“Congratulations! You’re out of the club.”

Are you in line to be the next CEO of your AEC firm? Here are five things you should know before accepting the responsibility.

#1 Congratulations! You are out of the club. 

Those were the words of my long-time friend and colleague the day it was announced I would be the next CEO of our company. While that statement was made tongue-in-cheek, it was also very true. When you become CEO, you are no longer one of the gang. The office, title, and responsibilities change how you are seen and treated by the rest of the company. It doesn’t matter where you come from, How transparent you are, or how ‘”open” your door is. The relationship changes and you need to be ready for that.

#2 Look carefully at your board of directors. 

Assuming you have a board of directors, and they will be your boss, the composition and operation of the board is critical to your success. Most importantly for me is to have outside board members. If your board is comprised entirely of
company leaders, the potential for a bad dynamic exists. Boards change over time, so don’t look at your board today and
think you don’t need to worry about bad board behavior.
Outside board members are neutral whereas inside board members can have competing agendas. If any of these agendas start to line up or clash, the relationship can fall apart quickly.  Outside board members are a good hedge against bad behavior.

#3 Get a coach or participate in a support organization like Vistage.
The adage “it is lonely at the top” is very true. There are certain responsibilities that you alone carry, and an outside group or coach is an invaluable resource to help you cope and navigate them. I was part of a Vistage Worldwide group, and though the other leaders in my group were in different industries, the similarities in our challenges and the value of their support in processing issues was tremendous.


#4 Build a strong leadership team you can trust.

It is important to have the right people, with the right skills,
experience, and attitude in the key leadership positions. That said, the real emphasis here is on trust. Your leadership vision can only be achieved if your leadership team is completely aligned and transparent. If critical information does not flow through them to you, and vice-versa, your ability to address the
important issues is greatly diminished.

#5 Insist on a separate employment agreement.
Most incoming CEO’s are entering the role with positivity and support. Usually, they are confident people riding a long period of organizational success. Most are not thinking about what the situation may look like 5 to 10 years down the road. The reason I suggest a specific agreement is that the CEO position is not like other positions in the company. Therefore, establishing certain guidelines and expectations at the start, when relationships are strong and you haven’t gotten on the bad side of an influential board member, is advisable.

The opportunity to serve your organization as CEO is truly an honor. One that comes with more than its fair
share of challenges. I hope this advice helps you make the most of it.

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