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6 Tips for New CEOs Seeking Buy-In from Their Teams

Remember your team members are humans — and remind them you are, too.

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BY Young Entrepreneur Council - 10 Oct 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It's been just over a month since ride-hailing giant Uber named a new CEO after months of turmoil led former chief executive Travis Kalanick to resign in June. But bringing in an outsider to take the top office isn't an easy transition for any company, especially if the existing team is not on board with new leadership.

The following six entrepreneurs share their top advice for how outside hires taking on the CEO role can get off on the right foot with maximum buy-in from their new teams.

 

Decide how much buy-in you can afford.

"In a company with substantial culture problems, a new CEO has to walk a very careful line," says Thursday Bram, editor of style manual The Responsible Communication Style Guide. If the company you're taking over has a less-than-stellar history, it may be best to start by communicating that things are going to have to change.

"You need enough respect and buy-in to guarantee the rest of the team will follow your lead, but stay distant enough from the culture that you can still demand change without seeming hypocritical," she adds.

 

Genuinely strive to make the company better.

If you've been offered the chief executive position, it's surely because someone has seen exceptional potential in your leadership abilities. But Syed Balkhi, co-founder of conversion rate optimization software OptinMonster, encourages focusing less on yourself and more on the good you can do.

"My best advice is to let go of your ego and genuinely strive to make the company (and, ultimately, the world) better," Balkhi says. "Don't look at this as a career move but as a way for you to make a positive difference in the lives of your customers and employees. When your employees realize you're coming from a good place, you will gain their respect and they will follow you."

 

Accept feedback and course correct.

If the company has been through some rough times of late, your team may need some extra reassurance that you are truly there to help. "Assure your team that your personal mission is to work for the success of the company -- and that you need their support," suggests David Henzel, co-founder of content delivery network MaxCDN.

"Bring a bold vision that will motivate them to follow your lead, but be flexible enough to accept feedback and course correct. Be honest with your team about the company's situation, and work together to stabilize it."

 

Learn the company culture.

"Coming in and trying to change all the rules will disrupt internal operations and often lower morale," says Patrick Barnhill, president of ID badge and accessory retailer Specialist ID, Inc. When your team has had years to get into a rhythm, shaking things up too much too soon can cause discord instead of excitement over the new regime.

"First learn how the inner workings of a company operate," Barnhill adds. "This way, you're able to recognize what works and what doesn't and then strategize a remedy that can be flawlessly implemented."

 

Be vulnerable.

Your employees are only human, and they'll likely think better of you if they can see that you are, too. That's why Lisa Curtis, CEO of moringa superfood company Kuli Kuli Inc., recommends not trying too hard to show strength at the expense of vulnerability.

"So often, CEOs want to prove they have all the answers," she says. "What I've found in navigating tricky moments in my startup's history is that, when you start by acknowledging you have a lot to learn, employees are more likely to respond with empathy and collaborate with you to help move the company forward."

 

Lead by example.

"Successful leaders aren't scared of rolling up their sleeves and getting dirty," notes Scott Baxter, CEO of golf lesson booking service PlayYourCourse. After all, if you're not willing to put in the real work to make the company successful, why should your team members?

"If you're the new CEO of a swimming pool company, you need to get in the hole and dig for a few days to show your team how it's done. It's still critical to showcase passion and a strong work ethic and to lead by example."