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Chief Executive Officers

New CEOs Show Their Genuine Side to Win Over Employees in a Virtual World

Highlights from a recent digital gathering with new external successor Chief Executive Officers, hosted by Egon Zehnder

  • October 2020

New, external successor Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) are capitalizing on certain advantages of virtual communication and employing authenticity and openness to intensify relationships with existing stakeholders, they reveal to Egon Zehnder in a recent digital gathering.

It’s an entirely unprecedented situation: months after assuming the mantle of leadership, many new CEOs are only now meeting employees for the first time in person in a world still reeling from the repercussions of COVID-19.

Despite these changing and constricting circumstances, many CEOs feel more connected with internal stakeholders than ever. Innovative strategies, such as small group meetings, virtual site visits and randomly selecting people for regular virtual coffee mornings are ensuring a different and deeper reach into the layers of organizations, and providing “phenomenal” new insights, says one CEO. “In terms of engagement, I actually find this situation better. You really have time to engage with people on a one-to-one basis, rather than having to travel and trying to engage with numerous people. I feel I’m doing a better job than my predecessor in creating those one-to-one relationships.”

Likewise, Zoom and other virtual gatherings are often proving to be a more efficient way of connecting with external stakeholders, such as investors, investment banks and the wider business community outside the business, CEOs tell Egon Zehnder.

Limits to a virtual world

There are limits to the virtues of virtual communication, however. For example, Zoom meetings are plain tiring, they find, as new CEOs are placed permanently under scrutiny on screen, with every nuance and characteristic exaggerated. Introducing personnel changes also becomes more challenging. Many new CEOs are now eager to introduce fundamental change as they move on to the next strategic level yet are hesitating to overhaul their existing team. The question they’re asking is: how long should they wait to take on the right people and how much should they re-create the company if they haven’t got the right people on board yet?

Be your true self

Ultimately, the best way to counter the drawbacks of virtual communication is to show your authentic side, including details of your personal life and life outside work, CEOs tell Egon Zehnder.

Overall, authenticity, openness and trust are proving to be vital characteristics for CEOs right now as they adapt to an increasingly digital environment. “We’re not real on screen – we’re virtual people and if we’re not us, it’ll do way more harm. You’ve got to be you,” summarizes one leader.

Equally, new CEOs shouldn’t try to emulate their predecessor but remain true to themselves. “Someone has decided that I have the right character for the job, so I’d better establish that rather than try to be either different, better or worse than the previous person,” says one CEO. Above all, CEOs should avoid negating a company’s past by implying that everything old is bad, and everything new is brilliant, as that isn’t energizing for those people who grew up in the company and simply portrays leaders in a bad light.

New CEOs may be taking over in a challenging, new world but authentic leadership can help them build up honest relationships and enable them to reach out to employees, regardless of the digital barriers in place. By being genuine, self-aware, and transparent, leaders – regardless of however long they’ve been the role, can promote a culture of openness and renew motivation among the ranks.


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