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Advice to New CEOs in Tough Times (Wall Street Journal)

imageThe super-executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith, shared some great advice for new CEO’s in today’s (January 8, 2009) Wall Street Journal in an article titled “Advice to New CEOs in Tough Times” (subscription required). Goldsmith’s advice, while targeted at the top, can really help new leaders at all levels. It easy to understand and simple to implement.

  1. Don’t trash your predecessor. This really should be painfully obvious. In fact, this advice should apply to all people at all times. Nothing good ever comes from speaking poorly of others. People will always have in the back of their minds that they might be on your “hit” list and this might cause less than 100% commitment from them. As a ship captain recently shared with me, “Avoid making changes on your first trip, the captain you relieved is smarter then you think.”
  2. Respect the history and tradition of the organization. Unless entering a world of corruption and fraud, new leaders should avoid making significant changes before they understand the culture of the organization. Moving too dramatically, too early can threaten your ability to build strong relations and alliances with those who you will have to count on in the future. Work hard at accelerating your learning in this area, because the new leader honeymoon is a short one.
  3. Write off whatever you can now. Even if you aren’t the CEO, an a new leader you should focus on starting with as clean slate as possible. You will NEVER again have this opportunity so don’t let it pass. Be brutally honest and confront the reality of the situation. It may make for difficult conversations but if you don’t you may have to wrestle with these challenges for a long time.
  4. Be a role model for humility and continuous learning. This is where the real rubber hits the road of leadership. Here’s what Goldsmith says:

Kent Kresa, who in the 1990s led an amazing turnaround at defense-contractor Northrop (now Northrop Grumman), developed a profile for the desired behaviors of the leaders in the company. He personally received feedback on his own leadership behavior. Kent worked hard at improving himself and set the example for all of his executives – who also did the same thing. If you want others to develop – start with yourself! The positive role modeling by Kent and his executive team did more to encourage other leaders to focus on their own improvement than any amount of ‘preaching’ or courses on leadership. Ultimately for a company to change, individual leaders need to change. By being a positive example of learning, agility and personal development, you can inspire your leadership team to do the same.

Finally, I’ll take the liberty of adding one more simple piece of advice to Goldsmith’s great list. Find a mentor or confidant who can help you through some of the unanticipated challenges of your new role. Leadership can be lonely business and sharing your experiences with someone you trust and respect will make it all a little easier.

Goldsmith is the author of a number of leadership books including What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

About the author

Peter A. Mello, Founder/Editor Founder of Weekly Leader and Sea-Fever Consulting, LLC, a leadership development and strategic communications consultancy. Previously, CEO of an international nonprofit organization and COO of a national insurance/risk management services firm. Peter has been leading people and managing organizations for over 30 years, writes a leadership column for MarineNews magazine and blogs about maritime culture at Sea-Fever. Follow him on Twitter.

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