CEO Transitions – How to enter into your new leadership position

June 27, 2010

McKinsey’s former managing director Ian Davis offers to new CEOs advice distilled from his experience supporting executives during their transitions into the role.

CEO transitions

Ian Davis’ Advice to a new CEO


June 1, 2010

Dear Frank,

It was great to meet for dinner yesterday. Once again, congratulations on your appointment as CEO. It’s a big honour, and an opportunity that I am sure you will relish.

I am glad that you found our discussion on CEO transitions useful. You mentioned that it would be helpful to you if I jotted down the key points we discussed, so I am putting pen to paper. My suggestions are focused on making a successful leadership transition—not on the role and attributes of a successful CEO, about which so much has already been written. They are based primarily on personal observation of many CEO transitions, as well as on interviews with a number of leading CEOs and chairmen from around the world.

1. Context is critical. As an outside appointment, you must quickly learn about the history, board structure, governance, and national heritage of the company, not to mention its financial performance, morale, and capabilities. Then you must look at this context through the eyes of other constituencies and stakeholders. An early sense of how they might see things is valuable in its own right; it also can help provide a reality check on any assumptions or prejudices, as well as insights, that you may have built up during your interview and recruitment process. Too many CEO transitions get off to a poor start as new leaders learn that what worked in one context doesn’t necessarily transfer well to another. Experience is valuable, but it also creates bias. You won’t often get such an opportunity or time to step back and reflect, so take it.

Ian Davis advice continued on McKinsey & Co

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