I am a client services manager at a new cancer center in Lagos, Nigeria. I have just had my six-month appraisal with the CEO. Along with my responsibilities, I have been helping my CEO with her calendar and all other duties.
During the appraisal, she said she wants me to be her executive assistant. I was shocked. She said I get her, I understand her needs, and we work well together.
I went home and thought about it. It feels like it would be a demotion. The fact that I have been able to manage her calendar and do all her personal things well does not mean I want to be her EA. She has now told HR to look for someone that will work with me till I move to the EA position.
I enjoy working with customers. That is what I did for seven years at another hospital before moving to this hospital. But staff members here have always referred to me as her EA, even before my appraisal, and I don’t like that at all.
My CEO always gets what she wants but I don’t think I am cut out to be her EA. I already know what I may have to do but would like your perspective before I make a final decision. I don’t like the way this feels and I am not happy.
New Role Feels All Wrong
Dear New Role Feels All Wrong,
So, the first order of business here is to have a frank conversation with your CEO. It is nice that she appreciates your skills, but not so nice that she doesn’t seem at all interested in what you want. So you had better tell her, and soon. Possibly offer a compromise—to train someone else to be her EA since you seem to be so good at it. It can be very tricky to stand up for yourself and for what you want, but you will regret it if you don’t. I guess there is a chance that your CEO will simply fire you for not doing exactly what she wants. But if you are forced into a job you don’t want, you will be looking for a new job anyway, right?
There is another possibility here. Your reflex is to consider the move a demotion. That may be an assumption that you could check out. It can’t be all bad to work hand in glove with the CEO. You might parlay the move into the opportunity to be more than an EA—perhaps to be the CEO’s chief of staff. According to Wikipedia, the definition of this role, in general, is that a chief of staff provides a buffer between a chief executive and that person’s direct reporting team. The chief of staff works behind the scenes to solve problems, mediate disputes, and deal with issues before they are brought to the chief executive. Often, the chief of staff acts as a confidant and advisor to the chief executive, and as a sounding board for ideas.
That would be a promotion. It could be very interesting and engaging, and also could give you a wide scope of responsibility and influence. It might be possible for you to achieve. So instead of saying no, explore the possibilities provided by the fact that your CEO clearly finds you capable, competent, responsible, dependable, intuitive, and easy to work with. Who knows what might come of that? Also, there is the matter of salary. Would yours be cut? Or would you make more? Does it matter? It generally does to most people.
If it turns out that the job change really is a demotion, take a stand to keep your current job. If that isn’t an option, you’ll have a choice to make. What you don’t want is to be forced into a situation where you feel victimized and resentful. That won’t be sustainable for long. Worst case, you stay in the job for years and become more and more bitter, which will take its toll on your mental health, your physical health, and your entire life.
Excellent client services managers for medical centers are always in demand. If that’s what you want to do, take a stand for yourself, speak up, and tell the truth respectfully but clearly. You have some agency here. I encourage you to exercise it.
Good luck to you.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.