Joining an organization from outside and inheriting an intact senior team, possibly containing members who had been passed over for the CEO job, brings obvious challenges. CEOs in our study who had lived through this situation reported that it was important to build their own credibility with the team while also assessing the strengths and weaknesses of their new colleagues. “One thing I knew I had to do quickly,” one CEO told us, “and I felt prepared to do, was to build trust and confidence in me. I had to do this with my management team, and I had to do it with the other stakeholders, including the Board and with our customers.” 

Talk, Model, and Listen

Other CEOs stressed the importance of communicating well and listening. It wasn’t enough to simply state what behaviors CEOs wanted to see—these leaders modeled that behavior themselves and took care to reinforce good behavior when they saw it. Listening became important as a means of assessing what “raw material” incoming CEOs had to work with, so that they could make the most of the strengths of individual team members. 

Tip1

It is vitally important to build relationships with direct reports first as individuals and then as a team. A great way to accomplish this is to set up regular one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports, providing them with the opportunity to discuss with you individually -

  • Updates on their key issues
  • Agreement on a plan forward on your key issues
  • Help they may need from you
  • Feedback/coaching

Get Them Aligned

In some cases, inheriting an intact team confronts new CEOs with issues of alignment. Is the team a true “leadership team,” or merely a team of individual leaders? CEOs in our study had to remain vigilant to root out passive-aggressive behaviors and bring dissenting voices into the fold. In some cases, aligning the team required a broader change in the team’s norms and culture. One CEO recounted how individual members of her team tended to work in silos, even though the incentive plan in place was designed to promote collaboration. This leader introduced a team development initiative to encourage greater collaboration and teamwork—with positive results.

Tip2

Although challenging, inheriting talent on your leadership team doesn’t have to feel overwhelming. Don’t panic, and don’t give up. Others have traversed this terrain before you. It might take a bit of extra time and effort, but with a thoughtful and sensitive approach you can overcome egos, unfamiliarity, and distrust, building a cohesive team that gets business done.

More on the CEO study can be found in the book Preparing CEOs For Success “What I Wish I Knew”. For more information, visit the CLG Bookstore.

And, for more information about CLG Executive Advisors and the support they provide to CEOs, c-suite executives, and high potentials on issues such as leadership, strategy execution, succession, new leader transition, change implementation, and teamwork among senior teams visit the CLG Executive Advisor section of the website.