4 Steps That Will Help New CEOs Grow in Their Leadership Role

In early September, Burger King made news by appointing a 34-year-old CEO, one of the youngest ever in a field where the average age is 57. Realistically, can Daniel Schwartz, or any 34-year-old, possibly be experienced enough to succeed in the top role?

In surveying leaders for our new book “RISING TO POWER: The Journey of Exceptional Executives” (September, 2014), 76% said that the formal development process at their company didn’t prepare them for their current leadership role. Furthermore, between 50% and 70% of executives fail within their first 18 months.

“Step back and truly assess your new reality despite pressures to act quickly.”

To ensure you are prepared for your current CEO role or a new one elsewhere, here are four phases of a successful ascent.

1. Ascend: Acclimate to the new altitude and shed what you left behind. Don’t enter with an assumed mandate despite what the board says, and never impose past successes on a different context. Step back and truly assess your new reality despite pressures to “act quickly.” If you rose internally, resist your impulses to see the world through your former role.

2. Adjust: Be intentional with your transition plan. Build a learning plan that first gathers disconfirming data. Synthesize insights into a shared set of “vital few” priorities. Size up talent and build your team. Expect your stakeholders to have conflicting demands and prepare to disappoint some of them. Master your need to please everyone lined up at your door with requests or advice.

3. Assert: Effectively balance positional, relational and informational power, and carefully manage follower expectations. Never assume you’re impervious to power failure.  Know that whatever proclivities you have for misuse or perversion of power will come screaming to the forefront. Take care not to deny your apprehension to use the power that accompanies your role. Accept that not everyone wants you to succeed.

4. Affect: Groom exceptional executives who embody four consistent patterns that directly enable sustained, positive impact on performance. Establish your governance infrastructure and cadence quickly and consistently. Clarify decision rights for all governing bodies. Relentlessly focus the organization on the critical few priorities. Ensure there is a well synchronized rhythm by which you run the organization.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events