October 31, 2019

Book Short – You’re in Charge – Now What?

Thanks to my friend and long-time former Board member Jeff Epstein, I recently downed a new book, You’re in Charge – Now What?, by Thomas Neff and James Citrin.  I’m glad I read it.  But it was one of those business books that probably should have just been a Harvard Business Review article.  It’s best skimmed, with helpful short summaries at the end of every chapter that you could blow through quickly instead of hanging on every word. 

The authors’ 8-step plan is laid out as:

  1. Prepare yourself during the countdown
  2. Align expectations
  3. Shape your management team
  4. Craft your strategic agenda
  5. Start transforming culture
  6. Manage your board/boss
  7. Communicate
  8. Avoid common pitfalls

Ok fine, those make sense on the surface. Here are three things that really stood out for me from the book:

First, “working” before you’re officially working – the countdown period. I tried hard NOT to do this before I started at LRN, but I’m glad I did the things I did, and now, I wish I had done more. The most poignant phrase in the book is “scarce time available during your first hundred days.” That is an understatement. As my “to read” pile grows and grows and grows with no end in sight…I wish I had done more pre-work.

Second, remember that in every interaction, you are being evaluated as much as you are evaluating. And note that for many people, they will be thinking very critically, things like “do I want to work with this person…is he/she showing signs that he/she wants to work with me?” Yes, we all know as leaders, we live in a fishbowl. But I think that may be even more true during the first couple months on the job.

Finally, this phrase stood out for me: “Acknowledging and in some cases embracing your predecessor can sustain a sense of continuity within the organization and instill a sense of connectivity with employees’ shared past.” There is frequently a temptation to focus on things that need change, which invariably there are…and which invariably you will hear from people who are happy to find a willing new ear to listen to them. But this posture of acknowledge/embrace is especially true in my case, where my predecessor is the founder and 25-year CEO who continues on as our active chairman.

I know there are a ton of books like this on the market, and while I’ve only read this one, I’d say that if you’re starting a new CEO or executive-level job, this is a good one to at least skim to get some ideas.