The new CEO: a stranger in a strange land?

The new CEO: a stranger in a strange land?

This paper follows Mike Roe’s exploration of the challenges faced by newly appointed CEOs.

Internally appointed CEOs who baulk at the title of this paper should consider that, as we develop our careers, it is a continuous adaptation of mirrors, masks, and a search for identity. And if, in the first 100 days, whether appointed externally or from within, the new role does not feel akin to breaking in a ‘new suit’ …… they probably haven’t yet shifted mindset from travellers (as map readers) to explorers (as map makers) in their new land.

The cultural pattern of behaviours in any social group, functions for its members as a point of reference based upon concurrent flows of communication that establishes mutually sustainable identities.  These are reordered as we move into new positions or new people join the organisation, until a tacit knowledge and understanding of ‘thinking as usual’ is created, that can be applied in emerging situations. This is especially so as a new CEO for whom the reordering of relationships will be throughout the organisation, and for whom success will reside more in the nature of the followership than the leadership (which is why knowing how people respond to leadership is a vital navigational aid).

A performative, newly appointed CEO, is more likely to be driven by a rational agenda based upon a map or recipe they have experienced before. There is a danger here because even able and intelligent leaders can become prey to intellectual fads just as easily as anyone else – maybe more so!

There aren’t unambiguous “right answers” in leadership and to think so is a misguided understanding of human nature. A technocratic style of leadership simply isn’t good enough on its own, there must be a value system that visibly drives actions. The newly appointed CEO would be well advised to explore and understand that area of their new landscape if they are to take their people with them on the journey.

At Tensense, we offer a small number of heuristics for the ‘doing’, rather than a recipe of how to do it: there is no recipe for leadership. As such, these function more as compass bearings, providing a possible direction. Maps help in known worlds – worlds that have been chartered before. However, the CEO is dealing with a ‘brave new world’ (i.e. challenging; the shape and direction of which are still emerging). They must learn, and earn, the right to speak authentically on behalf of their organisations – if they are to avoid speaking in nostrums.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash