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CEO1000: The Life Cycle Of A CEO

This is the introductory article in a new series addressing the opportunities and challenges faced by CEOs over the five distinct phases in the Life Cycle of the CEO, each presenting its own tasks and challenges.

life cycle of a ceoIn 2016, Chief Executive Group and RHR International forged a partnership to launch the CEO 1000 Tracker. The partnership gathers, analyzes and reports information about the CEOs of the 1000 largest companies in America. This is the first of a new series of articles addressing the opportunities and challenges faced by CEOs over the five distinct phases in the Life Cycle of the CEO. Drawing upon targeted research and the decades of experience, Chief Executive Group and RHR International have in providing services to CEO and board audiences, the series will provide pragmatic insights to CEOs and their boards about navigating the challenges in each phase of their tenure. 

The Five Phases. While every organizational context is unique, there are some general imperatives that CEOs in each phase in the Life Cycle must address:

Preparation. Executives who aspire to a CEO role need to maximize their readiness to be viable candidates by tackling the following tasks:

  • Acquire extensive knowledge about as many aspects of the business as possible. This includes company history, strategy, revenue streams, and the competitive landscape within which the organization operates
  • Develop relationships and credibility with key stakeholders including the board, investors, key customers and suppliers and the organization’s workforce
  • Achieve a high degree of self-awareness of leadership strengths—and weaknesses
  • Construct and actively work a development plan to leverage strengths and address gaps

Entry. The objective is to successfully integrate into the organization by meeting the following challenges:

  • Build a constructive partnership with the board and ensure clarity with the board regarding performance objectives and how they will be measured
  • Ensure clarity about or revise the strategy to achieve company performance objectives
  • Re-recruit, evaluate and re-purpose the inherited senior team to execute the strategy and lead the development of an organizational culture that will support the company’s mission, values and strategy
  • Deliver early wins to build credibility and confidence among stakeholders

Middle Phase. The challenges presented here will vary significantly depending upon the specific company context, but the overarching task is to drive the performance of the company.  To do this, the CEO will need to:

  • Evolve or change the strategy as needed in response to changes in the operating landscape
  • Continue to evaluate, develop and, if necessary, replace staff in mission-critical roles
  • Strengthen and extend connections with external stakeholders to stay on the leading edge of trends in the industry, technology, investors and competitors
  • Actively invest attention to the development of a successor

Closing. The CEO prepares the next generation of organizational leadership and performance by:

  • Giving successors to all mission-critical roles increased responsibility and development coaching to prepare them for succession
  • Working with the board to develop leadership criteria for the CEO role and giving the board multiple opportunities for exposure to succession candidates
  • Continuing personal and leadership growth, fighting complacency and protection of the status quo
  • Preparing for post-CEO life

Exit. The CEO cements his/her legacy by enabling an effective transition to his/her successor by:

  • Assisting the board in the selection of the successor
  • Supporting the successor with a full orientation to the organization, board and all stakeholders
  • Working with the board on whether and how he/she will be involved with the organization in the future

Allowing the new CEO full latitude to lead without interference

The subsequent articles in this series will discuss practical ideas for how CEOs can effectively meet the challenges presented by each phase.  Also, we’ll address what boards can do in each phase to maximize the CEO’s and the organization’s success.

The Life Cycle of the CEO:

Overview | Preparation | Entry | Middle Phase | Closing | Exit


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