This is the third of three blog posts offering you timeless steps for getting off to a good start with your own leadership onboarding program. Part One covers 1) leader listening and 2) communicating. Part Two covers 3) setting a leadership agenda, 4) building shared leadership with the Board chair, and 5) educating volunteers. 

  1. Make Allowances to Take Care of Yourself

An HBR Working Knowledge article on “The Seven Things That Surprise New CEOs” stated, “Most new chief executives are taken aback by the unexpected and unfamiliar new roles, the time and information limitations, and the altered professional relationships they run up against.”  That’s normal, and likely true for any scenario—from a brand new external CEO to one promoted from within or hired from the professional field of the members.photo1_3

  • Create a safe spot for yourself with a mentor or trusted colleague who is not a member of your staff or association. Consider hiring a coach or forming an inner circle of advisors or mastermind group.
  • Connect with CEO peers from other organizations.
  • Be realistic about what is strategic and important, even if it isn’t urgent. There will always be more excellent ideas than capacity. A big part of your job is ensuring that you and your board articulate—and regularly assess—clear strategic priorities. That is the filter that will guide decisions about resource allocation and new programs. Create some space and budget for taking advantage of unexpected opportunities. 
  • Keep everything in perspective. Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, says he is often asked, “Knowing what you know, what advice would you give to a new CEO?”  In his response, he offers these “seven truths”:
  1. Your position is not your identity.
  2. Your position is temporary not permanent.
  3. Your position is a privilege not a right.
  4. Your position is about faithfulness not achievement.
  5. Your position is about them not you.
  6. Your position is about stewardship not ownership.
  7. Your position will require more than you can provide on your own.
  1. Maintain your Healthphoto2_3

Arguably, this item should be at the very top of the list. Maintaining your health—physical, mental, and spiritual—is the foundation for everything you do. Push for a routine that will transcend the chaos of your hectic days and erratic travel schedule. If possible, multiply the benefits by including family or friends in your healthy habits.

Finally, if you’re in this for the long haul, pay serious attention to balance and the things that are important to you personally. You’ll improve your work performance, strengthen your personal and business relationships, and minimize the risk of burnout.

In Conclusion

Mike Krezyzewski, the iconic Duke University coach with the most wins in NCAA Division I men’s basketball history, said that “leadership is an ever-evolving position.” Your journey as a new CEO will be one of the most challenging and rewarding times of your career. Future blog posts will continue to provide resources and tips of benefit to new CEOs.  


This is the third in a series of three blog posts that will provide you with timeless steps from our collective experience and that of other experts, for getting off to a good start with your own onboarding program. Here are links to Part I and Part II

The authors: Alan Davis, Jolene Knapp, and Deb Nystrom are senior partners at Ideas for Action, LLC—a consulting practice that is driven by a passion to empower the potential of people and organizations. Their collective experience includes association, non-profit, and higher education leadership, governance, and management; organizational development; strategic planning; and executive coaching.

Future blogs will address above-mentioned functions in more detail. Other topics to be addressed will include:

  • Management of finances,  
  • “It’s not too soon to think about your second contract”, “
  • The value of professional involvement and networks,
  • Successful management of the relationship between board and staff,
  • Managing disputes between board members, and
  • How to keep your ego in check.

Photos by Deb Nystrom

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