Leadership: In Transition


Leadership: In Transition

NS Rajan

Sometime ago, I got a call from a fine professional and friend who was just appointed as the CEO of a large enterprise. Even as I congratulated him, he posed a question that he was grappling with: What should I really be focusing on in the first 100 days? This indeed is a query that applies to all key leadership transitions, especially the CEO incumbent. The initial breaking-in period will significantly impact how successful the leader would be, since ambiguity multiplies exponentially higher the position of transition. What brought you till here may be insufficient to take you where you intend to go. Here are a few thoughts that you could convert to action. 

Plan your own on- boarding

The first thing that would strike a new incumbent is that there may not be a formal on-boarding plan, especially given that you are the CEO. Foremost, you have to get down to crafting your own plan. Do ensure you have a great executive assistant, as this person would be your window to the world and a shield where necessary. Make your own control button list of key metrics, arising out of the thoughts shared below, to prepare a daily must do monitor for your first 100 days. Expand the list as you gain deeper insights with every experience within. 

The buck doesn’t stop with you

Ironic, as it seems, even as the CEO you are not the boss! You indeed have a Board to report to. Gaining the confidence of the Board, knowing where you stand, and being clear on the delineation of roles and responsibilities between the Board and the management are essential dynamics for decision making. You are lonely at the top; develop your own advisory network to provide guidance and support. Friendly independent directors and CEOs, who you know well, can be ideal choices for your sounding board.

 First impressions last

Every move you make is a message to the world around you, as you have moved from derived power to direct power. Your words, mannerisms, values, style, actions and expectations all are under scrutiny. The team would be trying to anticipate your likes and dislikes, which could heighten or distort reality if you are not cognizant. Do recognize the need to be open and transparent; communicate your vision, beliefs and expectations and reflect them in the consistency of your conversations and actions. You have to clearly define the way forward and help drive a shared vision to enable overall commitment.

 Balancing act

It is likely that even as you have been vested with the coveted position, there may have been other contenders, quite capable. You are their leader now, and gaining their commitment and not just compliance would be important. Take the initiative, gain their confidence, express your support and carry them along. Resist the temptation to spend much of your time in your former zone of comfort, as you now head all functions, not just one. Find a balanced approach to learn the other functions and interconnections quickly. Revenue generating functions of course need an urgent attention. Know all your stakeholders too and provide for time to address all the constituents.  

Be the change

Engage, engage, and engage. Plan to visit all critical locations early, prioritize the list, and reach out. Allow people to put a face to the name, and let your direct interactions help connect at a personal level. Use your presence to identify and champion some key initiatives which will augur well to reinforce the road map you are laying out. It is quite imperative to meet your key customers, early, for you to get a personal feel of the space you serve. Being amidst customers is an affirmation of continuity of organizational commitment and serves an assurance that you value them as vital partners of your enterprise. 

 As strong as your team

Even as the CEO, you are only as good as the team you have. Know the strength of the pyramid that you sit on, and quickly so. Map your stars in the company by calling for and examining the past five year performance track of all managers. Prepare your high performer list and familiarize yourself with the keys to your future. Meet as many with a well planned engagement calendar, listen to them, share your thoughts, set your expectations and declare your desire to co-create the future. Your single biggest asset needs to be nurtured by you, and your people focus will pay dividends. 

Success is the summation of many small victories. A journey begun well augurs well, and as William Blake eloquently observed, we must endeavour: “to see a world in a grain of sand, a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.” Hope you have an enriching tenure ahead.


( Dream It Do It : A glow sign that speaks for itself, adorning the skylines of Times Square in New York, a tourist delight for its neon exuberance)

(I had penned this article on request and it was featured in ET on 24th April 2012 titled ‘ Make the best of a leadership transition’)



Comments RSS
  1. Ridhima Samtani

    Hello sir ,
    its wonderful article , not only the CEO but anyone who has joined new or recently promoted can take a few pointers from this.

  2. Mukesh Gupta

    It is always insipiring and informative to read articles written by you. thanks for sharing the ideas.the article is written keeping leadership position in mind , but one can apply them in any managerial capacity.

  3. Jaideep

    Excellent article Boss………….Think its pretty much applicable to anyone in a new leadership position (CEO or even a few rungs below it)!

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