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How to deal with a management shakeup

Kelly Steckelberg, CEO of ZooskKelly Steckelberg, CEO of Zoosk
Kelly Steckelberg, CEO of ZooskPhotograph by Eric Gould

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you handle a management shakeup? is written by Kelly Steckelberg, CEO of Zoosk.

Last year I was offered the opportunity to become the CEO of Zoosk. In the discussion with one of the founders, my initial response was, “Thank you for considering me for this role and I’d like to take the weekend to think about it.” However, I was really thinking, “I don’t know how to be a CEO!” Over the weekend, I realized that while I had never been a CEO, I did have many new ideas on how to help Zoosk succeed. The fact that the role was both exciting and a bit scary was exactly the reason I chose to accept.

As the founders were leaving in a matter of weeks, I needed to quickly engage and reassure the employees that the company and their jobs, would be secure. One way I did this was through a series of all-hands meetings. In these meetings, I put the hard questions out there, including “Why should you stay?” and “Do we have enough cash to continue investing in our product?” We also shared our financial results and forecasts at a more detailed level than we had in the past. By being up front with our employees about both the opportunities and challenges ahead, I was able to demonstrate transparency and start to regain their trust.

Over the next few months, excitement mixed with uncertainty as I wondered how I could possibly fill the shoes of our two departing founders. They were both amazing product visionaries, a skill that I didn’t have the opportunity to hone in my previous COO and finance roles. I quickly realized this created a chance to open up product ideation to the entire company. A few months into my new role, we hosted a hack day. We had committed to implementing the top three product ideas that were generated, but were so impressed with the quality of projects that we actually funded ten. People thrived on seeing their ideas come to life, so it was a great opportunity to not only improve our product and customer experience, but to also for our employees to become increasingly proud of our product and company.

Being the CEO comes with a tremendous feeling of responsibility, but I quickly learned it doesn’t mean I need to solve everything myself. I needed to become more adaptive in my management and communication style, and feel comfortable holding others accountable. In an effort to not overpower my employees and allow for better outcomes, I had to learn to sit back and let the team not only have their say, but to speak first. There’s no quicker way to shut down a debate than for me to weigh in first.

So, while the CEO role is certainly one of my most challenging roles yet, it is also by far the most rewarding and fun. I have the opportunity to connect with our employees and customers in a whole new way. Every day I am pushed beyond my comfort zone to lead, make decisions, learn new things and put myself out there. While I don’t always have the answers, I have learned to trust my instincts, speak less and listen more, and encourage our team of leaders and employees to stretch right along with me.