Are you an executive assistant reporting to a new CEO? This can be a stressful time. While you are established in the role as EA, your former CEO has departed and a new replacement has arrived. Naturally, it’s essential to your continued career growth to establish a positive start to this new working relationship.
As specialist executive assistant recruiters, we’ve seen the good and the bad of EAs working with new CEOs.
In a good situation, the EA gives that essential insights that the CEO lacks and the relationship continues relatively seamlessly. The CEO values the EA’s intricate knowledge of the company and its internal and external stakeholders. Meanwhile, the EA relishes the chance to work with a dynamic new CEO with a fresh new mandate for change.
However, we’ve also witnessed the unfortunate scenario where the relationship is not a good fit. We recently worked with a client experiencing this situation. She had been a loyal EA to the CEO of a top not for profit for ten years. But when a new CEO arrived on the scene, the relationship was fraught and soon became untenable. It wasn’t the fault of either party. There just wasn’t that important connection that is vital for a successful relationship between an EA and CEO. Unfortunately, the EA took the fall and resigned. The CEO told us ‘it was never going to work.’
If you ‘re an EA working with a new CEO, you no doubt understand how crucial it is to establish a cohesive, productive, supportive relationship from the onset.
If you’ve been in the EA role for a long time, you have a well-structured way of doing things. But that was working with the former CEO. So it’s important to be open to new ways of working with your new CEO. Even though you might see the convenience or simplicity of your approach, you do need to be flexible about trying new ways for working together. Let your new CEO take the lead to establish what those standard operating procedures will be. At the right time, you can proactively suggest ways you’ve found efficient. But always try it their way first.
Understand the pressures on the CEO
Taking on a new CEO role is a high-pressure situation. Your CEO will be anxious to make a good impression.
If the CEO came to the role due to a change in company direction, the pressure is likely to be even stronger. The board will be watching the new CEO to see them deliver what they promised during the recruitment stage. This can be stressful, and it’s all happening under the watch of the senior executive leadership team evaluating any move the CEO makes.
So, as the EA, how can you help the CEO achieve their goals? Understanding the challenges and helping the CEO deliver should be your highest priority. Even if the goals are a new direction for the company, your CEO needs your full and confident support.
Your CEO may be looking for a quick deliverable to impress the board and take a bit of scrutiny away. Understanding this and helping it be delivered is important (and will give you a quick win to deliver yourself).
Be loyal to the new CEO
Even if you had a strong working relationship with the departing CEO, your loyalty now lies with your new boss. Your new CEO will naturally attract curiosity from others within the business. They’ll be wanting to know how the CEO is going and what they are like to work with. But they can find that out for themselves! You should not utter a single word in the opinion of your CEO’s performance or leadership style to the office rumour mill. Undertake every water cooler ‘how’s it going?’ conversation as if the CEO is listening. Don’t offer any opinions and be 100% discreet.
When you are established in your EA role with your previous CEO, you probably had things running so seamlessly, you didn’t need to check in with each other. Now there’s a new CEO in the corner office, you do need to communicate relentlessly. For example, sending an end of day report to notify your CEO what you’ve been working on each day may be a good idea. Your outgoing CEO probably trusted you to get along with your work during the day and may find such a report unnecessary. But your new CEO may appreciate the chance to understand your daily duties, till such time as your relationship is better established. Whatever way you can communicate with your CEO, we suggest being extra diligent in this space until you are both settled into the working relationship.
Clarify the CEO’s expectations of your role
Does your CEO want a transactional executive assistant or a strategic one? That is, will you simply be implementing administrative tasks, or offering high-level strategic insights and second-in-charge decision-making support? Different CEOs have varying expectations of EAs. So in that first week working together, you should initiate an upfront conversation about the level of support your CEO is expecting from you. This may be an exciting opportunity for you to step up to become a business partner EA. Otherwise, it is simply a great opportunity for you to strongly clarify what your CEO expects.
Finally, give it time
Sometimes the EA and CEO relationship takes to develop. So if your first impression is doubtful, be generous. Be patient with the process of building a working relationship and understand those strong relationships take months to develop. This can be particularly common when the CEO is under pressure to make sweeping improvements quickly. So don’t judge harshly or form opinions too quickly.
When you stay open minded, let the CEO take the lead, demonstrate your loyalty and help the CEO achieve quick goals, you’ll find yourself becoming a trusted business partner to your CEO.
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