Going for your first CEO role?

by | Jul 4, 2024

Written by CEO Coach, Nick Roud

Chasing Your First CEO Role?

It doesn’t matter what your subject matter expertise is when going for your first CEO role! Well  chances are it does. Like any role where its going to be your first time it might be wise to consider taking your wealth of knowledge and industry experience and double down in on that environment. The role of a CEO comes with more than just the need for specific industry knowledge but to give the Board a certain level of comfort in taking the helm it will need a monumental shift if you are up against five other experienced CEOs all from within that sector. 

I worked recently for a FMCG organisation which spans Australia and New Zealand. The Board Chair bought me in to support their succession planning. The current CEO had been in his role for around eight years and over the next one to two years they would carefully transition to a new Chief. It was agreed by the board to invest from within. They all felt their next CEO would come from their current Executive Leadership Team (ELT) and to make sure they were setting them up for success believed one on one Executive Coaching would allow each of them the necessary confidential time and space to professional develop. When we started working together they had eight executives reporting to the CE. As we all met for the first time around their head office board room the Board Chair addressed them all. 

We are now entering into a careful transition which I believe will allow us to ensure the longevity of our organisation, he went on to say over the next 12 months and as per our conversations we are keen for each of you to really focus in on your development. Nick will be working with you 1:1 and no information will be shared by him back to myself or the wider board. Our hope is you spend the time with him and work out and answer yourself a couple of things. 1) Are you ready to take the CEO role on? 2) What will be your focus based on your skill set to advance our business? 3) What will you need to stop doing in order to transition. 4) Do you really want the role?

The energy of the room was great, for a Board Chair to address the CE and his entire leadership team to lay out a clear roadmap, and, to share that the Board all believed 100% that the next CE would come from within and whether the individual executive wanted to go for it or not was also ok front there position. In understanding some of the executives bios it was clear that a couple had recently taken on a executive lead role, a few others had spent a number of years within the organisation as an executive and one had come from outside the sector into a position which was created by the CEO a few years back. This was a strong bench, a healthy bench and a team that put it’s organisation first. Who would rise and take on the baton. Those who have worked with me know I am not one to judge, my sole focus in on the individual and meeting him/her where they need to be. 

Over the next few hours we discussed a number of things, signed non-disclosure agreements (NDA) and shared lunch. I gave a highlight real of the next 12 months with me, what we would cover, our rules of engagement, the leadership assessments that each would use along with some other tools that would allow each of them to really take a considered approach. 

I hadn’t worked with the executive team but had seen from afar the positive impact they were brining to their sector. It was going to be an enjoyable engagement I felt. As I left there head office to catch my flight home it dawned on me that this was already a high performing team. The Board Chair was very much invested in not only his board but the entire organisation. He was driven to ensure the business would last his and their lifetime, you could sense the passion and pride which was in that room and it was a real privilege to be working with these fine humans. 

So if you are chasing your first CEO role it is up to you to take it. Nobody is going to simply give you the role. It’s highly competitive. Never expect it to happen at the time that fits you. Organisations are constantly moving, they don’t stand still, effective boards will be focusing long term on succession plans. They know the aspect of leadership which will enable the organisation. Just because you believe you are ready the organisation may not be ready for you. In a recent global survey on average the CEO will be in their position for 5-7 years. So if the organisation you are an executive in has recently appointed a CEO then unless that individual drastically stuffs up then they will likely be in that role for a period of time. 

It would be wise to establish an executive plan that narrows your attention, engaging with a CEO Coach to help you in those short, medium and longer term plans. In creating your executive plan what are the key behaviour shifts that must happen ie what are your non-negitablies that must be worked on, how do you intend to strengthen your executive awareness. In looking to bridge those areas how are you going to articulate that to a potential Board or executive panel during the interview progress. When an executive or for that matter anyone looks at his/her development areas you have to be personally interested in actually developing those areas. No point thinking you can do it you actually have to do it. Identify, plan, communicate and commit. 

Is Age Against Me? 

To be frank No, age should not be a barrier to entry. Decades ago you would have had to been in your late 40s early 50s to even get a look in. Thankfully now boards are very mindful of looking past age and considering what does the organisation actually need. We still have a way to travel when it comes to biased appointments but I am noticing a healthy shift. I digested a huge global report on CEO appointments across multiple countries and it was pleasing to see a heap of age demographics. So please don’t assume you are too young and or too old for the CEO role. 

Who Needs To Know?

In my humble view I’d be very selective on who you share your intent with. Too often the corporate game is like a game of cut throat chess, lots of games at play. I’d encourage you to personally double down on understanding your executive strengths and development areas, create a pathway and really think about who then needs to know. When you engage with an executive search firm ensure non-disclosures are signed. Remember that the search firm is hired by the Board Chair and they work for the organisation not the other way around. Do your due-diligence on who you might want to approach. Like any industry there are some good ones and not so good ones. Don’t go into any relationship without careful consideration. If via the search firm there are no processes, timeframes, documentation etc then you might want to consider another firm, there are plenty around. 

Manage Your Expectations.

I coached a wonderful executive and she was destined for a CEO role. At first she just wanted to get her first role, after carefully working through things with me she narrowed down her approach, got strategic and following a few rounds of interviews is now the CEO of a very large New Zealand organisation. Had she not doubled down she might have still been ‘kissing frogs’. How will you go about facing possible rejection? Are you going to learn from that rejection or simply give up? How are you going to present yourself, if its an internal role people will know you, they will understand your little nuances. But that doesn’t mean you should prepare what the future will look like under your leadership. Set your vision intent, create the story which will enable the Chair & Board to see where you will be taking the organisation. Remember that your role is to set vision, set strategy intent and bring the right people along for the ride. If you haven’t ever faced rejection now is a time to work through how that might shift you. 

Support 

Nobody goes it alone, be it your husband, wife, partner, mate, family, friends, parents who ever share your thoughts with those nearest to you. You must come to realise that everyone is going to want to be your friend if and when you get the role of CEO. Games will be at play, it will be lonely, having a safe group of people around you will be extremely beneficial to you going on and delivering your intent. As a trusted sounding board and coach to many CEOs here in New Zealand and around the world it all boils down to ‘trust’. Never do I share or speak about my confidential conversations, my role is to hold the mirror to very sucessful CEOs and poke them. I’m not a yes person, I will make things unconfortable but with the only intent to help you be better. Your support team will keep your feet grounded, they will know you, they will support you. I know many clients who are CEOs that are rarely home, they are out and about, what is the support you will need from a home front? What support does your home front need from you? What if you have kids? What about your o/s work hobbies, clubs, associations etc. The role of a CEO is all encompassing its full throttle, full on, very little down time! The work I do with CEOs also ensures we are looking at ‘balance’ if you can call it that. Do you have external people you lean on. One thing I ask my CEO clients to establish is a Board of Directors away from their own professional board. 

Expectations.

It is not a sprint. It is a huge marathon. Pace yourself, pace yourself oh did I say PACE YOURSELF. Your health is extremely important. Get some test done, find out where are your bloods, heart rate etc. Take and make regular health checks. At the start of your new CEO role I’d say once a quarter, get monitoring your sleep, your moods, your food etc. This is hugely important and one can’t do his/her job if they are not healthy. Remember its not a race, SLOW DOWN. 

There is so much more specific aspect I cover off with my CEO or potential CEO clients. I hope this has given you some solid things to consider. Remember its a huge privilege to be a CEO, its not easy, its fun, its scary, its everything in between. Above all BE YOURSELF. Not the person you are taking over from, establish your own rules, your non-negotiable s and go have some fun.

Nick x 

INTERESTED IN COACHING FOR YOURSELF OR YOUR ORGANISATION?

For a confidential conversation about your leadership coaching needs, call Nick on +6421375630 or email him nick@roudcareers.co.nz

Nick Roud

Nick Roud

Executive Leadership Coach

Nick is the Chairman of Nick Roud Coaching and a Global Award Winning Executive Coach. Nick holds the highest coaching qualification MCEC. His clients are typically Chief Executive Officers, Executives and Emerging Leaders. Nick’s office is based in Auckland, New Zealand and he travels extensively around the world to coach his clients. You can contact Nick directly on +6421375630