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Joe had only been in the group for a few months, but he already recognized the wisdom in the room.  Without a burning issue this month, Joe asked the group: “What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned in your time as CEO?  What key pieces of advice do you have for a new CEO?” 

The group sat in silence for a few minutes trying to recall their own uneasiness when they first found themselves at the helm.  What were some of their own assumptions in those early days?  What things took them a while to figure out?  What pain could they help Joe avoid?  What part of the learning curve could they accelerate for him?

Cindy jumped in first.  “I started my career as an engineer.  I worked my way up into management, but always in either development or operations. I did not have an MBA and was never trained to run a business.”  “C’mon, Cindy, why would you want an MBA?” asked smart-aleck Charlie. “MBA’s just want to start at the top and boss everyone else!”  Those with MBAs in the room chuckled knowing Charlie was just trying to get a rise out of them. (Charlie cannot pass up an opportunity to make a smart-assed remark!) 

Cindy cleared her throat to signal Charlie to pipe down and continued: “Really, I was never trained to run a business.  I’d never taken any accounting classes.  What really helped me was relying heavily on the CFO; she was a great mentor.  First, I had to humble myself and admit I needed help. and then was thankful that my CFO was gracious enough to mentor me without making me feel stupid.  I also took an accounting course for non-financial execs. That helped as well.  So identify the areas in which your knowledge is inadequate, then shore those up with mentors and executive courses.  Stay away from experts who just want you to know how smart they are, but have no empathy for your situation.”

“A class that really helped me was on negotiations,” added Scott.  “Consider that.”

Jack went next: “I underestimated the importance of culture.  COVID really impacted our culture; we can’t seem to get the old culture back.  I’m afraid it’s gone forever ☹.  My advice is to continuously pay attention to the culture.  Put processes and systems in place to do your best to obtain / maintain the culture you want.  As Don always says, ‘Every organization has a culture … it’s either by design or by default.’”  Charlie gags … such words of wisdom from Don 🤮

A few others chimed in.  Wendi just had a short piece of advice: “Make sure you stay in touch with your customers.  Meet regularly with different customers; don’t delegate that to marketing & sales alone.”

Then George offered his advice: “Make good decisions quickly; don’t wait to make the ‘perfect’ decision.  Make a good decision and take action.  If you later learn that the decision can be improved, improve it.  Don’t let your pride force you to stick with a decision when you realize it can be improved.”  Charlie was stumped … he had no smart-ass comment to add to that!

Linda went last.  She said, “This may not seem significant, but don’t underestimate the impact your title has.  You’ve always been ‘one of the guys’; you still think of yourself that way, but they don’t.  There’s been a change and they see you differently now.” Linda proceeded with an example. “I had made what I thought was an off-handed comment in the hallway about the server being slow … then was surprised when two days later got a req for a new server!  There’s no such thing as an off-handed comment for the CEO!”

There were a few more suggestions as everyone chimed in at least once.  Joe was silent, yet grateful.  He sat there processing and contemplating the words of wisdom he had just received from his peers.


 If you’ve ever faced a situation like this, found yourself feeling a bit lonely at the top and/or wanting to get feedback / confirmation from trusted colleagues, yet had no inner circle of trusted confidantes, no wise Lisa who’s “been there, done that” to turn to, this is your chance to give Inner Circle CEO Peer Groups a try.

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Who has been your greatest source of advice / wisdom?

  • My parents
  • My best friend
  • A school counselor
  • A mentor at work who took me under their wing
  • Personal / family counselor / therapist
  • A business consultant (Pick this … $10 gift card from Don if you pick this 😁)
  • Other