An Action Plan for New CEOs During the First 100 Days

Action steps new CEOs should follow to create a positive impact in the minds of all stakeholders.

“Getting every employee’s mind into the game is a huge part of what a CEO job is all about. Taking everyone’s best ideas and transferring them to others is the secret. There’s nothing more important.”

—Jack Welch

When Tim Cook took over from Steve Jobs as the head of Apple Computers, the expectations were higher as his predecessor was a legendary innovation leadership guru. When Jeff Immelt took over from Jack Welch as the head of General Electric, the expectations were higher as Jack Welch was rated as one of the best corporate leaders in the world. It is a Herculean task for new CEOs to step into those shoes especially when their predecessors were legends. In fact, the job of CEO is a highly challenging one. The position of a CEO appears to be easy and rosy for spectators, but it is not a cakewalk for participants. Although it is not a complicated one, it is tough to survive and succeed as a CEO in this cutthroat competitive world.

Make-or-Break Time

CEOs who can make solid first impression and deliver are destined for a huge success. It is a great opportunity for these new CEOs to use this time to project an image—formal versus informal, hands-on versus hands-off. Hence, they must be careful during the first 100 days in office. The concept of the first 100 days in office is widely used in the world of politics. It is also known as honeymoon period in some parts of the world. It is the period of “make-or-break” for new CEOs. These are the crucial and critical days, whether you are a chief executive or a politician. Commenting about accomplishment of his mission, John F. Kennedy once remarked: “All this will not be finished in the first hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first thousand days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”

A study by the Center for Creative Leadership reveals that 40 percent of leaders going into new roles fail in their first 18 months. Additionally, Scott Weighart, director of Learning and Development at Bates Communications rightly remarked, “In your first 100 days as CEO, you’re living life in a fishbowl.” Hence, new CEOs must take precautionary measures during this honeymoon period to achieve their leadership effectiveness and ensure organizational excellence and effectiveness.

A study shows that the most pressing challenges for CEOs are strategic alignment and speed of execution. As such, new CEOs must address these issues earnestly during the first 100 days in office. If CEOs prove well initially, they succeed; otherwise, they ultimately fail miserably. All stakeholders restrain from criticism during this honeymoon period as this is the grace time given for new CEOs to get adjusted and work at their own pace. The media also will restrain from criticism, but it observes everything under its microscope. So new CEOs must be careful to make use of this time wisely to connect with all stakeholders and create a great impression to survive and succeed in the corporate world.


Problems and Prospects for Insider and Outsider CEOs

Outsider CEOs encounter vastly different kinds of challenges vis-à-vis insider CEOs. Whether are you are elevated internally as CEO or hired externally as CEO, you must take a series of action steps to achieve success. If you are hired internally, you will have both merits and demerits. The merits include your experience; your hands-on knowledge of organization; and your understanding of the pulse of the people and the organization. The demerits include lack of experience as a CEO and you have to shake free of stakeholder perceptions. If you are hired as CEO externally, it takes time for you to understand the organizational climate and culture and get attuned to it, while the merit is that you are free from perceptions as people look at you with a clean slate.

A Blueprint for new CEOs

Do you want to do as the crowd does and struggle for a slice of life, or do you want to bake your own pie and live on your own terms? If you want to bake your own pie and lead on your own terms as CEO, here is a blueprint for you:

New CEOs must clearly focus on key areas aggressively. The crux of the issue here is how to spot the areas that need to be focused on. As such, they must find out the key and core areas that need attention and energy, and focus on them aggressively.

New CEOs are always under the stakeholders’ microscope. Strive to make the first few days as CEO highly organized and focused to create an everlasting impression as a successful CEO and leader. According to Ram Charan, “The majority of CEOs who are fired are not terminated because they lacked vision, but because they failed to engage their own organization in what appeared to be well-thought-out strategies” ( accessed as on July 1, 2013).

New CEOs must take lots of precautions to have clear-cut strategies and link them effectively with solid execution. At the same time, be cautious to present and project yourself professionally as a leader by blending your intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and discipline proportionately and judiciously. Also, blend your technical, business, and social acumen.

Osman Sultan, CEO of du Telecom, suggests, “As a new CEO, you must draw a diagram and put yourself in the center. At the top of the vertical line, put your board and shareholders; at the bottom of this line, the management team and employees. On the left of the horizontal line, put what we can call the “market-driving factors”—customers, distributors, industrial partners. On the right, the external, “non-market-driving factors”—regulators, media, academia, and so on. Then quickly identify the people on each of these fronts you can trust to deliver. This is the radar screen you should look at every morning to ensure you’re not losing control of any of these things that could snowball rapidly in any startup. As a CEO, you cannot afford the luxury of not being active on all these fronts” ( accessed as on July 1, 2013).

Do’s and Don’ts

For a new CEO who undertakes this challenging role, there are certain do’s and don’ts to stand out from others. Here is a template containing action steps new CEOs must follow to create a positive impact in the minds of all stakeholders:

  • Understand various aspects of the company, including its vision and mission.
  • Meet all stakeholders to find out their expectations and aspirations. If you are an outsider CEO, you must travel widely to connect with them. Get the big picture right.
  • Speak less and listen more to list three major changes you would like to bring about to improve the company’s bottom line.
  • Be transparent to build trust among all stakeholders.
  • Don’t follow the strategies of your predecessor as what worked for him or her might not work for you.
  • Conduct an organizational assessment after obtaining inputs from all sources. Create a CEO template within your mind, which must be flexible to execute.
  • Craft your own vision and use diversified communication vehicles, including e-mail, memos, videoconferences, and face-to-face meetings to articulate it effectively.
  • Identify the priority areas to improve the bottom line. Create an action plan, dividing the areas into short- and long-term goals.
  • Create a winning formula based on your recreated vision. For instance, Franz Humer CEO of Hoffmann–La Roche, set the right priorities during his initial period; persuaded all stakeholders; and brought Hoffmann–La Roche from an industry laggard into an industry leader.
  • Be a team leader. Build a strong team, capitalizing on their strengths and engaging team members effectively.
  • Make sure employees are rightly placed with their roles and responsibilities to leverage their strengths. At times, good employees are wrongly placed in the organization. Spot and place them properly.
  • Integrate the informal and formal elements of the organization.
  • Align people, plans, and practices with organizational goals and objectives.
  • Replace poor performers with good performers, following the sage words of Jim Collins: “Have the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus.”
  • Encourage innovative ideas among employees.
  • Provide input to your employees regularly, guide, and inspire them.
  • Anticipate both internal and external threats and create contingency plans accordingly to counter them effectively.
  • Reorganize business lines to enhance operational excellence.
  • Accelerate the pace but don’t be in a hurry to cut costs quickly as you will not know where the real problems may lie.
  • Be flexible and customize your leadership style as per the company’s vision and mission and the people around you.
  • Seek early wins and build momentum.
  • Analyze how you ultimately would like to be remembered. Do you want to be remembered as a soft or hard CEO, or a flexible or situational CEO, or a CEO with a blend of both task and people-orientation? Create your own CEO brand accordingly to stand out from others

Whether you become a new CEO of a company or a leader of an industry or political party, you must follow these steps meticulously to achieve your goals and objectives. Manage internal organizational dynamics and external environmental threats effectively. Listen to feedback regularly to bring out behavioral changes within you. Learn lessons from your own experience and from the experience of others to enhance your leadership effectiveness to soar like an eagle.

A good CEO must be a judicious blend of strategy and execution and a proportional blend of business, technical, and social acumen. As such, new chief executives must proportionally mix all these qualities; meet all stakeholders; listen to them; create a corporate culture connecting them on one common thread; build effectives teams; craft their vision; and articulate it effectively during the first 100 days in their office to achieve everlasting success in the corporate world. Remember the sage words of Stefan Stern, Financial Times business journalist: “CEOs who carry out a big deal in their first year outperform their peers in the long run.”

Professor M.S.Rao is an international leadership guru and leadership educator, executive coach, speaker, and consultant. He has 33 years of experience and is the author of 30 books including 21 Success Sutras for Leaders ( that was selected as the Top 10 Leadership Books of the Year – 2013 by San Diego University. His vision is to build 1 million students as global leaders by 2030. He has been honored as an upcoming International Leadership Guru by Leadership Gurus International URL: and listed as one of the leading achievers around the world in Marquis Who’s Who in the World in 2013. He serves as an advisor and judge for several international organizations, including Global Leadership Awards, Malaysia. He received the International Coach of the Year 2013 Award from Comprehensive Coaching U, Inc. Professor Rao coined an innovative teaching tool called Meka’s Method; a leadership teaching tool, 11E Leadership Grid; and a new leadership tool called Soft Leadership Grid, based on his new leadership style, “Soft Leadership” copyrighted with Jossey Bass. He led a Webinar on Soft leadership organized by International Leadership Association ( A No.1 ranked speaker in India, reviews can be found at: Books can be found at: Most of his work is available free of charge in his three blogs and Contact him via e-mail at and follow him on Twitter at @professormsrao.


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