Too Many Masters

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m in a really weird situation at work. I’ve been the assistant to the
president, and one of the vice-presidents for a very long time. The
other senior people work in a different office a few hours away. Even
though we have phone and email contact, I haven’t needed it to be as
close. Now one of the more distant ones has been appointed as the
next president, and the company is going through some very big
organizational changes. I am the assistant to the new president as well
(my guy is the Chair of the Board-whooee!). My question is who is my
loyalty to. When people tell me certain things, or brainstorm with me
about options, what do I say to whom about who is thinking about
Too Many Masters

Dear Too Many Masters:
Your loyalty should be the company that employs you. In this instance
it means al three of the folks you’ve described, which is a neat
tightrope walk. One nice thing about your situation is that you are
privy to what’s in their heads. That makes you very different from
most of the other people in your organization, and also a potential
target for people who’re hoping to get an edge on information that
might easily influence their future. So first thing to remember is, listen
hard and don’t talk easily to anyone you should not, principal or

As for whether or not you’re being used as a leaky sieve to pass
messages among them that they’re not comfortable sharing directly,
you have a pretty simple way out. Listen, ask any questions you have
to clarify the thinking, and generally be a brainstorming or venting
outlet for each of them. At the end of each conversation, ask very
clearly, What do you want me to do with what you said and where you
just landed? That puts the burden very clearly on each of them to say,
Keep it to yourself, or Please tell so-and- so, or Only discuss x, y, or z,
some other explicit instruction, If you get in the habit of asking, they’ll
realize you are loyal to them all, which is not a bad place to be in a
changing organization.