Avoiding C-Suite Mistakes: Chapter 6 — Launching

Read previous installments of “Avoiding C-Suite Mistakes” here.

You are now ready for the C-Suite executive to go to work. Onboarding is complete; your relationship is solid; they know their responsibilities and expectations, and how these will be measured. Contracts are signed. Cultural transfusion has occurred. They now relate well to the required stakeholders, and satisfactory conditions have been negotiated for them to succeed. Equally as important, you feel as though you now have a partner.

You’re Responsible for Their Success

It’s important to recognize and appreciate that there are distinct stages of performance development that ensure job success. Each stage requires different management from you. Each stage has different essential components that must be satisfied. As the manager, it’s essential that you realize the importance of each stage and are careful not to omit even one. Each stage pushes the C-Suite executive through a particular rite of passage in order to move on to the next stage. Leaving out one of these steps leads to failure.

Stage 1: Formulation

Formulation consists of recruiting, interviewing, and onboarding. In this stage, both you and the new hire have answered these fundamental and critical questions:

  •    Who am I at this company?
  •    What is my accountability?
  •    How will my success be measured?
  •    To whom do I report?
  •    What is the structure of these reports?
  •    How do I win financially, now and down the road?  
  •    Does this position in the company move me forward in my professional development?
  •    Who at the company can I rely on to help me succeed?

Answers to these questions are articulated and structured enough for both parties to commit. Both parties must also have a solid sense of partnership. When both parties are fully committed to the C-Suite executive’s future and success, you’re ready for Stage 2.

Stage 2: Concentration

This will take time out of the CEO’s day — in fact, it might be prudent to schedule some time during your day to get this done. Remember: you hired this executive. Ultimately, this was your choice. You are equally as responsible for their success as they are. If you couldn’t be committed to their success, you shouldn’t have hired that person in the first place. As we discussed in previous chapters: If you hire for skill-set alone, it’s not going to work.

The executive’s thinking and action require your close attention. Make those first weeks highly concentrated. It’s recommended that you conduct brief daily meetings — in-person is best, but a video call is also an option.

In these meetings, you set short-term milestones and goals, mostly daily but also weekly, along with short-term promises and requests. These action items are the basic agenda for these meetings, in addition to coaching and advice. Make the promises and goals highly attainable: initially, go for the low-hanging fruit. Make them a bit of a stretch for the executive — but not much. You want them to start feeling like they can win — let them have some wins.

My term for this is “training and developing executives by commitment.” They are either achieving their daily goals, or they’re not. They are either keeping their promises, or they’re not. They are either correcting their mistakes, or they’re not.  

Fly or Crash

For the new hire, this can feel a lot like sailing into the wind: it’s hard work, lots of effort, a slow pace, and not a lot of big results. Expect that they will struggle. You want to know about their character, and this is one way to get some insights.

As the new hire consistently meets their goals and keeps their promises, raise the bar. At some point, you’ll be able to discern when they’ve graduated to the next stage.

Stage 3: Momentum

Your new hire has found their groove. They are firing on all cylinders, and you are down to perhaps two formal meetings per month. The executive knows what they’re doing, and how to reach stated goals. Their team is performing well. You are not making as many requests; they come in knowing what to promise. In fact, they are setting other goals to move the department forward without your input. They are adding power to the thrust of the work. The people around them feel good about their leadership and management — and so do you.

The momentum is building, and things are rolling along fine without too much input from you. But, as CEO, you need to be on the alert for two culture-killers: arrogance and pride. As the leader, you must set the stage for success: you set the tone, the markers of achievement, and the vision. In this stage, things are really cooking — and the meal is turning out great.

Stage 4: Stability or Breakdown

As you approach this stage, you and your team can go in two different directions: breakdown or stability. These are beyond the scope of this manual, but I’ve never seen a great company stay very long in stability: you can’t grow if you’re stable. And there’s usually an industry, circumstance, or change in vision or mission that cracks stability and causes a breakdown.

Great CEOs know that breakdowns are the access point to the future: we’ll address that in the DEO manual on leadership.

One important resource (and shameless plug): my book “The Twelve Laws of Leadership,” an important step to begin your work on the path of leadership.


— Marc