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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

October 18, 2015

I’m the General Counsel of a company and our new CEO is cleaning house. I love my job, but I don’t know where I stand in the new regime. Should I start a job search now or wait and see what happens?

Julie Q. Brush

A change at the top can mean a lot of different things for a company and its existing executives. Some positive, some…not so much. And when it happens, uncertainty fills the air.

More often than not, when a new CEO is brought into a company it’s because the organization needs a change in order to grow…or survive. And with this new Captain, the Board expects change. Big decisions. Bold moves. And a new way of doing things. So an incoming CEO’s first move typically involves an executive shuffle. And in the transition, the CEO will often bring in his/her “own people”: Known commodities with a shared history, proven record and familiar face. It’s a statement that demonstrates that there’s a new sheriff in town…and a symbolic pressing of the reset button. It also demonstrates to the watchful Board that the new reign is starting off on the right foot. Whether true or not…

As part of the management team, the General Counsel is one executive that can get swept away in the corporate housecleaning. This could be the case for you…or not. The jury’s still out. But your CEO is making concrete changes in the upper ranks and you have not yet received any assurances. So your job security is at risk. 
I’m rarely a fan of a “wait and see what happens” career strategy. It’s reactive. And reactivity in this situation could compromise your career. So my advice is to take control…now. Before you find yourself with a pink slip and a feeling of helplessness.

This means parallel paths of pursuit:

The first is to update your resume and start your search process to get a sense of the market and your options. And keep moving forward with a fairly wide net. The second is to commit the time and effort to build a positive working relationship with your new CEO. A good start is a one-on-one to welcome your new boss and communicate your dedication to your partnership. If you haven’t done so already, I strongly recommend that you come prepared with materials to get the CEO up to speed on the goings-on in Legal: The make up of your department, who’s doing what, the relevant legal matters for the company and the status of each; and your role within the company. A to Z. In addition, discuss his/her expectations, wants and needs from the relationship. New CEOs are beyond busy, so this proactive gesture will be more than appreciated. It will also demonstrate your value and make a positive impression. The more invested the CEO is in you, the more likely you will remain on the team. Finally, keep a positive attitude, project confidence and continue to drive for successful working relationships with your colleagues and your internal clients during this uncertain time. It’s the mark of a true professional.

There are things in life you can control…and things you cannot control. A new CEO with an agenda is one situation that is hard to steer. But grabbing the wheel of your own career is distinctly within your power. So step on the gas and move forward with your plans to maximize your options. You still don’t know what the future holds, but however it unfolds…you’ll be ready.

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