So, you’ve got your very first role at CEO level in a non-profit organisation. That’s great news. I couldn’t be more delighted for you.

How are you feeling? Excited, proud, exhilarated? I bet you are!

You know you deserve it. You were appointed in a competitive process and you’re absolutely ready to step up. You’ve worked for years in mission-driven organisations building your leadership skills. You’ve had great results and love what you do, give or take a few sticky times (which you learned a lot from, right?).

And… are there some doubting gremlin voices creeping into your quieter moments?

Do they go something like this?

– Am I really up for this?

– Does everyone feel this daunted?

– Am I going to have to ‘prove’ myself in the first five minutes?

– What about all those new relationships I’ve got to handle?

– What if I sink, rather than swim, and end up unhappy and burned out?

I totally get it. It’s daunting to take on a new CEO role. The CEOs I coach tell me that when they started their new roles they felt “lost and overwhelmed”, “worried about not knowing what I don’t know” and “quite frankly, terrified” (all direct quotes from my coaching clients). And these are all hugely capable leaders.

It’s no surprise that the gremlin voices are kicking in. It’s a huge responsibility to lead a mission-driven organisation and of course you want to do a great job. You know how important this work is.

Thrive, don’t survive

Through the work I’ve done with new and experienced CEOs, I’d say you have three top priorities.

1. Look after yourself

You know the familiar advice about putting your life-jacket on first? Well, it couldn’t be more true for you now.

Please, please, please start how you mean to go on. I encourage you to take time before you get going in your new job to think deeply about what you want your life and work to look like now. Do some visioning, even.

What do you absolutely need to do (and not do) to stay well and happy and maintain a good work-life balance?

It might include when you’ll be in the office. Red lines you’re not happy to cross (like being available all hours or working at home at weekends.) Getting in your exercise. Not sitting in front of a laptop all day but finding a way to get out into fresh air. Building a network of trusted, supportive peers. Rocking the relaxation purrfectly with bubbly baths and a glass of something nice. Whatever is important for you.

Tips for your new CEO role

Make a plan and tell someone about it. Tell your team what the red lines are. This will encourage you to stick to them and models great wellbeing behaviour at the same time.

I can make you a promise right now. You will over-ride these in the first few days and weeks. No question. It’ll be very full-on at first, and that’s okay. As long as you are choosing to over-ride, knowing that your longer term intention is to build a sustainable wellbeing approach.

You want to be asserting this whenever you can. Look for opportunities to honour your needs while you get stuck into the multiple challenges of your inspiring new role.

2. Get self-aware

These days leadership is about authenticity. Showing up as you are with a solid knowledge of your strengths, your unique leadership style, your working preferences, your values – and most critically, your blind spots. If you don’t know them already or if you think there might be gaps, do the work to find out. You can not be a great leader without this self-knowledge.

A proven way to grow your self-awareness in the first year or so is to work with a coach. This no-nonsense ‘critical friend’ will help you get to know yourself fully. So you can make the very best use of your 100% unique skills and attributes and lead powerful change.

Tips for your new CEO role

3. And finally, listen, listen, listen

Listen and listen more. (I wrote about this in a recent LinkedIn newsletter here). I include some great questions to help you get to know the concerns and priorities of your new team. Their answers will be gold-dust for you as you get a handle on the culture, where change is needed – now or later – and how best to communicate with different members of your team to bring out the best in everyone.

What next?

Feeling wobbly as a new CEO? Hit ‘Reply’ to this email or book in a Chemistry Call and let’s chat about having me by your side as your coach as you find your feet.


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