Over the years I have noticed that when a senior executive is finally appointed to the top position in the business there is often a palpable sense of surprise that people treat him/her quite differently.
As an example I was talking to a Chief Executive who had recently been promoted in a subsidiary of a major multi-national company from his previous position of Chief Operating Officer.
He was in a very pleasant office with a very personable Personal Assistant in the outer office. We were immediately served with coffee and biscuits and all seemed to be most acceptable.
I remarked on the environment and he shook his head and said:
“I don’t know what I have done but nobody wants to speak to me”
We drilled down a little and it transpired that the operating board of the company was a very effective team with everyone putting in, as the football pundits say, a good shift.
He didn’t know whether the post of CEO that had come vacant had been a competitive matter but he did know that he was told of his promotion without having been through any apparent assessment.
He immediately noticed a distinct cooling of the atmosphere with his erstwhile colleagues. He said that he had told them that he didn’t want his new position to change the good relationships that they had experienced as a team and that “his door was always open to them”.
I asked him what had happened and he told me that nobody ever ventured in to see him unless he had specifically asked them to discuss something or other.
He was genuinely surprised at this change. He had honestly expected that everything would be as before even though he was now, in essence, their leader.
The fact is, of course, that people normally defer to the position if not the individual and the change can be disturbing for the new leader.
As people develop and move upwards through a business, the fact is that the higher they go, the fewer people there are to tell them that they are doing a great job and that demands emotional stamina.
Some people grown into the new position quite seamlessly but there are a few who find the sense of isolation quite daunting. Indeed I know of one or two who genuinely realised that they were not really suitable for the top post and relinquished it for a more comfortable life.
Whether we like it or not, the very position of Chief Executive carries with it a measure of power and the gloom mongers will always expect that this power is likely to be wielded malignly.
True or not, the CEO needs to understand the new relationships and how to make sure that they will be even more productive than before.
Essentially the new leader must understand the difference between power and influence. It is perfectly feasible to carry both in the leadership toolkit but ideally the people need to feel that the leader influences the business rather than rules over it.
Whichever role the leader prefers it must be visibly carried out in a way that demonstrates an inclusive approach so that people feel that they are involved and engaged.
In the end it is the difference between the visible exercising of power and the apparently more relaxed influential approach.
You can download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon
Visit the Vistage UK website
Follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook