senior executives

Last month McKinsey & Company published a report revealing the challenges facing many CEOs today. McKinsey invited over 75 chief executives and board chairs from North America, Europe and Asia to a forum of shared advice, concerns and experiential learning. Although most meetings were off the record, the report covers highlights from open sessions where senior executives spoke candidly about their challenges.

Leading at the top and technology

According to McKinsey, two recurring themes echo the same issues brought forth at previous forums:

    • How to manage the earliest stages in the top job
    • How to keep informed about the accelerated rate of technology

Both carry additional baggage:

  • Top job – make changes early versus wait and see
  • Technology – preparing for the inevitable disruption companies face

Taking the reins during the first 100 days

Although many participants described becoming CEO as a life-changing event, the similarity ends there. The actual experience is extraordinarily diverse, notably throughout the first 100 days or even the first year. Several senior CEOs advocated the early burst approach with “quick wins and some fresh insights.”

Many emphasized the importance of replacing the management team with new members for fine-tuning with fresh skills and different energy levels. One leader made the point that his appointments were primarily internal to address the need for change while maintaining stability.

Some experienced participants endorsed a listen and learn period of assessment and reflection with time spent:

  • Getting to know employees
  • Communicating with individual board members to build their support

Under the microscope

Participants unanimously agreed that particularly during the first 100 days, there was intense scrutiny of everything the new CEO touched, said or did. One anonymous leader said emphatically, “…you have to cut through that by sometimes showing your vulnerability, your humanity, and your willingness to connect. You have to overcommunicate.”

How technology is changing the job of the CEO

The second big challenge is technology – not what would seem to be the daunting task of keeping up with it but determining relevancy. One participant suggested, that the CEO must be “clear about your priorities,” or the risk is incessantly reading reports that only create more confusion.

Although several leaders suggested board involvement was an obvious route to navigating the complexities of the digital age, there was clear acknowledgement of the need to make boards more technologically savvy.

Internally crowdsource ideas using digital-communication platforms

There was widespread agreement on finding new ways to use technology for listening to and engaging with employees. “Lead with your ears, follow with your mouth,”said one CEO.


Claudio Feser, senior partner in McKinsey’s Zurich office and author of the report wrote; “Only by first understanding the uniqueness of his or her situation can a new leader decide on the course of action that makes sense.” This holds true for both the transitional period following appointment and decisions about technology.

As coaches, our role is to remind senior executives that very close examination of every activity is inevitable. To build trust, CEOs and top leaders must connect with people constantly and consistently – at every organizational level.