Communities

Impact

Insights

Excel in Your First Year
in the C-Suite

  1. Get Started
  2. Listen First
  3. Clarify Your
    Priorities
  4. Strengthen
    Your Team
  5. Elevate
    Your Thinking
  6. Engage Your Board
  1. Get
    Started
  2. Listen First
  3. Clarify Your Priorities
  4. Strengthen Your Team
  5. Elevate Your Thinking
  6. Engage Your Board

Listen First

Don’t act too quickly; give your new colleagues and stakeholders opportunities to share their views on the organization’s culture and its challenges.

Entering the C-suite often feels like a time for action—to finally begin implementing the strategies you’ve honed throughout your career. But one thing became clear during our conversations with our members and advisors: Don’t get ahead of yourself. Before enacting your gameplan, listen to your new colleagues and stakeholders, not simply out of obligation but to unearth pain points and opportunities within the organization.

Start with a “listening tour”—a tried-and-true tactic that many found just as helpful in garnering buy-in from new colleagues as it is in outlining an agenda. “I believe in learning about ‘what is’ long before you create a perception of ‘what should be,’” said Sara Greenstein, president, CEO, and board director at Axel Johnson. Whether formally or informally, find ways to speak directly with employees at all levels of the organization—not just direct reports, she advised. Don’t be afraid to explore both their positive and negative experiences. “Being innately curious and … insatiably engaging with people and having a really open mind” are essentials when sitting down with people on your new team,” she said.

  • Get Started
  • Listen First
  • Clarify Your
    Priorities
  • Strengthen
    Your Team
  • Elevate
    Your Thinking
  • Engage
    Your Board
“I believe in learning about ‘what is’ long before you create a perception of ‘what should be.’”
– Sara Greenstein, President, CEO, and Director, Axel Johnson

Many members and advisors shared that they felt pressure to prove their capabilities as soon as possible, but it’s a temptation they viewed as counterproductive in retrospect. Making strong judgments or flashy decisions too early can be offensive to employees and detrimental to achieving team objectives. Mark Bertolini, CEO of Oscar Health and former CEO of Aetna, said, “You have to recognize that the fidelity of your message when you’re at 30,000 feet is like [a] voice-of-God kind of message.”

Many of the complaints you receive will be shaded by emotion, and not always based in fact, said Oscar Munoz, former CEO and chairman of United Airlines. The list of concerns you receive can be intimidating, especially if you’re inheriting major cultural issues, he said. “Once you open up that floodgate, it was a little scary … because there were so many things broken at United.” Even still, there are useful lessons to glean. “When it comes to serving your customers and employees, often, their perception is your reality. You can only serve others if you … understand where they are coming from.” For productive listening tour discussions, avoid business jargon and share a list of actionable items with employees “to demonstrate that listening will translate into action.”

Don’t make assumptions about your new workload—even when you’re hired to fix a specific issue, said Joy Wald, chief transformation officer at Rentokil Terminix. “Oftentimes, we feel like we should know what to do right away, and everyone’s expecting us to make those moves,” she said. But listening allows you to understand a company’s history and, more importantly, why certain decisions were made.

Listening, however, doesn’t mean that you’ll ultimately support everything you’ve heard. “Do not mistake [my listening] with agreement—and that I’m going to do exactly what you say,” Munoz said. Doug Conant, former president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company, underscored that executive-level leadership requires a balance of humility through listening and confidence through action. He suggested listening for the first 90 days, then developing your plan in the next 90. Said Conant: “It’s hard for [employees] to listen to you if they don’t feel you’re listening to them.”

“It’s hard for [employees] to listen to you if they don’t feel you’re listening to them.”
– Doug Conant, Former President and CEO, Campbell Soup Company

Remember that open dialogues are now expected by employees, said Bertolini. Failing to listen to—and learn from—employees can torpedo your first year. “This idea of being a real, authentic leader is what people want today. Those are the people that are successful—that people really follow,” Bertolini said.

Here’s what to keep in mind when initiating productive and meaningful conversations with new colleagues:

  • Learn the technicalities of the business. Apart from gaining insights into the company culture, listening tours can help you learn the technical elements of a business—especially if you’re entering an industry you aren’t familiar with, according to Greenstein. A lack of industry experience isn’t something to be self-conscious of, she said. “The downfall could be [that] I don’t have the history, but the upside is I don’t have any bias.”
  • Take time to respond. When tough questions are asked of you, fight the temptation to answer right away. “You’re not expected to have all the answers. You’re expected to figure out how to find what the right answer is,” said Wanda Austin, former president and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation. “[With] just a little bit of reflection, [you’ll] come up with a much better solution than what you will come up with on the fly.”
  • Don’t overbook yourself. Keep track of how you’re spending your time and with whom you’re spending it—and don’t forget to allocate time for recharging throughout the day, advised Bertolini. Your own well-being is critical to remaining clear-headed and available.

 

Fit In Before You Stand Out
After 21 years at Whirlpool, Pam Klyn joined the company’s executive committee as executive vice president of corporate relations and sustainability in 2022. She sat down with us to share insights into leading at a new level—even when it’s in familiar surroundings.
Clarify Your Priorities

Related Insights

World 50 insights explore the upheavals, opportunities, and how-tos for navigating today’s complex business environment.
I&D Impact Report 2023
The state of corporate DEI + strategies for success
The New Customer
Post-pandemic customer behavior shifts across B2B + B2C

Getting to Growth
Innovative growth tactics amid market uncertainties

Untethered World
How remits are expanding to “non-traditional” business issues

Scarcity Economy
Adapting to global shortages across people + goods
I&D Impact Report 2023
The state of corporate DEI + strategies for success
The New Customer
Post-pandemic customer behavior shifts across B2B + B2C

Getting to Growth
Innovative growth tactics amid market uncertainties

Untethered World
How remits are expanding to “non-traditional” business issues

Scarcity Economy
Adapting to global shortages across people + goods

C-Suite Insights in Your Inbox

Sign up for monthly updates on member
conversations and trends.

C-SUITE INSIGHTS IN YOUR INBOX

NEW YORK | LONDON | SINGAPORE | ATLANTA

Community

Accelerators

Impact

Insights

Members

World 50 Inc.

enquiries@world50.com

Privacy

Terms of use

© 2024 All rights reserved.

NEW YORK
LONDON
SINGAPORE
ATLANTA

Community

Accelerators

Impact

Insights

Members

World 50 Inc.

enquiries@world50.com

Privacy

Terms of use

© 2024 All rights reserved.

Community

Accelerators

Impact

Insights

Members

World 50 Inc.

enquiries@world50.com

Privacy

Terms of use

© 2024 All rights reserved.