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From the Trenches: Having Someone Hired "Above" You

Updated: Jul 14, 2022

I had a great session this week with a woman who has just gone through an interesting transition. She works at a scale up where she was the most senior product manager. Because of her limited experience, senior leadership decided to hire a Chief Product Officer (CPO). This meant that my coachee would no longer have direct reports and would have less direct influence on strategic matters. There is a lot to be learned from this situation!

Firstly, having a more senior person hired in “above” you can be disconcerting. Regardless of how it’s positioned, it can make you feel that the organization doesn’t have the confidence in you that you would like. It’s also easy to think that people in the organization, especially those who reported to you, will see this as a downgrade and lose respect for you. When we’re not going through this change, it’s easy to be high-minded and convince ourselves that this change is no big deal.

When you’re living it, it’s a different story.

Here is the guidance I shared with her:

  • This was a legitimate organizational adaptation on the part of leadership. The company is growing quickly and they need someone with experience in this growth stage to take them toward a more mature business. It’s not a negative reflection on her; it’s an acknowledgment that her experience is limited.

  • Not having direct reports and being less involved in strategic planning will afford her time to focus on her personal development and on making a strategic impact on the organization.

  • As long as the relationship with the CPO is healthy (in this case it is), she now has a front row seat to watch a highly skilled professional operate and learn from them. This is the type of opportunity you can’t buy.

  • As the company grows, she’s very likely next in line for the next big leadership position necessitated by larger scale. In this case, I don’t think it will be long before she has a team (again) and is being regularly brought into strategic decision-making


I also had a more fundamental insight. It’s not particularly earth-shattering, but I hadn’t expressed this thought so clearly before. Very often we’re in a position that a situation is frustrating. Where we often go wrong is transferring this frustration to a person. In this case, the CPO did nothing wrong. Somehow blaming this person or senior leadership for some perceived slight is unfair and unproductive. It was nice to see that my coachee saw this clearly: the situation was a bit frustrating but negative feelings for the CPO (because of the transition) were completely misplaced. I know there are times in my career when I wish someone would have reminded me of this distinction.

Have you been in a similar situation? How did you feel? How did you deal with it?

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