My CEO Experience — reflections

Authenticity is hard

  • Be your goofy/funny/weird whole self at work — when I did, it was better. I’m sure some found my ‘manual of me’ quite weird to receive from a new CEO, but it helped me be authentic.
  • Actively disavow other people’s perceptions. See them, note them, don’t let them into your soul unless you agree with them
  • Lean into your aptitudes and don’t be shy of your preferences. I re-started doing hasty sketches instead of descriptive emails, for example.
  • Don’t let your insecurities about what a CEO should be stop you being you. Don’t imbibe media/film nonsense (You don’t have to run every meeting, you don’t have to make every decision). Your accountabilities are described — how you strive to achieve them is just your style.
  • Be consistent in your self across all fora. When a staff member comes to a Board meeting, they should see you are exactly the same person as in the office. (I remember putting on a tie for a Board meeting at Museums Victoria. I’d never do that now — tie all day, or no tie all day.)
CEO Starter kit

Identity eats evidence for breakfast

  • go slow
  • develop the stories with the people who disagree
  • emotionally connect with the superfans first by connecting with the origins
  • celebrate the history
  • build the evolving story out of the past — make it a new chapter not a new novel
  • go slower. no, slower than that

Questioning yourself is reasonable but don’t overdo it.

Skills and knowledge don’t matter as much as you think. Values and reliability matter much much more than you think.

Change is hard, takes ages and is fragile & that’s outside CEO control

Aligning culture, purpose and systems is the superpower

  • Redesigned the financial codings so we could isolate and study different parts of the organisation
  • Changed the filing structure when migrating to the cloud to align with the finance structure (not individual’s names!)
    (Job 300, 301 etc are the Comms department in the finance system. 300 Communications is the folder name on the server)
Keeping all staff aware of all outgoing comms

It’s really hard to change a culture of overwork

  • lunchtimes! set your slack status to the noodle bowl and take your hour (management team were better at this than me!)
  • assert lack of capacity; “I won’t get to this until next week”
  • Wellness Days: during the worst of the pandemic lockdowns, we instituted 9-day fortnights
  • Frequent talk about flexitime / time-shifting not meaning overwork — the fact that that one member of staff chooses to work evenings because they picked kids up from school at 3.30 does not mean you have to log on at 9pm to respond
  • Time Off In Lieu recorded and granted
  • Vaccinations happened in work time, not taken as sick leave.
  • Being really clear in Board reports ‘this won’t get done because we do not have staff capacity’ — and it was on me to wear Board disappointment with lack of progress

Stepwise problem solving — the nightmare of CRMs

Consultants, used judiciously, are useful but arouse a bizarre dislike

Boards are make-or-break for an organisation

  • every other staff meeting we would have a Board attendee, and every Board meeting would have a staff member do a ‘What do i do?’ presentation/discussion
  • Staff Liaison Group — two people selected by staff — would attend all People and Culture sub-committee meetings. They’d gather staff thoughts before the meeting, to give a report on how staff were going. This was immensely helpful in navigating COVID wellbeing issues
  • I shared all Board papers with staff (redacted for any personal info such as salaries) and took questions. So every strategy paper, every Constitutional update assessment, was public to staff.
  • Expect your Board to steer using time as the lens
  • You have one Board, not 7–12 line managers. Individual members have voice and agency, but they don’t actually have authority. The good ones know that and will never instruct you. But when they warn you you’re doing it wrong — listen and change before the whole Board asks for a meeting without coffee.
  • Learn who’s useful to you for what issue. Comms? Legal? Something technical? Call them, get a steer, move forward. Don’t bring everything to the entire Board
  • Assume you have agency and get on with it. I spent too long in my first months hesitating and checking, which an experienced CEO wouldn’t have done. You’re in charge. So charge.

The energy sector is very very white-cis-straight


Postscript: Would I do it again?




Purpose first, then developing people, culture and systems to better deliver. Formerly @reneworgau, @acmi @museumsvictoria @railwaymuseum @NHM_London. he/him

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Paul Bowers

Paul Bowers

Purpose first, then developing people, culture and systems to better deliver. Formerly @reneworgau, @acmi @museumsvictoria @railwaymuseum @NHM_London. he/him

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