Lessons Learned from a CEO: Stepping Up in a New Leadership Role
Stepping into a new role is exciting, humbling and challenging at the same time. Yet the first few months are pivotal in establishing a strong presence that will set the tone for your tenure. The biggest takeaways I have learned in the early stages of my new role as CEO include prioritizing people over process, keeping a pulse on your company’s competitive landscape and leaning into transparency at every level — both internally and externally.
People over process
As a leader, it’s important to ensure that individuals in your organization feel valued, whether it’s an intern, a mid-level manager or a c-suite executive. This starts with making time for people — all people. According to GoRemotely, nearly 80% of U.S. employees quit their jobs due to a lack of appreciation. That same study found that 70% of employees are unhappy in their jobs due to negative management. This makes putting people first imperative for any organization. Doing so also has several key benefits from a business perspective. When someone leaves your company, the cost to replace that person can range from one-half to two times the employee’s salary. This adds up quickly when you have a high turnover rate. Employee longevity and happiness can boost a business’s bottom line, keeping in mind that happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy ones.
From a business perspective, there’s a clear return on investment to create a positive working environment. From a people perspective, it’s simply the right thing to do to help someone love where they work. Make the time and prioritize your people.
Meet the competition, literally
To effectively lead, especially at the executive level, having a deep understanding of your competitive landscape is critical. Of course, that feels like a given for many of us, but when starting a new position it's natural to put your focus on internal initiatives first. However, to continue driving the business forward, it’s essential to keep a pulse on your competitors. That said, this doesn’t have to be done with sneaky tactics. I do quarterly calls with Pushpay’s top competitors, setting up time with their executives to discuss business, trends, pain points and the industry at large. This allows us to have open and honest conversations about what opportunities and challenges we are all facing, and ultimately how we can better serve our customers.
Related article: A Quick Guide to Monitoring Your Competitors
Transparency = Trust
Finally, one of the most important things you can do when stepping into a new role is to lead with transparency. Specifically in a c-suite position, it’s important to provide clarity about your vision for the future of the company. In this context, clarity means presenting the same information several times, and in different formats, so people understand and can hop on board with where you’re going. And let’s note, establishing your vision isn’t a one-and-done announcement. It should be reinforced over time with consistent follow-up to ensure understanding at all levels. In fact, in my first few weeks as CEO, I set the narrative about where we’re headed in the coming year so we can all do our part to help Pushpay get there. I focused on three pillars — culture, retention and growth — and what it’s going to take from all of us to succeed in these three areas. We’ll continue to revisit these three pillars this year and regularly report on the progress we’re collectively making.
Transparency is also key for building trust — at all levels of the company. It’s important to set a precedent of honesty with your employees. Are you open and honest about failures or mistakes? Do you celebrate the learnings as much as you do the big wins? Do you have a culture where you regularly report business metrics and progress to goals? These are small nuances that help build a culture of trust within your organization. A recent survey of CEOs revealed that 55% believe that a lack of trust in the workplace is a foundational threat to their company. Other studies point to correlations between trust and economic success. Clearly, there are benefits to transparency from a relational, as well as business, standpoint internally with your employees and externally with your partners and stakeholders as appropriate.
Related article: 5 Ways a CEO Can Build a Culture of Trust
Accepting a new role is the easy part, leaning in to make a difference takes intentional action and determination. I encourage you to dig deep those first few months and set a strong foundation in your early days. That will ultimately help set the stage for your time in the role and the culture you want to build for your employees.