So, it's your first day in your new role as a Subsidiary CEO. You flew in yesterday, found your hotel, agonised over what to wear. You checked out how to get to the office and now the day has come. You've met a couple of the Directors on a few occasions. You know a bit about their backgrounds from a few hours with your predecessor and from his hastily assembled introductory pack – an onerous deck to occupy your evenings for weeks to come.
You called ahead and asked your new PA for a 9am meeting with the ExCom members. "Let's start with introductions. Not in the Boardroom, but in a less formal setting. Make it a bit casual, maybe over a coffee and a few snacks".
You walk in – everyone is curious – who is this guy? He's wearing a tie – does that mean I have to? Is he up to the job? Am I going to like him? Will he appreciate me; will he really get to see what I've done over the years?" "I wonder what he's been told about me."
You're thinking – am I creating the right impression? They really liked their last boss – am I going to fill those shoes? What if they try to sabotage me from the start? What do they know about me? What's been said about me before I came?
It's well known that the first few minutes will create an impression that will need a lot of effort to shift. People respond differently at that first meeting. Some go a little quiet and withdraw to a "safe" place. "If I don't talk too much I won't be able to incriminate myself. He'll find me interesting when we talk one on one". Some try a little bravado – ask a question, make a witty comment. Some just wait.
You look around. What do you see? A blur of faces, but you try to attach names and remember what you've read. You try to make a personal comment to each (I hear you're a great golfer, I believe you cracked a contract with Tesco, I understand you've just moved into town). Does it work? Well, maybe. At least it shows you have some interest in them as people.
They smile – that's good. You offer a few words about yourself. Funny how irrelevant your background can seem when you've never been a CEO before! You say we'll get to know each other over the next few days when we meet individually. You talk about a few of your experiences. Never boasting. You may even mention a mistake or two and what you learnt from them.
You ask them to talk about themselves in turn. You listen carefully but watch the attitude of the others as each one speaks. You try to sense who is held in respect, who not. You study the way they react to each other. Do they give credit? Do they talk about their own team? Is it just "I!", " Me!" Do they seem proud of their company, their function, their successes?
You recognise what they have done well as the leadership of the company. How you'll enjoy working with them and getting to understand and learn what they do and what's causing them problems. Maybe there are areas where you'll be able to help or bring in resources if they're needed. Anyway, you're excited about the future and working with a great team.
What are you doing through all this? Well, several things. Still too early to get an individual view but you are getting "the smell of the place". You're trying to sense how they function together, what drives them and what's important. You're trying to discern what are their values, their ethics, the accepted behaviour. You're getting to know if they are a team or a group of individuals. How would you describe the relationships? You're using fully your gut sense, your intuition, your perception – essential features of any great leader. You're trying through all this to gauge the emotions of your new team.
There will be hidden emotions. There are those who wanted the position and didn't get it. They had to go home and tell their partner that they'd been overlooked, maybe not the first time. (Will they now have to work for someone they won't respect?). There are those who felt secure in the old environment and were really held in high esteem. It's now unfamiliar ground. "This guy may not see me the same way. Will I be asked to leave? What about my mortgage? What will my wife feel about me if I'm told to go? Will she leave me?" There will be some who are happy and eager for the change. There will be one or two who have seen them come and go and wonder how long this one will last!
But which emotion is dominating? There's curiosity – of course. There's certainly interest. What else? Probably the most dangerous emotion of all - fear! Fear of failure – the most inhibiting, restraining and disruptive emotion you can experience, whether it be in the workplace or at home.
Why is fear of failure so bad? Because it directs thoughts towards self-preservation. In some people it causes aggression, others tend to retreat. These thoughts are about self, about "me", not about "us". Fear blocks, paralyses, freezes. It prevents freedom of thought, suppresses originality and innovation. It turns people against each other and closes communication. It is a destructive force that must be removed from the workplace.
We all know CEO's, Directors and Managers who seem to enjoy instilling fear. They get a sense of power, of control. They insist on being the boss, making the decisions, pointing out the errors with maybe even a little intimidation. They instruct, command, criticise and belittle. What fools they are!
Little do they realise that they are themselves giving way to fear – a fear of not being respected. A fear of being ignored – their own form of fear of failure. They mistake fear for respect.
But if there is no sense of fear, no worry about failure, how can we be sure that people will not just relax and stop working? No pressure, no result – right?
Wrong! Just consider for a moment what motivates you. Is it more inspiring to receive a threat, an insult, a criticism, or to be told "well done, we were relying on you and you delivered" or "we're proud of you, you're a tribute to the firm". How about: "What a great idea – why didn't I think of that?" I certainly know which inspires me. Think about it, once inspired, do you work harder or do you want to run away?
I try to remember that people are their own worst critics. There is of course the odd exception, but almost everyone has an inbuilt fear of failure, often inbred during childhood or at school. It's a product of the society we live in. You really do not have to reinforce it and unfortunately you'll never totally remove it.
In your first encounter, even in your first few seconds, you can do a lot to dispel the fear. A friendly smile, a firm handshake with a direct look in the eyes and a warm comment, your manner, the words you use, will all set the tone. Believe me, whether the business you're moving into is soaring or in steep decline, the last thing you need is to restrain your management team by embedding a sense of fear. It's there already!
What is the mood as you end the session? Do they leave chatting and smiling, with an eagerness to get on and work together, or is there a sense of dread? Whichever way you wanted it to go was in your hands. As the incoming CEO, you set the scene, so be clear what scene you want to set, because whatever impression you give at that first meeting will last for a long time.
So your first day is nearing an end. You've spent time with your PA, getting to know her a little. You've met your key staff briefly, done all the signing-in stuff, had a quick look at the financials and seen some sales performance graphs. It seems there are many problems and there is so much to do.
You put your head in your hands – once again that familiar feeling of an overwhelming workload stretching out ahead of you. You're conscious of the need to make your mark in the first 100 days, but can I do it? "Where do I start? Should I begin with the market, the customers? Do I begin with the financials or should I be interrogating the sales figures? How about the products – are they good enough?" There is so much to look at, so much to learn.
You think awhile, although you know the answer. You know you must start with the people - your new reports.
Let's face it; this is where the fun starts! Your thoughts start to gel: "let's find out about them, what are they made of, how good are they? Are they made of the stuff I can work with? Who will stay (who will go?). Can I work with them to build the team I need to turn this business round?"
You call in your PA to plan the week ahead.