Five Myths of a CEO’s First 100 Days

‎Gestern, ‎30. ‎Jänner ‎2012, ‏‎15:40:55 | Roselinde Torres and Peter Tollman, HBR Blog

It’s tough at the top and getting tougher. CEO turnover in medium and large U.S. companies is speeding up: Today CEOs last just six years on average, down from eight years a decade ago.

More than 15% of current CEOs are freshmen. Starting off on the right foot is crucial, especially during “the first 100 days,” when new top executives are under intense scrutiny to prove they’re equal to the job.

Unfortunately, the 100-day strategy has fallen victim to several myths that make it more difficult for leaders to lead.

MYTH #1: New CEOs should look outward and move quickly, rapidly inspecting personnel and procedures and identifying shortcomings in order to “sort out the mess.” One CEO, newly installed in an ailing industrial goods company, wasted time investigating and disparaging his predecessor. After a year of “I’m-not-the-other-guy” leadership, this executive hadn’t stamped his own identity on the business or made any distinctive decisions.

FACT: New CEOs benefit from introspection, not just inspection. They should reflect on their leadership style in order to adapt and harmonize with the company. One CEO, for example, excelled at communicating to small groups, delegating and team-building. Because he initially concentrated on assembling a strong team and personally communicating with them, he was able to develop a firm launch-pad for a variety of initiatives aimed at transforming the company.

MYTH #2: New CEOs should make an impact as soon as possible, notching up some “quick wins.” Consider one American executive who took over a foreign-owned manufacturing company. Without pausing to fully appreciate the company’s culture, ownership structure and tolerance for change, he developed a turbo-charged reorganization and growth plan. The Board of Directors rejected it, forcing him to backtrack, rebuild credibility and endure increased scrutiny.

FACT: New CEOs should find out what makes a company tick and work with this reality to achieve goals. In this spirit, the CEO-elect of an established media company devoted eight months prior to her accession to soliciting the views of stakeholders and identifying areas of future innovation and growth. After taking office and completing her review, she assembled her team. Her patience and precision instilled confidence, enhanced morale, and was rewarded with impressive growth.

MYTH #3: New CEOs should establish their executive team by recruiting the ablest functional and line leaders. One over-enthusiastic food company CEO established a team of outstanding executives, only to find that it wasn’t a team at all, but rather a group of individuals with divergent and conflicting approaches. His role became that of compromise-seeker and peacekeeper, not leader.

FACT: “Teamability” may be more important than individual ability. New CEOs should look for team players, rather than individual superstars, when they establish the inner circle. A top talent who can’t work effectively with colleagues is a liability, not an asset.

MYTH #4: New CEOs must promptly define and communicate performance metrics. An incoming CEO of an entertainment company, eager to secure first-mover advantage, instituted an ambitious growth strategy and set specific targets for managers. The board, concerned he had taken his eye off the core business, forced him to start again.

FACT: Before defining standards and evaluation criteria for others, new CEOs should first establish and communicate how they themselves will be evaluated.

MYTH #5: New CEOs must strive to be the smartest person in the room; you’re the chief, right? After a healthcare executive was promoted over longer-serving colleagues, he took a crash course in their fields of expertise. Whenever they made constructive suggestions, he knew better. Except, of course, he didn’t, and he suffered for it.

FACT: Omniscience is unattainable and does not guarantee great leadership. Smartness is helpful, but so are humility and inquisitiveness. The new CEO of a financial services business, an outside hire, studied just enough to ask the right questions. He acknowledged and deferred to those with superior expertise, but knew enough to challenge easy assumptions. This enabled him to slowly reset the organization’s goals, with his senior colleagues firmly on board.

Perhaps the most dangerous myth of all is that a new CEO’s worth can be judged in the “first 100 days.” That’s often not the case.

New CEOs need to maximize job preparation through research, consultation and introspection. They need to listen to others, seek impartial, external counsel who can discuss the un-discussable, and differentiate between self-interested counsellors and the advice of team players.

The most successful CEOs are not always the leaders who are most knowledgeable and decisive. Often they are the leaders who create the best teams, inspire peers, and set a coherent vision in keeping with the organization’s mission.

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