7 Lessons For New Bosses and CEO's.

Man pondering

Hubris was a crime in ancient Greece.

Hubris was a crime in ancient Greece. These days it is still rated a serious character flaw and is one that can easily bring down newly appointed chief executives. The temptation is to grow 6 inches whereas those that succeed generally keep their ego’s in check. The lessons:


Most successful new bosses go in with L plates all over their backs and have the humility of admitting “I’m learning” They may have come from a business unit or technical role but being CEO involves dealing with the broad ambiguity of shareholder management instead. The new CEO’s who do well are good active listeners – they know their past achievements are history and it is time to be a student again.

Letting Go:

It’s very hard for a new CEO to relinquish control over all the tasks that he or she was previously successful at. The head of the organisation has to focus on the higher intentions of the organisation, not the day to day’s.


Strong CEO’s accept the isolation of the role. They cannot automatically confide or vent their frustrations with their peers they way they used to. New CEO’s need to find trusted people outside the organisation to bounce ideas off. Having a mentor or a coach in a related industry can be very important.

Slow Moves:

A common remark from CEO’s who have been in the job for 6-12 months is that “I wish I’d acted sooner”. It’s common to spend a lot of time visiting the offices and assessing the business whereas people can overdo that period and become too analytical. They also really need to act as soon as they’ve formed opinions and developed clarity about the outcomes the business is after. That’s what they were appointed to do after all.

Early Wins/Hits:

New CEO’s start with “credit in the bank” and those keenly watching the newbie will generally give them around 3 months grace but about half way through that period the board will want to see a return on it’s investment. It’s expected the new boss will identify some early wins that will validate the board’s new appointment. It is also important to take any bad news hits early on.

The Team:

Engaging with the team quickly is essential. The faster you can do this, the faster you can move on new agendas and goals. If you’re not connecting with senior management or the chairman and the board, that is a mistake.

Another mistake is to suppress expressing your personal values when meeting staff. Some CEO’s (usually introverted types) under the guise of “good listening”, will hold back from communicating their own thoughts. You don’t need to develop a knock-out strategy from day one but people do want feel your energy and passion.

Mind The Media:

Stay away in the early days and don’t over-promise and under-deliver. It’s a time to focus on the internal - but not to be insular, a time to meet customers, the board and staff - but not to manage the media.

For a full re-print of this article and all references refer to the afrboss magazine April.