How CEOs Build Confidence in Their Leadership

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How CEOs Build Confidence in Their Leadership

By Claudius A. Hildebrand et al., | Harvard Business Review Magazine | July–August 2024 Issue

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New CEOs frequently face a conundrum. While the people around them publicly express high hopes for what they’ll be able to achieve, in private those same people are skeptical. As a result many new CEOs underestimate how much work it takes to build confidence in their leadership—something that’s crucial to their ability to effectively drive change. Buoyed by outward expressions of support and eager to make their mark, they steam ahead with bold new initiatives before they’ve won the full support and trust of all stakeholders—and that gets them into trouble.

Few things instill more confidence than a strong track record does, yet if you’re a new CEO, you start with a blank slate. So how to proceed? Six key practices that you should apply systematically.

  1. Set a deliberate pace.  Many new CEOs who, feeling the pressure to deliver quick wins, hit the ground at a full sprint, launching a variety of initiatives and pursuing multiple objectives without having secured the alignment of the board, their leadership team, or other key stakeholder groups. Needless to say, that approach backfires because the race they’re running is not a sprint but a marathon. A marathon requires patience, endurance, and a sustainable long-term strategy. 
  2. Pick your battles strategically.  New CEOs can benefit from quickly launching just a few well-structured initiatives, designed to help them gain momentum and signal to audiences inside and outside the organization the direction they plan to take. That approach allows you not only to demonstrate how and where you’ll focus your energies but also to develop a track record that gets stakeholders on your side.
  3. Align your team.  The problem is, if you don’t have a team in place that’s cohesive, in agreement on objectives, and able to act effectively in support of your plans, it’s almost impossible to gain people’s confidence widely.
  4. Engage stakeholders at the right time.  For most new CEOs, this process starts with the board. Building trust, familiarity, and support here is a priority, but new CEOs rarely recognize just how much time they’ll need to invest in learning the subtleties of boardroom dynamics and developing a strong relationship with each director.
  5. Communicate clearly and relentlessly.  What’s the best way to handle it effectively? Repetition, repetition, repetition. No matter whom you’re addressing or in what setting, you’ll need to tell people what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. You’ll get tired of this process, but remember: Much of what you’ll be saying either will feel new to your audience or will start to sink in only after many repetitions.  Similarly, in all your communications, make sure to repeatedly signal progress: Remind your stakeholders where you started, where you are, and where you’re going. To help them recognize advances, break your overall journey into smaller, shorter parts with easily measurable objectives.
  6. Better yourself.  With so many constituents to serve, most new CEOs don’t prioritize their own learning. That’s a mistake. Continued investment in your own abilities will help you gain stakeholders’ confidence and build your self-confidence more quickly.  Most CEOs, new or experienced, benefit from having a coach or an adviser—somebody who can regularly hold up the mirror, help them grow, provide new perspectives, and push their thinking.

3 key takeaways from the article

  1. As a new CEO, you’ll find it tempting to seek out quick wins and take bold actions that reveal a decisive attitude. When you start your job, the excitement is high—and so is the pressure. But the journey to earning your stakeholders’ trust and support is neither short nor easy. 
  2. Follow the following 6 steps to build this trust—set a deliberate pace, strategically pick your battles, mobilize your team, engage stakeholders at the right time, communicate clearly and relentlessly, and invest in self-betterment. 
  3. Patience, persistence, and consistent communication during your early years will be key to navigating the complexities of leadership and maximizing the value you create in the long term. 

Full Article

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Topics:  Leadership, Stakeholders, Board Members

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