CEO succession is in the air.

British Petroleum, Morgan Stanley, Qatar Airways, Costco, PayPal, and TGI Fridays are all currently undergoing high-profile CEO transitions.

As I discussed in a recent Crash Report for my Managing the Future newsletter, a bad CEO succession process can spell doom for a company, even when things are going well. 

Generally, then, what core principles should a new CEO keep in mind when taking the reins of a large enterprise?

My top three:

1. You’re instantly responsible for everything.

Starting 8:00 a.m. on your first day as CEO, you own everything—all the company’s processes, problems, decisions, and outcomes. That includes the ones you’re just finding out about and didn’t have anything to do with. Welcome to the dilemma at the core of the CEO job: responsibility without total control. It’s going to take a long time to master the balance. To start, avoid any hint of passing the buck or assigning blame.

2. Never speak ill of your predecessor.

Only speak positively of the previous CEO, if you have to speak of them at all.

3. Don’t be afraid to change things.

If you’re lucky enough to take over a thriving company, it’s tempting to let things coast. You may want to adopt the same approach as the previous guy or gal and assume things are running well under the hood.

But that’s what I call being a Follower Leader. Future success won’t come from letting inertia carry things forward. A good CEO, by definition, has a vision, one he or she personally owns. You don’t have to jump in and change things just for the sake of changing things, but I would be suspicious of a new CEO who changes nothing.

The Financial Times has a good piece on this dilemma as it relates to new CEO Ted Pick. I recommend reading that piece here.

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