How to Assimilate a New CEO

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The CEO seat is coveted by many and occupied by very few. Like many things, the idea of being a CEO may be better in theory than it is in reality. Here are the things that make being the CEO especially challenging, along with advice to help it become deeply rewarding. 

It's lonely at the top.

The CEO has the ultimate responsibility, and yet no immediate peers to lean on. No boss to turn to. It is, as they say, lonely at the top.

Coping is easier with these four strategies.

First, try to establish a few strong relationships on your board that you trust and can be open with - the type of board members who see their role not only as a position of governance, but as a mentoring one, too. They will not be your peers, but they can and should be resources.

Second, hire a coach. As self-serving as that sounds, the stress level for these appointments is quite high, and if nothing else, a coach can help you work through the stress, clarify your thinking, and help keep your personal life from going off the rails during the process.

Third, whatever resources already exist in the organization - utilize them. Do they have a media training person? Work with them. The temptation is to refuse help in order to look strong.  Instead, accept help and ensure you’ll succeed.

Finally, join a CEO group that you relate to. The lack of peers is probably the biggest complaint I hear from newly-minted CEO’s. Proactively fill that gap by joining a high-quality peer-to-peer CEO group that represents companies of similar size. 

You have more responsibility than control.

The control to responsibility ratio is inherently problematic. A CEO is ultimately responsible for how 100 or 100,000 people behave, yet they certainly do not have the line of sight or ability to control all of those people. That makes CEOs uniquely vulnerable to things they are unaware of - things that could land them in an uncomfortable spotlight.

The best way to help that tension feel less uncomfortable is to ensure that ethical and behavioral expectations are over-communicated and enforced.

It can be tempting to reward the top sales leader with a promotion (after all, they are bringing in barrels of cash). But if she or he is the type of leader who gets results, but doesn't always do so in the most ethical way, a promotion sends the message to everyone watching that it's okay to bend the rules.

Don’t.

You may end up with a culture that ends up bending laws that land you on the front page. In this day and age where any scandal can end up in the media, on social networks, and on employer review sites like Glassdoor, it's a good idea to obsess about the clarity and the enforcement of ethics in your organization.

You're always on.

As CEO (particularly if you’re CEO of a large company or a large employer in your community), life is going to be very different. Everyone knows you at the grocery, at church, and at the social clubs.

You’ll be asked to attend every event, donate to every cause, and you’ll never be anonymous (the larger your company, the farther you have to fly to get to where people don’t know you). You will always be “on” when you’re out of the house. Everyone will want face time, and everyone will ask you for favors.

It’s emotionally draining, even for the most extroverted leaders.

Best advice? Take breaks.

Travel to take a vacation so your down time is actually down. Limit the number of charities, galas, and events you say yes to. There may be some political pressure for some of these - I get that - but weigh the political pressure against your desire to be sane so that you can have a life outside of work.

Taking your husband to a schmaltzy gala for political reasons does not count as a date night.

What I love most about supporting CEOs is knowing they ultimately have the biggest ability to touch the lives of their people and their people's families by providing good leadership and good stewardship of the company. I feel I can affect the most change that way.

Hopefully, some of these tips will make this tough job just a little bit easier.

And don't forget - executive assimilation can help to increase the chances of success.

Emily Bermes