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What to Do if Your CEO Gets the Ax

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, July 24, 2009

During these tough economic times, many competent hardworking people have been laid off. It's likely you know some at your company or organization who have gotten the ax simply by being in the wrong place at a time of severe budget constraints.

But what I'm writing about today often happens regardless of the economic climate. As a member of the senior leadership team, what happens to you if your CEO gets canned?

Don't tell me you haven't thought about it. If you haven't, you should. The new leader is going to want to make some very substantive changes right away. Will getting rid of you be one of them, or will you be on the new team?

The thought came to me as we've been observing a change in leadership locally at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Though VUMC's vice chancellor for health affairs (equivalent to hospital CEO in most instances) didn't get canned at all (he retired), his replacement, Jeff Balser, who's a smart and talented man that has his own ideas on how to run the system, has wasted no time in elevating some people in the organization to the top echelon. Meanwhile, some have "announced" they will be leaving.

How do you make sure that in a similar case, you're not the one making that "announcement?" In short, you can't. There are no easy answers here.

Objectively, you may have done the best work anyone's ever done in your position, but often politics are involved. Maybe the new CEO has worked on the same team as you, and you don't get along. Maybe she has someone in mind that she's worked with before who is able to hit the ground running. She doesn't have to develop a working relationship with that person. Maybe he's one of those "change is good" people who just want a clean slate in your area of expertise. Those scenarios you can't do anything about.

If having twins has taught me nothing else, it's allowed me to focus on things over which I have some control. But even if your CEO seems secure and is pleased with your work, you should prepare for the fact that he will be leaving sometime. It may be 10 years from now. He might get hit by a bus tomorrow. You should be ready for the "hit by a bus" scenario.

Before the new CEO makes any final decisions, he will want to meet with you. Make no mistake, this is a job interview. So follow the Boy Scout Motto: Be Prepared.

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