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The New CEO’s Secret Weapon . . .

September 25, 2014
Borderless Leadership

by John R Childress

If change is happening on the outside faster than on the inside, the end is in sight.  -Jack Welch, former CEO, GE

One of the most difficult jobs in modern business is that of the new CEO.  As soon as the appointment is announced it seems that everyone desperately needs to talk to the new CEO, even before she officially starts.  Consultants want to pitch their capabilities, suppliers want an audience, disgruntled customers demand air time, and most of all the members of the senior team line up to extol the virtues of their departments and their importance to the success of the enterprise.  Employees seem to be way down the list but they want to talk to the new CEO as well about a host of issues that obviously the previous CEO ignored. And if that wasn’t enough, the Chairman of the Board, all the Non-Executive Directors and of course the analysts demand quality time with the new CEO.

The most interesting thing about the people wanting time from the new CEO is that they see their job as delivering wisdom and knowledge, yet in reality they only have pieces of information, pieces of the puzzle, not the whole picture.  And the pieces don’t all fit together to make a clear picture. Just like a bottom up budget there are more issues and ideas than the organisation can effectively deal with at one time.  So now the CEO has to make sense of this pile of information; some pieces are clearly important and some aren’t. No wonder many new CEOs fend off as many meetings as possible until they can get their feet on the ground and see for themselves what is going on.

But as always, the critical element is time.  And of all people the new CEO does not have the luxury of time to dig, explore and most importantly, think!

There are various estimates by academics on just what the grace period is for a new CEO. Some say six months, some 100 days, some 3 months before the new CEO must produce a solid assessment and most importantly, a workable go-forward plan. But on one thing everyone agrees, in the past few years the “grace” period has gotten shorter and shorter.

There is, however, a secret weapon in the arsenal of the new CEO if they seek it out.  That weapon is the leadership culture of the organisation they are about to inherit.

Organizations are shadows of their leaders.  That’s the good news and the bad news!

The problem with understanding the leadership culture is that it is mostly invisible and takes a few key questions and a few key activities to spring open the padlock and reveal its contents.

Here are a few of our favourite non-obvious questions for a new CEO:

1.    Do you know the leadership culture you are coming into?
2.    Will it support or hinder your vision and goals for the organization?
3.    How well does your new senior team work together?
4.    How aligned are they on the overall strategic agenda versus their silo agendas?
5.    Does this company have a best practice process for strategy delivery?
6.    Are your leaders accountable?

A CEO client once remarked:  There is no strategy without execution and there is no execution without leadership!

The quickest way to get a handle on the leadership culture is to get the entire senior team together at a 3 or 4 day away meeting early on. (1-day is not enough time for executives to show their real character, 3-4 days is best)

If you use a robust process for strategic thinking and follow these few questions in sequence, you will quickly learn about the leadership culture.  Just watch how they behave, as individuals and as a group!

• What is our strategic intent?
• What are the few breakthrough objectives we should be focusing on to grow and beat the competition?
• What are the fewest metrics we need to run this business properly?
• What projects/programs do we need to deliver on our strategic agenda?
• What projects/programs are running that don’t fit this agenda?
• Who is going to be accountable for what?

You will very quickly learn the type of leadership culture you have inherited.  And you will also quickly discover who’s on the bus and who isn’t. You will also learn a lot about the business from the people who “should” know the most.

And once you know the leadership culture you have, you can then plot a course to build the leadership culture you need!

Tight Lines . . .

Source: John R Childress Blog

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