How To Save Your Job Essay

737 words - 3 pages

In 1978 many observers considered Ford Motor president Lee Iacocca the obvious candidate for the CEO position that Henry Ford II would shortly vacate. Iacocca, of course, not only didn’t get the position but was fired. In explaining why he cut Iacocca loose, Ford famously remarked, “Sometimes you just don’t like somebody.”

In my work I’ve seen this dynamic time and time again. If the current CEO doesn’t like you or doesn’t want you to get the job, you probably won’t get it.

It’s critical for CEO candidates to maintain the trust and full support of the current CEO. If you can’t do this, perhaps you should look for another job. This may seem simple and obvious, but I’ve seen several executives derail their careers by making avoidable blunders with their CEOs. One that I witnessed involved a series of e-mails between a potential CEO and a friend inside the company. The first e-mail to the friend provided an elaborate description of “why the current ...view middle of the document...

” As heir, you have to strike a delicate balance between projecting your readiness to be CEO and conveying your loyalty and support for the current regime. There is a fine line between an assertive leader and a cocky candidate.

A CEO candidate also can do everything right but not get the job because the CEO never intended to promote him or her in the first place. I saw this happen when I was asked to coach one CFO for the top job. The CEO had told the CFO that he would become the new chief executive if he improved his interpersonal skills. The CFO was assured that all his technical and functional skills—including those in marketing—were fine. I coached the CFO for a year, and at the end a report from 15 of his colleagues documented a dramatic improvement in his social skills. The CEO nonetheless denied his promotion because, he said, the CFO “lacked the marketing skills needed to do the job”—the very same marketing skills that the CEO told him he possessed a year earlier.

What went wrong? It turned out that the CEO didn’t particularly like the CFO, needed him in his current position, and had used the carrot of the promotion—and the coaching requirement—to keep him in the corporation. Of course, when the CFO actually did improve his interpersonal skills, the CEO had to devise another reason to block his advancement.

Sometimes the CEO truly intends to promote the successor but, when push comes to shove, just can’t let go and leave the job. Walking away from the money, status, influence, and fame of the top position can be tough. Not only are CEOs often reluctant to give up the perks of the job, but they may be anxious about potentially losing their identity and facing a less exciting future. What’s more, the heir’s performance can be seen as a reflection on the retiring CEO. If the successor fails, the former CEO will have to deal with the guilt of having recommended a poor replacement and the pain of the company’s declining stock value. If the heir succeeds and improves the firm’s performance, the CEO will have to confront embarrassing comments like “The company has really done well since you retired.” The former CEO can come off as a loser either way!

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