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First-time CEO: why successful leaders need a job spec

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

By Sally Henderson, Leadership Mentor

There are two questions I ask my new clients:

  • How are you feeling? Really. 
  • Can you explain your job to me?

Let’s focus on the second question.

Can you explain your job? 

When I ask successful senior leaders to describe their job, nine out of ten can’t do it clearly. Nor can they easily share the purpose of their role.

Ironically, the more senior a leader becomes, the less their business checks that this critical role is clearly defined and agreed.

As a new CEO, you have no reference point as to what your job entails. Analyzing the role of your predecessor is little help, as challenges, opportunities, markets, and talent change.

Yet as the new CEO, there is often no accurate or motivating job description to clearly communicate your position and define success.

Two questions your job spec must answer

As a first time CEO, it is vital that you are clear on the following: 

  • What is the core purpose of your role? 

Agreeing the purpose of your role with the business makes everything easier and aligned. I know this sounds obvious, yet too often I see a new CEO whose role is interpreted differently depending on which stakeholder you are talking to. 

This unnecessarily consumes far more energy to manage than when the role is well thought through and agreed upon.

  • What are the key metrics of success, both hard and soft?

A common cause of anxiety for new CEOs is a lack of commonly agreed benchmarks as to what ‘good’ looks like.

A well-constructed and communicated job spec with desired outcomes and associated timelines enables you to understand what your job is. More importantly, it shows you where to dedicate your time and resources (which are finite). 

Without a Job Spec, as new CEO, you are left to design what you think ‘good’ and ‘great’ look like, whilst also stepping into your most high-profile role to date. It’s no wonder that scoping and agreeing on the role once in situ gets pushed to the back of a never-ending to-do list.

How to write a motivating CEO job spec

Here’s a quick guide from The Real Method’s STAMP module to help you clarify your role.  

  1. If there is a brief that was used for the recruitment process, or an out-of-date job spec, review this document and rewrite your understanding of the role in your own words.
  2. ‘Bucket up’ the essence of your understanding of the role into five core areas, e.g.  Culture, Commercials, Strategic Vision, External Voice, Clients
  3. Percentage weight each bucket so they add up to 100% (no-one has more than 100% so let’s not set you up for failure!) The percentages will illustrate where you perceive your priorities and key focus areas to be at any given stage and how to therefore allocate resources.
  4. Looking at the core percentages, how do these break down for your first month or quarter? 
  5. Share this with key stakeholders to access their perspective. To build on this, ask them to complete step two to see how aligned your views are!
  6. Once you have been in the role for three months, review the buckets and percentages.

I hope this article has helped illustrate that a job spec is not a corporate document to stay in a folder never to see the light of day. Instead, when used well, it will support you as a new CEO to create high-performance and success that feels right.

For the next (fourth) edition in the First-time CEO Leadership series, we will explore the importance of “Recasting relationships now that you’re the boss.”

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