Promotion to being in charge and a new Chief Executive is thrilling but it can equally be daunting if not downright scary. Suddenly you realise there is no back stop for you – you are the back stop!
Being the chief requires a new mind set, behaviours and relationships. The most important change is the internal one – how you regard yourself and what you need to change to meet new challenges. Preparation before, or soon after the promotion can help you make the transition more successful, fulfilling and fun.
Consider your own experience – what defined a good chief executive that you worked for or have come across. Like any skill repeated application and practice will improve results and increase confidence but you need to have a few basic principles from which to grow these skills.
Remember, the better you are at what you do, the more you can do to improve the benefit your charity delivers. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. What makes a good leader?
- Start listing the qualities you have observed in others – what do they do well and what do they do badly?
- Set your ego aside and ask yourself – what is it you are good at and what do you know needs improving?
- Well, here is your action plan – what can you do to be the leader that you want to be?
2. Start believing you are the Chief Executive
Many people suffer from the “impostor syndrome”. They do not fully believe in themselves and are sure that others will see through them and call them out!
Yet if you behave as if you know what you are doing, why you are doing it and come across confident, comfortable and in charge, not only will others believe you know what you are doing – you will convince yourself! So, start believing in yourself and what you can do.
How well do you know the organisation you are taking over? What has been hidden from you? What are the skeletons in the cupboard?
Don’t find yourself on a limb caught out by all the issues no one told you about, quite deliberately. Meet with the board, the chair, the people, the stakeholders, your team and the beneficiaries. Look at the marketing material, reports, accounts and anything else you can get your hands on. Try and meet the funders and even your competition. Start to get to grip with the information and form your own opinion. Remember everyone will be trying to influence you, so ascertain what axe they are grinding.
4. Don’t rush into making decisions
You will be pushed to make hasty decisions, often when you don’t know enough, or when people are deliberately trying to trip you up.
- Does this need an answer?
- Does this need an answer right now?
- Am I the best person to answer this?
It is surprising how much is not a crisis and can be handled by someone else or can be dealt with better and later.
5. Establish a good working relationship with the Chair
The most crucial relationship is your one with the Chair. Spend time to get to know the Chair. Discuss with the Chair what help you need at the start. Give yourself time to get to grips with the charity and ask the Chair to support you. Remember, as your knowledge and confidence grow, your relationship with the Chair also develops.
Finally, take a measured view about your work demands – it is very easy to get caught up in needless activities that stress you out, destroy your personal relationships and ultimately burn you out.
Your life is important, so the better you feel, the more you can do for your charity and the more you can deliver for your beneficiaries. That’s the mark of a successful Chief Executive.