Transitioning to a New Executive

As executive assistants or senior administrative professionals, we focus on building a strong partnership with our executives. It’s a progressive process that takes time as we strive to learn our executive’s priorities, preferences, and working style in order to synchronize and work effectively together to achieve strategic objectives.

What is interesting about working for C-Level executives, especially CEOs, is that they often stay in their positions for fewer than five years. Many of them move on to work with other organizations or retire. They may even be replaced when a company’s Board of Directors votes them out. In each of these situations, the executive assistant (EA) who was building that strong partnership with her executive is affected. Progress stops and transition begins.

It happened to me. I worked with an executive for six years and he was gone overnight. He was there on Friday, gone the following Monday. On Sunday night, I received a call from my new executive who was looking forward to working with me. Shock. Panic. What do I do now?

The fact is, executive assistants know their job security may be at risk with a new executive. That executive could bring his current EA with him. He could decide to recruit for a new EA. The best outcome is that you are able to stay in your current role. It is imperative for you to adapt by adopting a positive attitude and building a good rapport with your new executive. Immediately.

This is a challenge for EAs who had built that strong partnership with their previous executive and who were comfortable with that relationship. The best approach to a smooth transition is “out with the old, in with the new.” When this transition happened to me, this became my mantra. Mourn the loss of your previous executive in private. Keep your emotions of sadness, worry, and fear from showing. A new boss is like starting a new job minus the interview! Put your best foot forward and learn how to work with your new executive. Realize how valuable you are to her or him as she/he learns the ropes at an unfamiliar organization. See yourself as being the key to success, and make your primary goal to set her/him up for success.

Get strategic and show your executive you are ready and willing to work with her/him. Here are my tips to help you with this transition.

  • Welcome your new executive with a smile. And a gift. Perhaps a plant with a card personally signed by his new executive team. If you had time to order business cards in advance, have them in a business card holder on the desk. Clear the desk and file drawers of unneeded items and paperwork.
  • Schedule a one-on-one meeting for yourself at the first opportunity. In that meeting, find out what tools, supplies, and electronic devices she/he likes to work with and get them on order right away so she/he is set up to hit the ground running. Ask what her/his ideal working environment is and assess her/his personality and working style (i.e., extroverted or introverted), and tailor the working environment to her/his preferences. Find out what the top priorities are going in and ask how you can best help achieve them. Review any pending items at this time so you both stay on top of current business.
  • Schedule a tour of your organization.
  • Gather the team for a brief introductory breakfast or coffee meeting.
  • Set one-on-one introductory meetings for your executive with key members of her/his leadership team.
  • Get to work with a positive attitude and enthusiasm. Bring your very best self to the table. Be cognizant of the fact that you are being evaluated by your new executive and you want to ensure that you are a good fit. Know that there is still a very real possibility that you could be replaced if you aren’t able to transition smoothly to your new executive.

As professionals, we have to manage multiple and often impromptu situations every day. Use your best skills to transition to your new executive and then begin building a new partnership. You were hired to support an executive, whomever that may be. With the right attitude, transitioning to a new executive is easier than it first appears to be. It can also be exciting. It is another critical piece in the journey of your career. Look forward to making a positive impact with your new executive which, in turn, gives you a new opportunity to make a positive impact in your organization.


About the Author: Lisa Assetta has more than 30 years experience as an administrative professional. She has worked with business owners, executives, and chief executive officers in a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, publishing, restaurants, and aviation. Lisa currently works as the Senior Executive Assistant to the CEO of Tampa International Airport. Her responsibilities include creating systems to enhance productivity and efficiency in the CEO's office, calendar management and serving as a liaison to the CEO's Executive Team. Passionate about eco-friendly business practices and office wellness, Lisa is a member of the airport's LEAF Team, which advises management on sustainability issues, and the airport's Wellness Committee. Previously she served as a member of the Advisory Council for the Executive Assistants' Summit.