When Your CEO and President Don’t Get Along

CEO and President

When Your CEO and President (or any two colleagues) don’t get along, it can leave other colleagues feeling caught in the middle and the business held hostage to their disagreements.

Over the past several months we’ve come across several clients where two senior leaders don’t get along to the point where it’s having a business impact.  Of course, there can be many reasons people don’t get along, but a common reason we’ve seen for a sudden upswing in strife is when one has now been promoted above the other.  As the roles get fewer and fewer at the top of an organization, it’s common to find a couple people who all used to be at the same rung of the ladder, who after some restructuring, find themselves with one reporting to the other.  They used to be colleagues; now they are boss and direct report.

This can leave the person who’s been promoted feeling:

  • Pleased with their new role, but challenged by relationships right off the bat
  • Perhaps feeling guilty that they have surpassed one of their friends and colleagues that they “came up through the ranks” with
  • Alone, having lost some of their closest confidants
  • Threatened, worried about being undermined by resentment or hurt feelings

The person whose role has not changed can feel:

  • Abandoned by their friend and colleague who has surpassed them
  • Angry that they didn’t get the job themselves
  • Hopeless, feeling like they are now in a dead end position
  • Happy for their colleague, but sad for themselves

When this relationship goes unaddressed, we’ve seen ugly results like disagreements resulting in shouting matches, gossip, power struggles using other employees as weapons, inappropriate workarounds to the Board of Directors, jumping over the reporting chain in both directions to avoid the other person, lost productivity and people leaving the organization.

While it’s possible that the two should just simply not work together in those roles, many of the fallout symptoms can be avoided with some personal work on both people’s parts.

Steps toward a working CEO/President relationship:

(We give an example of CEO and President here, but this can apply to other levels of the organization as well, of course.)

  1. The CEO must address the situation with the President and establish their relationship anew.  She can work with an Executive Coach to hone the message; it must include an acknowledgement of the President’s feelings, a statement of support for the President and his strengths, and a framework for the relationship moving forward together.  The more open and authentic the conversation, the better.  This is an opportunity to establish the kind of leader she will be as CEO: un-threatened, supportive, aware, and straightforward.
  2. The President must “get over it” by separating the people from the circumstance.  It’s OK to be angry (for a limited time) about the circumstance, but this must not be taken out on the person who is the CEO.  The President can get support from an Executive Coach, friends, family, whomever, but he must get the anger and frustration out so that he can approach the workplace in a professional manner.  No gossip, backstabbing, power plays or end-runs allowed.  If he needs to do that, he’s only proving that the right person was selected to be CEO.
  3. The President will need a new vision for himself.  If the President was sticking around just to get the CEO role, then this is a good time for self-examination.  Perhaps this is no longer the place for him.  Or perhaps he simply needs to redefine his role as President and find the elements of it that are meaningful to him.  Ideally, this new vision can be created with the CEO.  Employees in every role must feel there is a future vision to live into; this is especially important when that future must be redefined.

New roles are new beginnings.  Create a new relationship and have a fresh start, or live in a reaction to the past that’s in the rear-view mirror: your choice.

Of course, forging these new relationships may need some assistance.  Contact us to help mediate the situation: to establish new paths for your leaders and the organization.