Nine strategies for CEO success


Australian Financial Review | June 10, 2021

The Australian Financial Review article, "Nine strategies for CEO success," quoted Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Stephen Langton on his best CEO tips and strategies. The article is excerpted below.

The CEO role is like no other, so perhaps it is not surprising that so many crash and burn. Too many fail to grasp the nature of the job, fail to listen and learn, fail to shed their biases and keep their ego in check and think culture is easy.

This week, BOSS asks four of the country’s top executive coaches and advisers, who work behind the scenes for ASX 100 leaders, their top tips for setting CEOs up for success.


2. Talk to the board about the support you need

“Success has a little to do with your competence,” says Stephen Langton, leadership adviser at executive search firm Russell Reynolds. “It’s mostly to do with the conditions in place that let you use that competence.”


A key condition of CEO success is maintaining trust between the chief executive and the board. Langton says CEOs need to establish with the board a set of ground rules to cement mutual trust between directors and management so that meetings are supportive rather than adversarial.

“Right now, management goes into the board meeting and it’s like a mini royal commission,” Langton says. “Management feels like they’re under scrutiny. Boards are asking micro questions. ‘Have you thought of this?’ The intent of the board is good, but the impact is: ‘The board is just out to catch us. Board doesn’t trust us.’”

To be successful, Langton says, CEOs need to talk to the board about how management will demonstrate that they are trustworthy, such as by being transparent, by communicating regularly and by promising there will be no surprises.

“No surprises. It’s a simple rule,” Langton says. The quid pro quo is that meetings will become less of an interrogation and more constructive.


5. Be self-aware – and remove the pressure on yourself

CEOs who are egocentric and derive too much of their identity from their job are more likely to find the job difficult.

CEOs who have failed to keep their ego in check are likely to think that they are solely responsible for a company’s success – and failure. That is a huge amount of pressure for someone to put on themselves.

Egocentric CEOs are more likely to believe that the bigger the company they lead, the more important they are and so the greater the requirement for them to be a strong leader – and the more pressure they place on themselves.

“They think they’re managing these very large organisations, whereas in fact they’re managing seven people,” Langton says. “They are ambassadors and role models for thousands of people.”

6. Under-promise and over-deliver​

And forget the five-year strategy, Langton says: “We are encouraging CEOs to stop the indulgence of saying: ‘Here’s our five-year plan.’ How on earth do you know?” Rather, he says, CEOs should have a five-year ambition, for which the rationale is properly spelled out.

Long-term plans or strategies, he says, rarely come to fruition. It’s better, says Langton, to tell stakeholders the direction in which the company is going, recognising that plans will need to be adapted as circumstances change.

To access the article, click here​.

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Nine strategies for CEO success