Surviving Your New CEO

Last Updated Nov 7, 2007 3:31 PM EST


The Idea in Brief

When a new CEO arrives, most senior executives
worry about their jobs. Rightly so: chances are high
they'll soon find themselves out the door. Worse,
they're likely to land in a lower position or work in a
smaller firm.

How to avoid these fates? Accept that many new
CEOs make people decisions within 60 days—so first
impressions count, say Kevin Coyne and Edward Coyne, Sr.
If you want to stay, let your new chief know you're
ready to be on the team, and ask how you can help
realize his vision. Then demonstrate your support
through additional means—such as mirroring his working
style and presenting an honest game plan for your area
of responsibility.

The danger of being pushed out by a new CEO is
real. But so are the opportunities—if you swiftly
establish your value when the new chief
arrives.

The Idea in Practice

The authors suggest these strategies for making a
good first impression on your new CEO:


Show Your Goodwill


Absent strong signals from you, the new CEO will
draw his own conclusions about your views. Take the
initiative to talk about your responsibilities with him
and your willingness to help him realize his
vision.


Leave Your Baggage at the Door


Don't burden the new chief with talk about any
aspects of your own agenda—including your compensation,
long-term plans at the company, or conflicts with other
executives. And counsel your spouse to be scrupulously
politic about your agenda.


Study the New CEO's Working Style


It's difficult to discern your new boss's
proclivities through observation. Ask about them
directly.

One plainspoken executive who gossips predicted would be
an early casualty of the new regime asked his CEO how she wanted
him to disagree with her. Specifically, "What kinds of
facts—frontline stories or statistics—cause you to change your
mind? Can I disagree in public or only in private? If I fail to
convince you of my case, should I try again or just accept your
decision?" He prospered throughout her 12-year
tenure.


Understand the CEO's Agenda


The new chief's fate depends heavily on the
company's stock performance during his first year of
tenure. So, provide constructive suggestions about
actions he can take quickly to increase shareholder
value.

Also confirm your understanding of the CEO's
agenda directly with him. Don't rely solely on talking
with board members about their possible directives for
the new leader.


Present a Realistic and Honest Game
Plan


Don't sugarcoat strategic plans for your
division. A too-rosy report might make your boss ask
herself, "Who are you trying to kid?" If you don't show
the negatives, she may suspect that you don't know them
or that you'll try to hide things from her.


Be on Your "A" Game


Secure face time with your new boss. The best way
is to take on a special project in which you must
interact extensively with him over a short period of
time. He'll appreciate spending time with you. And if
his initial impressions of you were less than stellar,
you might be able to turn his feelings
around.


Offer Objective Options


Objectively explain previous budgeting decisions
for your division, the rationale behind them, and how
your new CEO's priorities might warrant a reassessment
of some of those choices. You'll help the boss translate
her vision into tangible decisions.


Copyright 2007 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.


Further Reading


Articles

Seven Surprises for New CEOs

Harvard Business Review

October 2004

by Michael E. Porter, Jay W. Lorsch, and Nitin Nohria


Written as a guide for first-time CEOs, this
article can help you grasp the challenges facing
your new boss. The more you know about your boss's
needs, the more effectively you can plan to help
him. And that leads to job security for you. Novice
CEOs soon realize 1) they have little control over
the company's internal operations, 2) overruling
senior managers' thoughtful decisions erodes their
confidence, 3) others withhold bad news, 4) their
every move is scrutinized, 5) they're not the boss;
the board of directors is, 6) shareholders may favor
actions that don't always strengthen the company's
long-term competitive position, and 7) it's
difficult to stay humble in the C-suite.


The Leadership Team: Complementary Strengths or Conflicting Agendas?

Harvard Business Review

April 2007

by Stephen A. Miles and Michael D. Watkins


Here's another way to survive your new CEO:
determine how you can best complement his or her
strengths. Leadership teams are most effective when
members play complementary roles along some or all
of these dimensions: 1) Task
definition:
divide responsibilities into
blocks; for example, the CEO manages the external
environment while you manage internal issues. 2)
Cognitive strengths: if your CEO
excels at creating and communicating compelling
visions and breakthrough strategies, see if you can
drive execution through tactical brilliance and
follow-through. 3) Role definition: if
the new chief is skilled at inspiring employees with
his vision, complement his role by providing the
operational discipline that will help employees
implement that vision.