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Four Things All New Leaders Should Remember


I recently marked my 7th year as the President & Chief Executive Officer of the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW), a rapidly growing organization that has quadrupled in budget size, tripled in the number of states served and more than doubled in staff over that time. Throughout this rapid growth and tremendous change, this recent article written by Jeanne Sahadi about the ins and outs of being a Chief Executive Officer, new or otherwise, resonate.

It’s a great read for new Chief Executives and anyone who is taking on new leadership roles.

Her first thought is spot on, “Don’t underestimate how different the job will be from anything you’ve done before. The stakes are higher and more complex.” The executive summary hits on four key lessons to keep in mind, with some of my thoughts intermixed:

1. Allow yourself time to make your best decisions.

Last Spring on the occasion of by 25th anniversary in the fight against AIDS I sent out 25 tweets on the leadership lessons I had learned. One of my favorites echoed Sahadi’s thought on timely decision making:

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Take your time. Don’t let anyone or anything force you into a bad decision and instead make the best decision possible. No one else can correct a bad decision, and 99.99% of the time a decision can wait overnight.

2. Make sure the right people are on your executive team and that they work well with you and each other.

This is another tidbit of advice that rings true to me, as I tweeted:

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Leadership is a team sport at ARCW. We need to have the best team possible, invest in their development and continuously enhance their efforts. We are amidst a year-long team development initiative in 2019; just one of many important investments to help our key leaders succeed.

3. Invest time building a rapport with board members.

This was probably the best point that Sahadi made. Prior to being named CEO, I had 19 years of experience working at ARCW, was engaged with the board, attended meetings, developed relationships for 14 years, and studied at the right hand of my predecessor for all that time.

I was fully unprepared to go from one boss down the hall to having 19 living in five states across the country. I often joke that when we finally defeat HIV, I will emerge as a consultant for first time CEOs focused unilaterally on this single issue. The best answer I have found is her recommendation – invest time.

4. Making a big change is good. Changing everything at once isn’t.

You have attained your new leadership role through great drive and ambition, willing to challenge the status quo and continuously finding ways to improve things. Change is indeed good and necessary and exciting for leaders.

Learning to pace change has been a significant area of growth for me, learning to implement the key changes and assuring that other leaders and staff are still following.

I am reminded of a quip from former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, John Boehner (R-Ohio), made on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, “If you don’t have your followers, you aren’t a leader. You are just a guy out taking a walk around.”

I wanted to add a few more of my favorite leadership tweets including:

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As a CEO what key advice would you give to a newbie? What is the lesson you want to learn as you move into greater leadership roles?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and welcome your comments on these leadership insights. You can find all of them on Twitter at @mikegiffordceo.

Author(s):
Mike Gifford
President and Chief Executive Officer

Michael J. Gifford has been a leading force in the fight against AIDS in the United States for three decades. He currently serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Vivent Health. During…