People who make assumptions that a long tenure will somehow guarantee them job security are missing an important aspect of organizational leadership, they write. Leaders are sometimes let go even though they haven’t failed — their skills, experience, and even leadership style may simply no longer align with the organization’s priorities.
If, after a new president starts, you find yourself being given less responsibility, getting left out of important meetings, or learning about decisions after the fact, those are possible signs that the new president is relying more on other people or preparing to make a change in your job.
Too often, people in that predicament wait for the ax to fall. Here are some thoughts about how to get ahead of the curve if the new president starts showing signs that the management team can do without you.
First, do no harm. You may well feel angry or betrayed. But both Ted and Diane learned that maintaining effective relationships with others in the organization — at the board and senior-leadership levels — is critical at this time. That does not mean you should lobby to keep your job, or do end runs around the new CEO. Keep delivering what you promise. Always do the right thing for the organization and communicate the accomplishments of the people in your department. That approach will redound to your benefit.
Keep your hands on the wheel. Do not overreact, but pay attention to your gut and the signals. If you know your days are numbered, don’t skulk. Make an appointment with your new boss and lay out the options. End on a positive note by offering a timeline for your departure and an exit plan. Also, be prepared for different outcomes, such as being asked to hand in your keys immediately.
Take the high road. Be gracious in public, work to effect a smooth transition, and never bash your institution. These people will be your references for your next job.
Take stock. As hard as this experience can be, you’ve got the chance for reflection and a new beginning. Think big. Ask people who know you well to offer their honest perspective and assessment. What are the job opportunities before you, and what strengths can you draw upon? What habits or behaviors — especially any that may have led you to this plight — do you want to change? A job transition can be transformative.
Talk to friends and allies. Maintain an active professional network both before and during a leadership transition so that you can tap into potential opportunities should the need arise. In the first few days after you get the bad news, try to be good to yourself. Take a break. Evaluate your financial situation so you know exactly how much time you can take to do your job search right. Breathe. Don’t panic or rush out and try to apply for every job. Most important, don’t contact recruiters or interview for other jobs until you have a plan and a spiel.
Craft your message. As a recruiter, I am attuned to job transitions on CVs and résumés that look odd — and search committees are, too. However, a strong career trajectory, broad and deep administrative experience, evidence of success, and leadership ability are valuable assets no matter what field of higher education. What you need is a reasonable and truthful explanation. A job loss after a new president comes in can be characterized effectively without disparaging your former employer or obfuscating. Examples include:
- “I was hired under the former president to complete a particular strategic agenda. With that success and a new president with a different agenda, I now have the opportunity to rethink/redirect my career.”
- “In this financial environment, the arrival of a new president is the ideal time to evaluate every position. Several senior leadership positions, including mine, were consolidated and reconfigured, though I had performed well.”
- “Our institution is changing direction. The new CEO and the board would like to have someone in the role I held whose primary experience is in [mergers/STEM/online/health-care/international/etc.], which differs from my background and experience. It makes sense for the organization to recruit someone with different expertise.”
- “The new president and I have different leadership and communication styles. I could see that we did not connect, so I offered to move on. I am now actively pursuing opportunities that [fill in the blank].”
There is no doubt that being left off a new president’s team is an emotional, professionally challenging experience. None of us like to be told we are no longer needed or wanted, and explaining the situation to others can be awkward at first. Know that being ousted from the team doesn’t mean you’ll never play again. There is another team just around the bend where you and your background will be the perfect fit.