Q. Our CEO is due to step down in the next 12 months; both he and the chairman have made it clear that I'm one of the frontrunners to replace him. Meanwhile, I've just been offered the top spot at a rival firm. I'd prefer to stay where I am but there are no guarantees I'll get the CEO gig. Would I be a fool to turn down this new offer?
Jeremy says: It may be that your existing company is under some form of constitutional requirement to interview external candidates for certain jobs - and that of CEO would undoubtedly be one of them. If so, you can't expect any greater reassurance from your company than you've already received: you're just one of the frontrunners and with no knowledge of how many others there might be.
You must be tempted to tell your current CEO and chairman about the offer you've received from the rival firm and ask if they can be any more definitive in what they can tell you. My guess is that it would simply put them into an extremely uncomfortable spot. They may truly believe, at this moment, that you're an excellent candidate, but they can't know with any certainty that you're the best until they've completed their assessment of the others.
There is, however, a subtle variant of the above that you might like to consider. Tell the company that's offered you the new job that you're quite delighted; that you have one problem to resolve before you can say yes definitely; and may you have two weeks, please, to resolve it?
Then write a very careful note to your CEO and chairman. You should say that you have been offered this new job and have indicated your firm intention to take it. You've taken that decision because you fully understood that they couldn't possibly be expected to complete their own succession plans any sooner, and they'd been entirely open about the fact that you were no more than one of several in contention. Do not even hint that your decision is anything other than final.
Their reaction will tell you all you need to know. It's possible that they'll try to persuade you to stay - but unlikely that they can definitely offer you the top job. Your expectation should be that, albeit with real regret, they will accept your decision and wish you well. So before making this move, you must be absolutely sure in your own mind that this new job is one you really want - and is not just a bargaining chip.
Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. Email him your problems at firstname.lastname@example.org. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.