Lessons for a new leader from King Charles

A lot of people wait a long time for a leadership position, though few as long as King Charles.

Most importantly, new CEOs and new Kings alike will quickly discover that no matter how much thought and planning they’ve put into what they will do, they can never fully prepare.

Partly, this is because you can never fully model what it will be like and feel like to have the full responsibilities of leadership, but it’s also because circumstances around leadership transitions are rarely predictable.

Take another recent new leader, Liz Truss. She had weeks during the Conservative leadership contest to figure out what she’d do during her first 100 days – as politicians and chief executives have done since Franklin Roosevelt – but events radically changed the complexion of her early time in office.

There are some things that any new leader should bear in mind during their first few days, weeks and months. Much of it is around building a strong team, auditing the organisation’s strategy and investing in your leadership skills.

But some of it relates to something simpler, yet for many still surprisingly difficult: establishing a connection with people. Here are three ways King Charles has done that, providing an excellent example to new leaders everywhere.

Walk the floor

The King has not been holed up in a castle somewhere, living it up. During a time of intense personal grief, he was extremely busy, meeting people, talking to them and crucially being seen.

A new CEO should do the same. People are nervous when there’s a new leader, who may or may not bring in changes that can affect them in meaningful ways. Being visible, and being interested in others, listening to them, can send a powerful signal of reassurance.

Establish intent

While it’s not always a good idea to launch into a barrage of changes the moment you take over – this is also a time for learning about the organisation – it’s also important to show that you will have your own style and agenda.

King Charles has some big shoes to fill, and he is emphasising continuity, but he has also made it clear from some of his early actions that some things will be different. He’d already established that he would open up royal palaces to the public upon accession, and that the royal family would be ‘slimmed down’ to a tighter group of working members.

Have a message

People will rapidly form an idea not just of what the new person at the top is like, but what they stand for. A new leader should attempt to control that narrative themselves, by making clear their values and purpose.

In the case of the new monarch, his message isn’t dramatically different from his mother’s, but he has emphasised it repeatedly: continuity, duty, service and inclusivity.

The details can follow, but when people know your values, have a chance to see you and believe you are listening to them, then they will be much more willing to work with you rather than seeing you as an interloper.

The last thing to say is that while the King may have had little choice about taking his role, the same is rarely true of a chief executive. This matters, because one of the most important things a CEO can do to improve their chances of having a successful start, particularly when they’re new to the business, is making sure the role is the right fit for them, and vice versa.

A bad fit – for skills, temperament and most importantly values – cannot be compensated for by ticking off best practice leadership behaviours. For the leader, it will just mean aggravation, failure and a waste of time that they could have spent somewhere they would excel. For the business, it will usually inflict unnecessary change and uncertainty on the team before the board realises its mistake. This is of course why the initial search process is so important, to avoid a right royal mess.

Share this Article

Growth and Leadership

We demystify challenges by fresh thinking and seeking continual improvement. Browse our content here.

We demystify challenges by fresh thinking and seeking continual improvement. Browse our content here.