Posted Online: March 25, 2013, 8:12 pm
Taking over from a demoted leader
Comment on this story
By Joan Lloyd
I am excited about a new position I have accepted. I will be the president of a manufacturing firm, which is a part of an international organization. The firm has had some difficult years, and I have been hired as part of a turnaround.
The former president is excellent at sales and has many strong and valuable connections with our customers. He was not, however, good at operations and whole-system decision-making. As a result, he is going to be removed from his job.
There is going to be a meeting of the chairman and this former president and the former president is going to be allowed to stay--but in a sales leader role, which reports to me.
This could be a difficult situation for everyone involved. He is likely to be embarrassed. His former employees, who will now be his peers, will feel awkward, and I will be in a difficult position as well.
This company is in a small town and everyone knows the former president and his family. He is a "big name" in the community, which also complicates things.
If he does choose to stay with the company, do you have any suggestions about how to position this for everyone involved?
The chairman is not going to have much patience with him if he causes trouble for me or others, and yet I'd like him to be able to contribute in a meaningful way. I hear he is a nice guy, but that is about all I know right now.
Congratulations (I think)!
Obviously, you are in a sensitive situation, but the good news is that you hold most of the cards. How you play them, however, will set the stage for the level of respect and credibilty you can establish now and in the future.
If the former president opts to stay, it has to be under certain circumstances and expectations. The chairman (and you) need to make sure he can manage his ego enough to not undermine you or retire on the job.
On the flip side, you and the chairman need to take steps so that he can save face with the organization and the community. Without this agreement, I don't hold out much hope that this will work.
Once the chairman has made clear his new role, and assuming he accepts, you need to have a three-way meeting to discuss expectations with you in the room. Then you'd be wise to have a separate meeting with him alone, to see how he is really feeling, and to try to get some private commitment to what the two of you need to do going forward.
One idea is to have the former president make the announcement to the organization about his "choice" to take on a new role. He could explain that it is his decision to focus on sales, since that is his passion.
He could also assert his support for you as the new president. This would go a long way toward helping him save face and at the same time signal his support for you. Even though many people will be able to read between the lines, it gives him a positive story.
If he is getting closer to retirement age, it could be positioned as a transition phase, so he can still support the organization but allow him to focus more on outside, community organizations and personal interests.
The primary success factor in this situation is the past president's ability to adjust to his new role. Since he is a "nice guy" he may be able to say all the right words but in the end his ego may get the best of him. As with many situations I've seen in the past, the results depend on him.
The only situations like this that I've seen work, are the situations where the individual decides he likes the company, doesn't want to move, can maintain his dignity and still make a contribution in a job that is truly a better fit for him.
He will also need the support of his spouse and family--so their public and private comments and behavior need to be in alignment as they interact with people in the community.
If he does accept the position, make sure you are introduced to the customers he is close to, so if it doesn't work, you aren't left in the lurch.
Stay direct and transparent with him, so he can develop trust in what you say and do. He is likely to feel vulnerable and wounded, so being absolutely straightforward is essential to building a relationship.
The rest of the team and the organization will be watching how you and the company handle this. Treating him with respect and dignity but holding him accountable will help you build a loyal team that will help you turn around the company. Good luck!
Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee-based executive coach, organizational & leadership development strategist. Email your question to Joan at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit www.JoanLloyd.com to search an archive of more than 1400 of Joan’s articles.