Will You Hit the Ground Running as a First-Time CEO?

May 10, 2023
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In our last blog, we shared five key pieces of advice to help first-time CEOs hit the ground running when joining a new organization. In this second part, we’re looking at more of the challenges and opportunities facing the first-time CEO.

It’s a daunting and exciting time—and it can be difficult to decide where to focus when you have control over all the levers in the company. These final five tips in our series should help you find your feet in the early days.

1) Managing the board, investors, and external stakeholders

You will be surprised, if not shocked, at how much time it takes to engage and manage external stakeholders. Every first-time CEO we have worked with has this reaction. You’ll find more on managing your time below, but from day one, you will want to map out how you will engage these critical stakeholders. Most CEOs spend 25 to 30 percent of their time focused on engaging these key stakeholders. 

To do: 

  • Own shaping and managing the board and investor community from day one. Map out who all your key external stakeholders are and create a calendar cadence that keeps you engaged and communicating with them. 
  • Ensure you have experienced investor relations and communications leads on your team to bring knowledge and a strategic perspective on how to be successful with these various groups of stakeholders. 


2) Have a POV—on everything

Kidding aside, one trend we’ve seen in the past five to seven years is the pressure CEOs feel to have a clear, in-depth articulation of many issues that are not about running a company. And within the last two years, the pace has accelerated further. 

From Black Lives Matter, climate change, and the technological trends shaping the world to the pandemic and all the complexity that it has brought—as well as the standard CEO knowledge areas of strategy, innovation, culture, organizational design, and balance sheet management—all are topics for which CEOs need to “go to school.”

To do:

  • The requirement here is not to be overwhelmed by the list of issues and topics but to take the opportunity to dive deep when you can. Using the following heuristic can provide a simple set of steps to think through as issues emerge: 
  • What do I think I know about this topic?
  • What do I need to learn?
  • What do I need to say, and to whom?
  • What action do I need to take, if any?


3) The art of communication

Your executive communication style is often a mix of your personality, thinking style, and communication preferences that all commingle to impact others. However, as CEO, every move you make is scrutinized as some intended or unintended message. Again this, combined with the power embedded in your role, creates the feeling of being under a magnifying glass. And there is some truth to this that is important to internalize. 

Both formal and informal communication may be one of the most important CEO skills to master. A strong head of communications can help, but most of all, you will need to raise your awareness of what and when to communicate and to which audiences. One of our CEO clients of a Fortune 50  company utilized the analogy of the “forest, monastery, and town hall” as a way of categorizing what is shared with whom: your most trusted advisors in the forest, your top team as the monastery, and the town hall for broader communication to the organization and other stakeholders.

To do

  • If you have missed opportunities earlier in your career to put a spotlight on your communication style, then this is the time to focus on it. Many expert advisors and coaches exist to help. The most important ingredient is your own self-awareness of how you communicate in terms of clarity and impact. 
  • Depending on your skill gaps, you can anticipate 25 percent of your time will go toward prepping for the multitude of communication moments that will be a part of your role. Preparation and practice will be key to creating the impact you desire. 


4) Build physical capacity and resilience

The emotional intensity of the CEO role can force many to deprioritize their physical health as they set about proving their worth and deservedness for the role. I would encourage you to take your resilience game to the next level.

To do:

  • Find resources (health professionals and others) who take a broad, holistic approach to physical health and resilience. A comprehensive health exam prior to taking on the role can help reset your priorities around nutrition, exercise, and sleep. 
  • At a minimum, review your current resilience-building protocols around your physical, emotional, and mental health, and make adjustments that help you sync up recovery with stress.


5) Managing your time

We have saved the most important topic for last. First-time CEOs are often blown out of the water during the middle of their first year by how they have lost control of their calendar and time. Certainly, size matters. The larger the company and its public profile, the higher the interest in enticing activities outside the company, such as speaking opportunities, elite meetings such as Davos, and industry events.

While some of this is necessary, most of it is ego driven and distracting. Our advice around revisiting your purpose and values can also help you establish guardrails for what is most important in your life that you do not want to deprioritize. 

To do: 

  • Be brutal with where your time goes. An extraordinary executive assistant is essential, as is a chief of staff-like role—but most important is managing your own internal needs for validation and respect that might encourage you to be less disciplined with your time. 
  • Establishing your operating cadence and creating a sophisticated corporate calendar to run the company, inclusive of board and investor meetings, can help you realize how much of your time is already consumed by running the company. 
  • Incorporating personal and family time into your cadence will clearly demarcate what is left for external stakeholder engagements. 


Becoming a CEO is a privilege and a great responsibility. Managing your focus, energies, and resources in the right way will help you to get ahead in the first 100 days. If you missed our last post on this topic, read the previous installment of this series here.

To learn more about RHR’s expertise in CEO coaching, visit our website page: https://rhrinternational.com/solutions-board-ceo-founder/

David Astorino is a senior partner and member of RHR International’s operating committee. For more than 20 years, he has been applying his expertise to complex client engagements, helping CEOs and boards of directors successfully drive the human side of transformational change within their organizations.