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First-Time CEO: recasting relationships now that you’re the boss

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

By Sally Henderson, Leadership Mentor

As we hit the halfway mark in this series, it’s time to look at relationships. Without creating a high-performing team, you simply cannot be a high-performing CEO.

I was speaking to an extremely skilled leader who was about to embark on their first role as CEO. Their biggest fear was how they should act as the boss. 

The challenge of leading others can be especially hard when you are promoted internally. You are now the boss of your former colleagues. What does that mean for simple things like after-work drinks? 

It’s true when they say it is lonely at the top – there is usually only one CEO after all. Whether coming in new to the role or rising up through internal promotion, you will have to recast relationships.

Here are my practical tips from The Real Method to support you:

  • The most critical relationship to recast first is… the one with yourself. When you look in the mirror what do you see? A CEO or an imposter trying your luck?

To check in on your true relationship with yourself in the role of CEO, I want you to sit somewhere quiet, and from your gut write five beliefs you hold about yourself as a CEO. How easy do you find it to write these? Are they honest? Positive? Negative? Helpful? 

Your relationship with yourself is the starting point for defining your relationship with others. 

  1. Create a Leadership Vision Board (LVB).  Visualisation is a powerful tool to help you recast your relationship with your former peers now that you’re their leader.

A leadership vision board is a collection of images (either digital or cut from magazines) that capture your unique leadership style. Create one for now that honestly reflects how you see your leadership. Next create your LVB for six months’ time, one year’s time, or whichever timeframe works best for you. How will your leadership have changed?

This second LVB is your guide to evolving your leadership style. It enables you to tangibly identify how you want to lead, where to focus and what you aspire to achieve in the future. Once this has been created you can ‘call it forward’, i.e. start applying this leadership style now – it’s ‘dress for the job you want not the one you have.’ Your brain doesn’t understand the difference between past, present or future, fact or fantasy. Once you have created your future leadership style, you can make it happen in the present. 

  • Focus on outcomes.  There is great power in shifting your focus from worrying whether people will respect you to believing that people will respect you. 

To do this, let’s revisit The 3 Bullets, a tool from The Real Method, which I introduced you to in Session Two.

Think of three things you want your former peers or new c-suite colleagues to think about you now that you’re CEO.

  • Write these down and put them somewhere prominent
  • Look at them as much as possible to train your subconscious that these are the outcomes you will deliver.

This gives your subconscious a clear map to follow so you can focus on your job rather than making the right impression. The 3 Bullets sounds obvious, but I’ve yet to find a high-performing senior leader who hasn’t benefited from using it!

Greater team harmony

You won’t be the only one worrying about how to act; your former peers, for example, might think twice before ‘bothering’ you with a work issue. Clarifying your relationships early gives everyone the confidence to act effectively within a team and keeps your office door open. 

For the next (fifth) edition in the First-time CEO Leadership series, we will explore why “It’s time to ditch your leadership heroes”.

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