What First-Time CEOs Need to Do in the First 90 Days

by | May 9, 2024 | Leadership Team Coaching

Congratulations! You’re a first-time CEO. Everyone is looking for you to lead the way. For many executives, this might feel like the culmination of your life’s work — but it’s just the start of the most important journey of your career. 

There’s no time to waste as a new CEO. You need to listen and observe, but you also need to formulate and communicate your vision quickly so the board knows it made the right choice and the workforce feels there’s a clear direction. Fortunately, first-time CEOs aren’t necessarily at a disadvantage. In fact, public-company CEOs often deliver more total shareholder value in their first role than repeat CEOs, according to data and researcher-led interviews. 

Still, the challenges of moving into the top role are real, and you don’t need to solve them alone. Learn how executive coaching can help new CEOs hit the ground running, delivering better outcomes personally and for the business.

5 Ways Coaching Helps First-Time CEOs

CEOs need a support system. This includes mentors, peers, family and friends, and coaches. Each role is distinct and serves a specific function. Your mentor and coach shouldn’t be the same person, for example. 

Here are several ways working with a coach can help a first-time CEO get off to a fast start.

Leveraging the Coach’s Experience With CEOs

Being a CEO is the most unique role inside any organization. Effective executive coaches understand this because they’ve worked with other CEOs and have seen up close the challenges and opportunities. Effective coaches also understand the CEO-board relationship, particularly with the chair, and how each relationship is unique and distinct.

Gaining Access to a Network of Peer CEOs

Seasoned CEO coaches have a network of happy clients — CEOs who are ready and willing to counsel and connect with a first-time chief executive. Most CEOs are happy to help each other out, whether the other person has been in the role for a month or 10 years. 

Connecting with peers who have faced similar challenges can be invaluable for support, guidance, and mentorship — not just in the first 90 days, but throughout the CEO’s tenure.

Being a Reality Check 

First-time CEOs usually have assumptions about how the job goes, as well as blind spots they aren’t aware of when it comes to leading a company. Executive coaching helps first-time CEOs challenge these assumptions, dispel myths and navigate the expectations placed upon them. Coaches provide a reality check, helping CEOs understand the importance of taking decisive action while also balancing the need to listen and learn. This coaching enables CEOs to find the right balance and approach for the circumstances.

Managing Stress and Expectations

The CEO role comes with immense responsibilities and high levels of stress. Burnout is a huge risk, especially without the right habits. Coaches can counsel CEOs on establishing boundaries, maintaining well-being, and enlisting support networks. By prioritizing their health and well-being, CEOs can lead with clarity, resilience and sustained performance.

Developing Enterprise Leadership Skills

Executive coaching focuses on developing enterprise leadership skills — helping top leaders think about more than just their functional expertise. This is especially critical for first-time CEOs who might have to reorient their thinking to consider the organization holistically. 

There’s a natural tendency for people, when confronted with new and difficult situations, to retreat to what we know. If you’re a CEO coming from a functional role, or you’re an outside CEO trying to grasp everything about the organization, you might overly focus on what you know because it feels easier and safer. Coaches can help CEOs develop the enterprise mindset and curiosity needed to understand the entire business, not just their favorite parts of it.

Why First-Time CEOs Must Develop Presence and Vision From Day One

The first 90 days for a CEO are an opportunity to listen, learn and observe. But you can’t realistically show up, greet your employees and say, “See you in three months.” CEOs, especially first-timers, need to create their presence immediately. 

No other leadership role has this immediacy. When you’re the CEO, people want to know on Day One why you’re there and what you’re going to do. And you need to give them some kind of an answer. While you might not have a complete plan in place, publicly show how you’ll get there. For example, at your introductory all-hands, you might say, “By July 1, I plan to tell you my vision for the organization. Until then, I can’t wait to hear from you what your vision for the organization is.”

Here are a few benefits of sharing your vision and developing presence:

  • You show transparency and build trust: By sharing your vision early on, first-time CEOs demonstrate a commitment to transparency and open communication. You must do this at all levels: with the broader workforce, with your leadership team, and with the board, especially the board chair. Use the first 90 days to get to know each of these stakeholder groups. This expands your presence and gives them reason to believe in you.
  • You set expectations and provide direction: You don’t necessarily need every detail on that first day. But you want everyone to feel like there are clear expectations for your tenure, including how they can help you fulfill the organization’s vision and goals. When everyone understands the overarching goals and objectives, they can align their efforts and make informed decisions.
  • You show you’re open to learning: As a first-time CEO, you have a steep learning curve. By asking for feedback from your workforce, leadership team and board, you gain valuable information and convey that you’re ready to learn and grow in the role. When you do reveal the vision, stakeholders will be confident that it’s an informed vision that’s ready to evolve as conditions change.

Why New CEOs Must Prioritize Health and Well-Being

The first 90 days are crucial for setting the right habits that will help you for years to come. Those habits include how you show up, how you communicate your vision, how you engage with employees, your leadership team, the board and peer CEOs. 

This period is also the time to develop the habits needed to maintain your energy, physical and mental health, and well-being for the long term. New CEOs often enter the position unprepared for the toll it will take physically and mentally. Coaches can help you figure out how health, well-being and self-care take shape in your life from day one. Be warned: Going all out for a few years, then trying to set boundaries and reprioritize your health is more difficult than doing so from the beginning.

Start by getting your family, friends and support system ready — your partner, children, family or anyone else. Becoming a CEO for the first time is uncharted territory, and it won’t be easy. Make sure they understand both the demands on your time and energy and the need for you to stay anchored to them, to not disappear from their lives because you’re buried in the work. 

Setting boundaries from day one is crucial. Yes, work will require much of your time, but if you need to be offline for your child’s soccer game, or you have a vacation planned, make that clear. There’s a saying, “Scale your rest to the stress.” That means not letting your new responsibilities take away your time from the gym or for proper sleep. Don’t let the job keep you from eating right or getting medical checkups. And don’t let it push you into excessive or self-destructive behaviors.

All of these are challenges that can’t be solved overnight, but executive coaching can help, along with your broader support system, mentors and other trusted people in your life.

Your first 90 days as a CEO sets the tone for the rest of your tenure — and the confidence of the board and workforce. Make every day count. Learn how Bright Arrow Coaching’s executive coaching services can help you reach your full potential through personalized coaching, the use of tools and assessments, and much more.

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