Focus Areas of CEOs in their Middle Phase

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Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

Focus Areas of CEOs in their Middle Phase

One can roughly distinguish 3 periods in the tenure of a Chief Executive Officer according to Zemmel, Cuddihy and Carey.
In the first year or so in office, they are typically involved in assessing and diagnosing the situation of the company, formulating a vision and a strategy, and establish some initial wins, building trust and legitimacy.
In the last year or so of their tenure, they are mainly concerned with selecting a successor and smoothly handing over the helm.
Not much is written about a CEO's middle phase. Interesting new research by Zemmel c.s. has revealed that in this second, intermediate period CEOs mainly occupy themselves with 5 themes:
  • KEEP RAISING THE LEVEL OF AMBITION: Keep up the pace of organizational change, guard against organizational exhaustion, continue to focus on the change external environment.
  • ATTACKING SILOS AND BROKEN PROCESSES: Tackle ingrained practices, develop cross-functional (cross-business) talent, adjust compensation systems to overall corporate goals, improve the company's operating systems.
  • REJUVENATING TALENT: Reassess if people in top positions are going to help the company move forward, given the (new) strategy, unleash latent high potentials, using a supporting, mentoring and coaching style (role) rather than a directing one.
  • BUILDING MECHANISMS FOR DISSENT AND DISRUPTIVE IDEAS: Avoid becoming predictable or shut off from new ideas, invite honest feedback by trusted people at the level below the direct reports, seek new sources of advice.
  • SPENDING LEADERSHIP CAPITAL ON BOLD, LONG-TERM MOVES: Having built trust and legitimacy, now is the time to make bold strategic moves, place large strategic bets and finish transformational dispositions and acquisitions.
Source: Rodney Zemmel, Matt Cuddihy, Dennis Carey, (2018) "How Successful CEOs Manage Their Middle Act - A Strong Start Only Takes you so Far", HBR, 2018, May-June, pp. 98-105

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