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First-Time CEO: avoid the sinking sand of role creep

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

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

In part three of this series, we looked at why it’s important for senior leaders, especially new CEOs, to have a job spec. Not a dull corporate document that gathers dust but a motivating, agile and accurate clarification of your new job.

This article dives deeper into this crucial area to help you avoid the sinking sand of role creep.

Role creep is a threat to anyone without a clear job spec. It is especially challenging for new CEOs who have been promoted from within a business.

I was working with a new CEO who was heading towards burn-out despite being highly talented. The reason for their stress? They were clinging on to their old role, in which they were highly respected, as a comfort blanket. 

They were trying to do two jobs simultaneously as there was no clear definition of their new role or guidance, as to which aspects of their old role were no longer within their remit.  

Neither the CEO or the organisation was aware that this was taking such a toll. High performers tend to be the ones who can juggle lots of balls after all. But at what cost? Role creep not only impacts the new CEO but blocks others from growing into their new roles. 

Here are my practical tips from The Real Method to help you avoid the sinking sand of role creep:

  1. Make sure your role is clearly defined, agreed and communicated within the organisation. This can be a work-in-progress – once you have experienced the role first-hand, you will have more clarity.  
  1. Set healthy boundaries. Saying no is a very healthy thing to practice and role model when done well. 

I was working with a newly promoted CEO who had an open-door policy that had worked well at pre-CEO level. This very same strategy was now dragging them into the weeds. By putting more structure and definition around what their role was and wasn’t, they were then able to say no to requests for help when they were not the right person. At the same time, they were able to lead positively and now more effectively with their door still open.

  1. Let go to grow. Scope out what your old role entailed – the 5 core ‘buckets’ (as mentioned in chapter three of this series).

Do any of these buckets have validity in your new role as CEO? Which ones can others in your team take on,  so that they can grow and you can focus on your new role as CEO?

  1. Try my tool from The Real Method a ‘SKE Self-Audit’.  This framework helps you update your knowledge on your own ‘career product’ as a new CEO. 
  • Create 3 concentric circles. 
  • In the center circle are the Skills, Knowledge or Experience you have on which you could easily give a ‘Master Class’. 
  • In the middle circle are your ‘Developing’ Skills, Knowledge and Experience. 
  • The outer circle contains the ‘New New’ Skills, Knowledge and Experience you need to acquire to thrive in your new CEO role. (These are often the hardest for leaders to map!) 
  1. Once you have mapped out your SKE Self-Audit, cross reference this with your agile Job Spec (as taught in part 3 of this series) to ensure you are focusing on the right growth areas.

Role creep happens all the time when new CEOs are not supported in truly understanding and defining their role with full alignment from key stakeholders. This creates stress and holds back high performance, both for you and the talent looking to grow under your watch. I hope the tips shared above will not only help you survive as a first-time CEO but to thrive!

For the next (seventh) edition in the First-time CEO Leadership series, we will be challenging the convention that leaders eat last, instead sharing “Why leaders should eat first”

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

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