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This week’s guest is Mike Williams, President of Pulsar360, one of the oldest VoIP/digital phone services companies in the US and Canada. Today, Mike leads Pulsar360 as a full-service communications provider, offering comprehensive voice, data, and cloud-based solutions. I have worked with Mike at two companies, where he headed up customer-facing groups of those organizations. He is a pleasure to work with s he brings a customer- centric perspective to his role. Mike has moved up the ladder from VP of Customer Care to COO, and is now President. It is with my pleasure, I present Mike’s story in his own words as this week’s CEO Tip.

Mike Williams, President, Pulsar360

You have been a VP or a C Level for some time and things are going well. One fine day you get called into the executive conference room for a chat.  The President / CEO is there, maybe another C level executive, maybe HR.  You are wondering what is going on.  The President/CEO takes the lead.   This is confidential, so don’t tell anyone just yet.  I will be retiring at the end of next month.  How do you feel about taking over as our new President/CEO when I leave?  After a moment, you of course say yes, hands are shaken, congratulations are given, and big plans are hatched. You, my friend, have just become a President/CEO.

On the way home that night it hits you.  All your peers, all your buddies at work now work for you. How are they going to take it?   Will they think I am a good leader?  Can I lead them?  Will they even listen to me?  Now you’re the boss – Oh no, now you’re the boss!

Now what?  

You may have been promoted at some time in your career and faced this issue.  Your old peers are suddenly your subordinates.   But at the President/CEO level, navigating the change from peer to boss may be one of the most difficult transitions you will make in your career. You are dealing with much stronger personalities, and possibly people with more experience than you, who may think they can do the job better.

 It is important that you lead all your new subordinates with the same methods from day 1.  Do not show favoritism to your old buddies.  Your team will be watching you to see how you handle situations. Consistency is key.  Do not play favorites or cover for an “old friend”.  Set ground rules and hold everyone accountable to those rules.  Once your new team sees you consistently holding everyone accountable, you will have their respect and support.  Show favoritism and that respect is gone. 

Reactions from Others and Tips to Guide You

Now let us talk about how some executive personalities might react when you are suddenly their boss. NOTE:  I  have had all these happen at one time or another:

You will probably get some good-natured ribbing about – now you’re the boss, I need to tow the line ( which is true by the way )     So, what can happen?

  1. You have a really great peer who understands they cannot take advantage of your friendship.  They see you as their leader and give you their full support.  Consider yourself lucky.
  2. You will usually have a peer who is going to push it to see what they can get away with.  Probably someone you thought was a good friend.  Show up late for a few meetings.  Maybe be a little insubordinate in front of others.  Late on projects, etc. – Believe me when I say, your new team is watching you.  Especially how you handle the situation with this person.   Do not make the mistake of brushing this off or having a quick hallway chat asking them to stop. The only way to handle it is to address it immediately in a formal setting.  Talk to this person, as their boss, on the first transgression.   Let them know in no uncertain terms that you value your friendship, but you cannot tolerate bad behavior from them.  You cannot treat them any differently than the rest of the team.  Do not let them off the hook.  They will either respect you and perform or, on to number 3
  3. You have spoken to the peer who wanted to push things, but they have not taken you seriously.   They are still pushing.  You have already had the initial talk.   Others are seeing this by now.   This person may have even told others that you tried to get them to back off, but they are not.  They may think in their mind that you will not do anything.   You must act right away.  Do not try to have the informal chat in your office.  Remember this is top level executive coaching and you have already spoken to them once.  And quite frankly they should know better by this point in their careers.  This is now formal discipline with Human Resources involved. This can be termination if serious enough  This person, and your team by extension must know that you will not tolerate bad behavior and that you will act if someone is out of line. Even if they were a good friend at a prior peer level.  You will lose the respect of your team if you fail to act.
  4. You have a poison pill – a subordinate who is friendly to your face but talks badly about you behind your back. Or does things to delay or derail your projects  When you find out, you must take immediate disciplinary action.  Do not try to “Soft Coach” this behavior. This behavior is one of the most damaging things that can be done to you and your team and it must be stopped immediately.  Once again, everyone is watching how you handle this situation.  You must make it clear that this behavior is not acceptable and if egregious enough may result in immediate termination. Get in front of this right away.  Do not tolerate this type of behavior at any level of the company.

Consistency and handling all situations quickly and fairly are key.  Respect and support your team and they will respect and support you in return.  

Summary

I hope this article is helpful to you, especially if you find yourself currently in this same position or may be in this position in the future!

To learn more about how Rookie CEOs and new leaders got to their positions, I invite you to read my bookThe Rookie CEO, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up! You will learn more about how new CEOs will lead, how they can succeed, regardless of their backgrounds, philosophies, and leadership styles and how these affect the culture they will create as a new CEO or leader. The framework I utilize in my book will help guide how the CEO will handle these new challenges!

Thank you for stopping by and visiting the CEO Insights blog!