Seven Surprises for New CEOs

I recently stumbled across this old article from Harvard Business Review written by none other than Michael Porter and some of his Harvard colleagues, containing some important lessons for CEOs that are new to the role:

  • First, as a new CEO you must learn to manage organizational context rather than focus on daily operations.
  • Second, you must recognize that your position does not confer the right to lead, nor does it guarantee the loyalty of the organization.
  • Finally, you must remember that you are subject to a host of limitations, even though others might treat you as omnipotent.

They talk about “seven surprises”… things that a new CEO may expect until reality hits…

  1. You can’t run the company (The sheer volume and intensity of external demands take many by surprise. Almost every new CEO struggles to manage the time drain of attending to shareholders, analysts, board members, industry groups, politicians, and other constituencies)
  2. Giving orders is very costly (No proposal should reach the CEO for final approval unless he can ratify it with enthusiasm. Before then, everyone involved with the matter should have raised and resolved any potential deal breakers, bringing the CEO into the discussion only at strategically significant moments to obtain feedback and support)
  3. It is hard to know what is really going on (Certainly, CEOs are flooded with information, but reliable information is surprisingly scarce. All information coming to the top is filtered, sometimes with good intentions, sometimes with not such good intentions)
  4. You are always sending a message (A CEOs words and deeds, however small or off-the-cuff, are instantly spread and amplified, scrutinized, interpreted and sometimes drastically misinterpreted)
  5. You are not the boss (Although the CEO may sit at the top of the management hierarchy, he still reports to the board of directors. At the end of the day, the board—not the CEO—is in charge)
  6. Pleasing shareholders is not the goal (CEOs must recognize that, ultimately, it is only long term value creation that matters, not today’s growth expectations or even the stock price)
  7. You are still only human (CEO Should recognize he needs connections to the world outside his organization, at home and in the community, to avoid being consumed by his corporate live)



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  1. Pingback: The "my manager is a ****er" theory « mmitII

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