Four discouraging remarks every new CEO will hear - and how to handle them as a leader

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 Written by L. Blake Harvey, founder of Lawrence Blake Group Int’l., New York-based corporate communications firm. Follow Blake on Twitter.


Newly appointed chief executive officers have a unique role to fill, with many challenges that will arise. During the first few months at your new post, the remarks you’ll most likely hear from your staff can be approached from a position of higher consciousness, or a more vulnerable and defensive position. It’s important to remember that as the CEO, you are the link between everything outside and inside your company. This means that it’s your responsibility to handle all possible situations as a leader, with clear goals in mind at all times. In this article, I’m sharing some of the remarks I’ve heard from my staff, as well as consistencies I’ve noticed from years of working with executives at all levels of an organization.

“You seem tired.”

This makes number one on our list because it’s the only remark that feels like a blow to your physical and mental endurance. You’re likely to hear this comment during your first few months, as you become acquainted with your responsibilities, staff, and corporate culture. This remark can come from a trusted ally, or a staff member that notices an honest mistake, or an instance of forgetfulness. Someone may notice the number of hours you’re putting in each day, and because of the high number, assumptions may be made about how much you can really handle. Or in extreme cases, a board member may even ask if you’re really able to handle the new role.

Whether you are exhausted or not, it’s important for you to portray an image of resilience, and most importantly, look refreshed and polished each day. When a CEO has even a mild reputation for being tired, or exhausted from work, it’s open season for those who wish to tarnish the image of the company or the executive. By having this image attached to your name, whenever there is a error made, or even a slowdown in sales, you’re vulnerable to being considered the reason for the fault, or at least having your exhaustion (whether true or not) being used against you.

Consider approaching this remark with a higher level of consciousness. Understand that when a leader is viewed as not competent for whatever reason, anxiety arises amongst the entire organization. Remind the person addressing you of your commitment to the organization, as well as the importance of being well-rested.

The truth is, if you’ve already heard this remark, it’s time for you to take some precautionary steps. First, consider doing anything you can to adjust your sleeping patterns to ensure you’re getting a good amount of sleep each and every night. Next, drink plenty of water, and try lemon water first thing in the morning and throughout the day. It’s refreshing and will help hydrate you. Dehydration is one of the main causes of puffy eyes, and is especially common first thing in the morning. Another tip is rose water, a natural anti-inflammatory and soothing treatment. For puffy eyes, soak two cotton balls in the rose water, then wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes or so, until chilled. Then remove the plastic and place the cotton balls over your eyes for 5-10 minutes. You can also simply dip two cotton balls in chilled rosewater.

“Do you think the board will approve that?”

During the first few months of joining a new organization, most CEOs are fresh with new ideas and methods to go about implementation. As an incoming leader, it’s easy to sometimes forget that there is a culture already set within an established organization, and it will take time to become acquainted with new practices. One common remark that new CEOs here is “Do you think the board will approve that?”. This may seem discouraging, as it’s understandable how a new leader may feel his or her ideas are important, and worth immediate implementation. However good the idea may be, hearing that your board of directors may or may not approve a decision puts a leader in a tough situation - and can discourage you from making or presenting bold decisions. Remind anyone who mentions this to you that you do think the board will approve your decision, because you know that the responsibility of the board is to vet major ideas and provide counsel to the CEO - not the other way around. As the CEO, you are leading your organization, and your board of directors are a tool to help you meet success, not intimidate you.

“This will never fail, I can guarantee you!”

We’ve heard (and maybe believed this) plenty of times before. But when you’re the leader of an organization, you’ve got to be more skeptical, and remember that there are very few things that you can 100% depend on. It may be best to remind the person who mentions this of how much you appreciate their support and dedication, and ask that they only make promises they can definitively keep. Keep in mind that there are exceptions, and some things are easy to promise - however, you don’t want your staff getting in the habit of just trying to please you with their words. It will always sound great to hear someone promise you that new account, or guarantee that something will be fixed immediately. Unfortunately, guarantees from employees can most certainly do more harm than good, if expectations aren’t managed appropriately.

“Our former CEO used to do things a bit differently.”

This can hurt a little, only because the underlying reference with a remark like this is that you’re stepping out into unchartered territory, and your staff is hesitant. If you dig a bit deeper, you’ll find that this kind of remark is actually very positive. Any new leader to an organization has, in fact, been hired to do things a bit differently. Your goal is to shake up your organization, and enact new policies and procedures that are going to excite and inspire your staff, and have an impact on your entire industry as a whole. When you hear your staff making references to a former CEO, silently note that you’re doing things right, and remind your staff of the importance of change. It may be a good idea at this point to also set aside time to detail your general plans for the organization to your staff, as comments about former CEOs may be a sign that they aren’t familiar with how you’re running the organization.