How to Support CEO Onboarding

When a new CEO or other top executive is hired, there is a natural tendency for the leaders of an organization – including the C-suite team and board of directors – to exhale, relax and coast a little, knowing that help is on the way. Yet the work of acclimating the new CEO is just beginning. Installing a new CEO is a little bit like an organ transplant—the new organ and the body need time to get conditioned to each other. The right organ match is critical yet as important are steps conditioning the body. There may be good days and bad before the body is functioning optimally.

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Leadership Team and Board Support

The leadership team and board play a central role in onboarding the new leader. While this advice is geared toward CEO transitions, it can also apply to other leadership hires. The following are just a few of the key steps that the organization’s leaders must take:

  • Develop a plan, then implement it.
  • Provide good data and objective views.
  • Guard against the “This is how we do things here” mindset.
  • Cut the new leader some slack.
  • Do your job!

To this latter point, nothing puts a new executive at ease like knowing that everyone around them is high-functioning and getting things done.

Much of the advice above applies to board members who will be critical in onboarding a new CEO or executive. A few additional notes for board members include:

  • Hire a professional coach or onboarding specialist.
  • Agree on the pace of change and identify political sensitivities.
  • Know the tendencies of the new leader and what support is needed.
  • Stand behind the CEO when things get tough in the early going.

It’s important for the board to show courage and actively support the new CEO even when dug-in stakeholders complain about changes taking place. The board can stop the snowballing of criticism by demonstrating support for a new leader and offering constructive suggestions.

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