How to Navigate the First 90 Days as CEO

Leadership Associations Now September/October 2015 By: Kristin Clarke, CAE

Beth Brooks, CAE, author of The New CEO's Guide, says new CEOs must focus on three things in their first three months on the job: prioritizing goals for success, assessing staff knowledge, and understanding the organization's culture.

New association CEOs must focus on three things in their first three months: prioritizing goals for success, as identified by and agreed to with the board of directors; assessing staff knowledge and abilities; and understanding the organization's culture.

By executing these actions well, says Beth Brooks, CAE, chief executive of the Texas Society of Association Executives and author of The New CEO's Guide, leaders can avoid common mistakes such as underestimating the time needed to build a relationship with the board, especially its chair.

"If you understand the processes and governance, you will have a much easier time in your first CEO role," she says.

But that alone doesn't ensure smooth sailing. "When a staff person moves into the top job, it can be tricky to understand what to keep as status quo and, if changes are wanted by the board, how to make the most efficient transition," Brooks says. "There are differences between a staff professional moving up in the same association and a staff person coming into a new CEO role with a different association. You need to know what you're walking into."

She cautions against adopting profound changes quickly unless the organization is in crisis mode. "If the board has hired you as a turnaround agent, you need [a] plan for assessing the association and staff," says Brooks. "Be upfront with staff about the timeline and outline your process."

Don't underestimate the power of "soft skills," such as flexibility and time management, either. "Soft skills will make or break a new CEO," Brooks says. "My best advice is to learn the culture of the organization. Ask questions and listen."

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Secrets for New CEOs."]

Kristin Clarke, CAE

Kristin Clarke, CAE, is president of Clarke Association Content and is the books columnist for Associations Now.