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First-Time CEO: the forgotten ceremony that will transform your performance

Part two of an eight-part leadership series and practical mentoring guide for first-time CEOs by leadership coach Sally Henderson

This article reveals the importance of celebrating your new CEO position, and I don’t mean a few drinks with the team!

Mark the occasion to make your mark

Too often, successful senior leaders fail to properly celebrate their promotion, that amazing moment when you are officially awarded a new senior and coveted role.

As you step into a CEO role for the first time, it is common to put your needs at the end of a very long list of other people: the team you are leaving behind, the team you are joining, your family, peers etc.

When you achieve the role of CEO, especially through internal promotion, it’s vital to celebrate with a proper ceremony. I’ve worked with so many clients who have been promoted yet haven’t properly felt this change where it matters most, on the inside.

Why? The validation we crave when embarking on new high-stakes change cannot come from external sources. For you to feel successful and settled in your new status, you must first acknowledge your achievement yourself. 

Reviving ceremony

Throughout time, significant change, progress and growth have been marked by ceremony. To embrace something new, you must say goodbye to what is now old. 

As part of The Real Method, I encourage my clients to take part in a Ceremony of Celebration – don’t worry, no robes, fire or blood are involved! 

Here are three ways you can mark your growth to transform your performance in your new CEO role. If you fail to ‘feel’ it, how can you ‘be’ it?

  • Achieving inner celebration. No matter how many other celebrations you may or may not be having, the most important one is the celebration you will have with your ‘Self’, taking a moment to look yourself in the eye and say, “well done! I did it.” Personally recognising your achievement enables you to connect with your future leadership identity rather than worry about shaking off your old one.

Think of something very personal that you love doing but rarely treat yourself to, or something new you’ve always wanted to do. Create space and time to go through this ‘ritual’. It may be glam, it may be low key. Expensive or not, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you indulge in an activity that will make you feel good and enable you to mark and celebrate your successful change.

  • Celebrating with your family. Do something special with your significant others. They have helped you get here and they will support you through the demanding times ahead. So include them, thank them and make time for something out-of-the-ordinary that will mark this change in a positive and memorable way for you all. 
  • Celebrating with your new team/boss. This is the most commonly missed ceremony of them all. Too often the business side of appointing a new CEO overrides softer human needs, even more so with internal promotions. 

There are strong business benefits to investing in a proper Ceremony of Celebration for new leaders. Not only does it support them as they transition into their new role, but it also supports the rest of the business with the imminent change in high-stakes leadership. 

But only when done well; the default email and a few beers (virtual or not) just don’t cut it.

I was working with a CEO of a business who promoted their whole team into new senior leadership roles. To mark this, the leader sent each team member an individual gift personal to them with a handwritten note to acknowledge the leader in their new seniority. This small gesture, the ceremony of receiving, opening and experiencing a gift, made all the difference in marking change and equipping the leaders to acknowledge their own success and growth.

When the small personal touches to celebrate promotion get lost in being ‘busy’, that golden moment of emotional connection is missed and can’t be bought at a later date. 

I’d love to hear the wonderful stories of your ‘Ceremonies of Celebration’ and the difference this made to you when transitioning into a new role, or into the new CEO role you are about to take on. 

For the next (third) edition in the First-time CEO Leadership series, we will be diving deeper into the fundamental need that gets missed all the time at senior leadership level: “Why Successful Leaders need a Job Spec”.

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