The Life Cycle Of The CEO: The Middle Phase

This is the fourth in a series addressing the imperatives and challenges CEOs face through the entire spectrum of the role—from preparation for the job to exit. Here’s part one part two, and part three.

After having successfully completed the preparation and entry phases, CEOs must effectively lead their organizations through a period of continual evolution in order to realize the expectations of all the stakeholders. Having managed the transition challenges outlined in part three of this series, leaders may be tempted to relax and settle into a comfortable operating cadence. In today’s rapidly changing market and competitive landscape, that mindset can be deadly. After assuming the reins of leadership and completing their first year on the job, the best CEOs often dial up the tempo and push their organizations toward ever-more ambitious goals. Below are four questions CEOs are advised to ask and answer during the middle years of their leadership tenure.

How does the strategy we have had in place need to change in response to changes in the ecosystem in which we operate?

When a new CEO enters the role, he or she often inherits the strategy of the predecessor. Given the “permanent whitewater” that CEOs must navigate in the ever-changing technological and market landscape, effective CEOs need to regularly determine how the strategy of the company needs to be updated in response to changes in that landscape. Depending upon industry sector, the average tenure of CEOs in the CEO1000 Tracker is between five and seven years, and a lot can change during those middle years of a term. The rapid pace of technological innovation compels CEOs to determine how the fields of data analytics, artificial intelligence, robotics and other technology-enabled platforms can catapult and disrupt their businesses. An annual strategy review and update should be a part of every CEO’s leadership process.

Are there changes I need to make in my leadership team to maximize our ability to execute our strategy?

As the strategy of the company is regularly refreshed, CEOs simultaneously have to look at the capabilities of the functional and business leaders to deliver the evolving strategy. Does the strategy include expanding into new geographical markets? Do we have sufficient expertise to ensure our information security? What know-how do we need to effectively utilize e-commerce and social media marketing channels? Does the leadership team possess the will and skill to fully engage the workforce in the execution of our strategy? The best CEOs in the middle phase of their tenure take a hands-on, ongoing involvement in evaluating and developing the talent of the organization.

How can I strengthen my/our relationships with the key stakeholders of our organization?

There is an array of important stakeholders with whom CEOs need to sustain strong relationships in order to effectively lead. These include the members of the board, key customers, investors, employees, other industry leaders and, for some CEOs, regulators. Each year, particularly as the strategy evolves, CEOs are advised to make a list of these stakeholders, rate the quality of their relationship with each, and construct action plans to strengthen each relationship as needed. In order to stay on top of the latest trends, insights and technology, new relationships may need to be cultivated.

How can I ensure that my board will have well-prepared internal succession candidates to consider when I am ready to hand over the CEO role?

Good CEOs realize that their personal engagement in succession planning is essential, and the grooming of a successor takes years, not months. Potential successors need to be tested and developed through a variety of leadership roles and challenges. The same goes for the other mission-critical roles on which the organization’s future success will depend. Great CEOs lean into this imperative actively and in partnership with their boards.

The Life Cycle of the CEO:

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

Paul Winum: Dr. Paul Winum is Senior Partner, Practice Leader Co-Head—Board & CEO Services at RHR International.