Julio Noriega 21 September 2020 / 4 minutes read

First Time CEO? – 10 tips for your professional journey

  • leadership
  • Professional Journey

    There isn’t a CEO around who hasn’t experienced the trepidation, concern, and sleepless nights that a first-timer feels. Most of us have also had that “WHAT was I thinking?” moment of panic as creditors press for payment of overdue bills, even as you struggle to keep the ship afloat and your best people in place.

    So for those who are taking their first turn as a CEO, allow me to share some thoughts from the other side. Sometimes you just want to hear from someone who’s done it that it’s all going to be okay.

    1. There’s no grace or training period. Expect to hit the ground on your first day, and to learn on the job. CEOs are expected to know their numbers and to know the business, inside out and upside down. You’ll be challenged for decisions from the moment you start. And that honeymoon period you figured you’d have? You JUST had it.  

    2. You set the tone. George Bradt, founder of executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis, once wrote: “Long-standing CEOs realize that the less they do themselves, the more they will be able to inspire and enable others.” There’s a tremendous amount of truth to this, and leads to this saying that I have over my desk: “LEAD, DON’T DO.”

    3. Be multi-talented. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, observes, “Good leadership is about encouraging people to do their best while also bringing them into alignment with collective goals.” So if you’re able to nurture, cultivate, and manage simultaneously, your chances of success are significantly higher.

    4. Ease into things where possible. If you’re taking over an existing situation, my first boss’s philosophy will prove useful for you. She taught me the smartest thing you can do in a new work environment is to take the first few months and observe what’s going on around you, rather than immediately jumping in and charging about like the proverbial bull in a china shop. This way, you’ll have a chance to see people in action and learn how all the puzzle pieces fit together.

    5. Ask lots of questions. Chip Bergh, president and CEO of Levi Strauss, has a set of standard questions he asked when he took over as CEO: 

    • What three things must we preserve? 
    • What three things must we change? 
    • What do you most hope I will do? 
    • What are you most concerned I might do?” 
    • What advice do you have for me?” 

    He sent the questions to every board member and to the top 65 people in his company…and learned A LOT!

    6. Keep yourself organized. Over the years, I’ve discovered certain marketing-related questions of my own that typically also lend themselves to every other department of the business. They consistently help keep the other members of my team and me on track, and allow us to focus on what we’re trying to accomplish both short- and long-term:

    • What’s your objective?
    • Who’s your audience?
    • What’s your timeline for success?
    • What resources are you willing to invest to get that success?
    • What percentage of that goal must you hit for it to be considered a success?
    • Specifically for marketing and sales: Why should someone buy from you

    7. Keep everything in perspective. My second boss taught me this on the first day on the job: “A heart attack and a tax audit is a crisis. Everything else is a situation to be dealt with.” Wise words that I’ve remembered throughout my career.

    8. Remember the seven truths. Michael Hyatt, the former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, says he is often asked, “Knowing what you know, what advice would you give to a new CEO? He offers these “seven truths”:

    • Your position is not your identity.
    • Your position is temporary, not permanent.
    • Your position is a privilege, not a right
    • Your position is about faithfulness, not achievement.
    • Your position is about them, not you.
    • Your position is about stewardship, not ownership.
    • Your position will require more than you can provide on your own

    9. Stay healthy. Face it; if you’re not healthy (physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually), you’re no darned good to anyone else! Your health is key to your ability to do your job well. This makes it critical for you to find time to relax, spend time with family, and have some fun. If you’re growing personally, you’ll grow professionally. 

    10. Be patient. You may find it challenging being bossed by a board of directors, rather than a single supervisor. Be patient with them, with yourself, and with the process.


    Julio Noriega Global CEO at Renaissance Executive Forums Forum Leader in Perú since 2016 Global CEO, Board Member, Executive Vice President