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First-Time CEO: why leaders should eat first

By Sally Henderson, High-Stakes Leadership Mentor and creator of The Real Method

Part seven of an eight-part leadership series and practical mentoring guide for first-time CEOs.

There are many well-respected authors claiming that ‘leaders should eat last’. 

I disagree. 

To look after your people and business as a new CEO, you must put on your own oxygen mask first!

As a successful leader, you have shown huge talent to date. However, it is still possible you will find the role of CEO difficult, challenging, demanding, overwhelming and, at times, very lonely. If you struggle, there are huge implications for your people. 

Transitioning is so much easier when you ensure your needs are proactively met.

Let’s dip into the world of elite athletes for a moment. An athlete, no matter how talented or driven, cannot achieve their full potential without a dedicated team of coaches, dieticians, physios etc. 

In sport, it is considered a necessity to invest in top talent. The same should apply in business but sadly this is not always the case.

Here are some high-stakes mentoring tips to ensure your needs are met:

  1. Determine the type of support that works for you

Executive support can come from several different places: 

A coach –  facilitated self-reflection, supporting a person in creating your own solutions. They will not give you direct advice or opinion.

A traditional mentor – someone who has ‘been there and got the t-shirt’. They will provide you with technical expertise and specific subject-related advice. They will not coach you.

A High-stakes leadership mentor – The benefit of both a directive and practical specialist mentoring advice with coaching support, becoming the expert in ‘you’ and your leadership growth needs

A Counsellor –  person trained to give guidance on personal or psychological problems.

A Peer support group – a group of like-mind people with similar backgrounds or needs, willing to be open in sharing experiences and offering advice and help to each other

Writing down the areas in which you need support will help determine who will be the best help. Take time out to do this; tackling it at the end of a busy day won’t give you clarity.

There is merit in exploring who your organisation already works with, however, knowing your brief in advance will determine whether it’s the right path for you. 

  1. Pinpoint your needs

Building a dedicated support team can feel overwhelming. To help pinpoint the pressures you face as a new CEO, you can use my SKE Self-Audit tool as mentioned in article six of this series, plus another of my tools, The 5 Word Reveal.

The 5 Word Reveal provides fast emotional insight and works like this.

  1. From your gut, write five words that best describe how you feel about your new CEO position? Once written, reflect on your list and amend as helpful. – this is not a PR exercise!
  1. Give each word a percentage rating as to how strongly you feel this emotion on average (make sure all five words total 100%).
  1. Re-order from highest percentage to lowest. What does this tell you about the support needs you have? The answer should guide you to the right experts.
  1. Build support for the marathon

Becoming a successful and established CEO takes time; ask yourself which support, advice and expertise will best serve you at different phases of your personal development.

To return to our sporting analogy, you might need a pacesetter in those early months when it’s tempting to try and get everything done (see Session One of this series), and a physio to revitalize you when you hit a pain point. 

There’s a danger of getting too ‘comfy’ with any given advisor, mentor or coach. Your investment in your own growth as a CEO needs to always be giving maximum return-on-investment.

For the final (eighth) edition in the First-time CEO Leadership series, I will be sharing ‘Three traps to avoid when the stakes are high”

If you’ve found this advice useful, please follow me on LinkedIn and share it with others who could benefit. 

Sally Henderson is the High-Stakes Leadership Mentor and creator of The Real Method. For over twenty years, Sally has helped c-suite executives in the world’s biggest brands thrive during high-stakes change and leadership transition.