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6 surprises facing new CEOs

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Here’s a primer on common surprises new chief executives face:

1. You don’t actually run the organization. Warning signs: You’re in too many meetings, involved in too many tactical discussions, with too little control over your time. Solutions: Stay attuned to discussions at all levels, but the ones you attend must be strategic, not tactical or “traffic” meetings. Vet what goes on your calendar until all day-to-day operational work has been delegated.

2. Giving orders is bogging you down.
Warning signs: You’re a bottleneck. Employees feel they have to consult you on everything. Solution: Deputize your direct reports to call the shots in their domains.

3. It’s hard to know what’s happening.
Warning signs: Too many surprises. Too much stuff through the grapevine. Solution: Although you’re empowering your deputies to make decisions, let it be clear that they’re supposed to tell you what those decisions are.

4. Everything you do is parsed.
Warning signs: Stories circulate about you that magnify or distort reality. People clearly try to anticipate your likes and dislikes. Solution: Yes, you serve as your organization’s figurehead, but all the same, it needs to be plain that your job is not about you. It’s about the good of the enterprise. If that isn’t amply clear, it means you’re either still too self-conscious or not paying enough attention to steering the ship.

5. You’re not the boss. Warning signs: With your board, you don’t know where you stand or how roles are distributed. Solution: Meet with the board specifically to discuss the division of labor. Typically, the board sets policy and the CEO carries it out.

6. You’re human. Surprise! Warning signs: Media interviews focus too much on you or your standard of living is perceived as too lavish. Solutions: Balance your work and personal lives. Stay grounded.

— Adapted from “The Seven Things That Surprise New CEOs,” Michael E. Porter, Jay Lorsch, Nitin Nohria, HBS Working Knowledge, http://hbswk.hbs.edu.

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