Be a Leader When Your Company Is for Sale

My colleagues and I at the Handel Group will be answering your questions about job-search and career-related issues at the Coaches Corner at Please e-mail us so we can help you find solutions. (Read our previous Q&A on how to explain why you got laid off.)

How do I maintain focus and figure out a game plan when my company is up for sale or on the brink of a merger? It's a very confusing, scary time, and it's not exactly bringing out the best in everyone.

This is a very important question and common worry right now. The biggest mistake people make in this situation is assuming that everyone else knows what is happening with the company and therefore assuming that everyone else is making plans you don't know about.

In a proposed merger or buyout, people often don't ask questions out of fear that the answers will be bad news. And while it's human nature to fear the worst, doing so shuts down any real communication. That sets the stage for unfounded speculation, which can turn into a full-fledged gossip frenzy. Camaraderie is often built around the fear and gossip—and that kind of closensess can seem very appealing. But with more people feeding into that mindset, rumors gain momentum and soon manifest into a very negative reality.

Stay away from gossip and try to foster better communication among your peers and if possible with your bosses. Gracefully ask very clear questions and try to get factual answers from your superiors. We work with many CEOs—and they all say they have an open-door policy with their employees. Yours probably says that, too. Well, take him or her up on it. Start by asking common-sense questions about the facts of what is actually happening with the company and what it means for your department. Ask what you can do to try to help make the merger or buyout easier. Being strong, straightforward, and getting the truth out in the open will provide leadership for your peers and can help bring out the best in your higher-ups.

Mergers often fail because the fear dynamic and the lack of communication they foster can undermine the whole plan, be it a good idea or not. It's easy to blame these failures on others. Instead, be original, be a leader, and don't get sucked into the chit-chat and rumor-mongering. Know you are entitled to ask, and ask until you get taken care of. Those who show up as leaders in these times not only help the company survive the transition, they also have a much greater chance of personally succeeding in the new company.

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