Meet the New Boss: After Losing Your CEO, 3 Ways to Keep Your Job

November 2019
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It happens regularly to the talented professionals who run communications for large organizations: An established CEO leaves. A successor comes aboard, and the first thing the new leader wants to see is his or her familiar, loyal employee installed at your desk instead of you.

But even if you’re closely identified with the outgoing leader, being laid off or reassigned don’t have to be foregone conclusions.

Over more than two decades of providing executive communications support, I’ve worked through multiple leadership transitions. Sometimes I kept my job; sometimes I didn’t. But in the process, I identified three strategies for becoming invaluable to the new boss. Perhaps you can use them when you face your own C-suite turmoil.

1. Demonstrate how you will enact the new leader’s agenda.

The new CEO will likely change the organization’s agenda and priorities. Your job is to understand those orders and embrace them, fast. Once you grasp the new direction, put on your strategic hat and devise six actions that you can recommend to support it.

Send a clear signal that you understand what the new CEO wants and why, that you’re already on board and dedicated to helping realize those goals. 

In the best-case scenario, you’ll get a meeting on the CEO’s calendar, invest some time beforehand into writing a memo or deck, and then walk him or her through your ideas. In doing so, you will dispel any doubts that the new CEO may have about your willingness to change course. You’ll also demonstrate initiative by being the first to ask for face time with the new boss. Moreover, you’ll send an implicit message: “If I can help you this much, and this creatively, before you’ve even enlisted me, imagine what I can do for you as your trusted partner later on.”

2. Show you’re watching out for the new leader.

If the new CEO arrives from outside the organization, then you have an advantage. He or she probably doesn’t know the political landscape of your company. But you do. 

You know the organization’s unspoken norms, biases and tendencies. You know how customers, employees, investors and other stakeholders respond to the CEO’s messages. Perhaps most important, you have witnessed blowups within the company and can protect your new CEO from stepping on landmines.

Share your insights in meetings and conversations. But if the new CEO suggests something that you know his predecessor tried and it didn’t work, have the courage to speak up and call the idea a non-starter. Use your knowledge of the organization’s culture to suggest ways in which the idea can work. Convey the message that you want your new leader to succeed, that you’re activating all your skills and experience to be an advocate and supportive partner. 

3. Make the new CEO’s first days special.

Show that you have empathy for what the new CEO will face in his or her first days on the job. Along with enjoying the best office and executive perks, CEOs also have high expectations to meet. He or she will likely need to implement new policies, extinguish brushfires and court or ease aside reluctant subordinates.

From the start, the CEO faces professional risk by being held accountable for all of his decisions and results. 

Honor these realities. Let the CEO know you’re pulling for them before they even accept the job, if possible. (If you have the opportunity to interview the prospective CEO during an evaluation period, do so supportively, with the heart of a partner.) 

Once he or she is installed in the top seat, show that you understand and support this new leader. Volunteer to draft Q-and-A’s that will help the incoming CEO handle important early meetings or media interviews with confidence.

Outside of the Supreme Court, few jobs come with lifetime tenure. When your organization inevitably changes CEOs, follow these three tips to win over your new boss and become part of his or her leadership team. 

photo credit: e+

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