, instead of assuming everything needed fixing and stomping on toes. 

On your first day as a new manager, come in with the knowledge that it’s going to take time to get to know the staff and the way things work. From there, you can determine which adjustments need to be made. 

It might feel like there are a million things you want to hurry to get done on your first day, each more important than the last. That’s why I’ve written this post for dealing with competing priorities. 

3. Spend time with your boss and your peers.

This is advice not only for your first day as a manager, but on every day after that: Spend as much time with your boss as you can. 

Ask them what their performance objectives are and how you can contribute to their success. This demonstrates your value and establishes your place as a great asset to the company. 

Want to learn more about partnering with your boss? Be sure to visit this post. 

You should also invest in getting to know your team whenever you can. 

These people can help you navigate your new environment. And quite frankly, if you’re offside with them, they can contribute to your failure.

Almost all advice to a new leader is to invest in their employees during the early days of their new position. Your employees are important. But if you don’t understand what your boss wants or your peer team needs, you’re in for a rough ride.

Your first day as a new leader is just that—one day. Don’t expect to overhaul a company or predict your own failure before you’ve even had a chance to start. Remember: you were chosen to lead for a reason. 

Come in with a good attitude, an open mind, and a willingness to connect with your boss, peers, and employees. It will go a long way. 

Keeping these things in mind will help you succeed not only on your first day as a new manager, but throughout the rest of your career. 

If you’re interested in going deeper or moving your career to the next level, you’ll also want to have a look at my 1-on-1 coaching services.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check these out, too:

Micromanaging is a Good Thing
9 Stupid Management Practices (and what to do instead)
The 6T’s To Know What To Delegate

This article was originally published on March 14, 2016, and has been updated.


4 Questions You Should Learn to Ask Yourself

As a young leader in the Army, I used to ask my soldiers: ‘How are you doing?’

Guess what the answers were. Fine. Good. Okay.

What did I gain from those conversations? Nothing useful.

A mentor suggested that I start asking:

  • What are you doing?
  • Do you understand why you are doing this?
  • When did you eat last?
  • What do you need to help you do your job?

Read more about how to use silence to ask questions

I started getting information that was much more valuable in helping to understand what was going on.

Great questions can reveal tremendous information.

The questions you ask as a leader can reveal the values you hold, your priorities, and reinforce behaviours which you may or may not like. 

But too often, leaders reveal the gaps that exist between what they say and what they want and do.

Here are four questions leaders should be asking themselves.

  1. What would a great leader do at this moment?

Imagine framing your perspective with the lens of what great leaders would do in the situation in which you find yourself.

The standard is raised immediately for the options available, the best actions to pursue, and the right words to use.

Great leaders ask this question to push themselves beyond their limitations, biases and planning assumptions.

  1. What did I do today to enable my team to be better, or did I do something that held my team back?

Leaders touch everyone with their actions and in their conversations.  Often, there are unintended consequences from what they do and say.

Read about the 6 Essential Questions You Can Ask Children & Employees

Great leaders constantly review, assess and learn from what they do and say making adjustments along the way, revealing their value of continual learning.

  1. If I could do one thing in the next 10 minutes, what would be the best thing to do?

Time management is critical as a leader.

When a meeting ends early, great leaders seize upon the found sliver of time to invest in getting things done, which usually involves building a relationship with an employee.

Your behaviour during these slivers of found time reveals your priorities.

  1. Who’s hiding from me?  Who haven’t I met with recently?

While it’s easy to rationalize that an employee is working well on their own, is independent and self-motivated, great leaders know that relationships with all employees need tending.

Sustaining and growing inter-personal relationships with employees earn the leader the right to lead.

Growing your leadership impact requires you to reach beyond the limits of your personality and style.  And it’s in those moments of stretch that you begin to build your leadership muscles.

Read about the 3 questions that would have stopped me from wasting $20,000

Coaching Thoughts

  1. Think back over the last several conversations you’ve had with employees and consider what values do you think you revealed?
  2. In each meeting you have over the next 48 hours, write/type ‘What Would a Great Leader Do’ at the top of your notes. Then grab a coffee and reflect on the experiment.