My parents divorced early in my childhood and my mom was lucky enough to meet and marry my stepdad a few years later. One afternoon, shortly afterwards, my mom pulled me aside. She wanted me to know that my stepdad was not trying to replace my father, but that we were all going to have to make some adjustments.
Now I do not recall intentionally acting out, or purposefully saying hurtful things to my new stepdad before this talk, but I assume since she went to all the trouble of speaking to me individually rather than at the same time as my sisters, I must have done something. I do remember thinking that my mom’s decision to marry this person felt rather sudden to me. Only as I matured did I realize that she wouldn’t have introduced us to him until their relationship was rather serious, which would imply that their courtship was longer than it seemed to a young child.
Jumping forward, I have been promoted of sorts at my day job, and part of my new assignment is to take over the management of an established team. Unlike my prior promotion, I didn’t ask for this one, and this promotion came at the expense of a colleague. A colleague who is well liked throughout the organization, but one whose talents, our superiors thought, would better serve the company in a role that didn’t allow for the day-to-day management of people.
The news broke that I would be stepping in to fill this newly vacated role and I had the opportunity to sit front and center as his staff reacted. And react they did.
For over half of the team, I was an unknown. They had seen me in the halls, but we had not had much interaction beyond a brief hello. Additionally they had liked their existing team. They had known their place in the organization. Now the earth was shifting out from under their feet. It didn’t matter that I had known this was in the works for the past few days. It didn’t matter that I have years of experience with my company or an established track record with my own direct reports. To them, it was a shocking decision and I represented a threat to their security.
Therefore I wasn’t entirely surprised when I didn’t exactly receive a glowing welcome. One of my new reports very vocally stated that my predecessor was the best manager he had ever had in his nearly 50 years of professional experience while looking directly at me. While I don’t normally like to elaborate on my age, lets just say that he has more working experience than I have experience living. I could have easily taken the statement personally – a hostile, judgmental attack against ability based on my age.
The next few days aren’t going to be easy.
I had to take a quiet breath and eliminate my emotional response. I had to remember that this meeting wasn’t about me. My predecessor was also in the room and my new direct report was trying to issue one final compliment to his former boss. He wasn’t trying to disrespect me, he was trying to show his respect for my colleague. It also gave me a great opening for a follow-up conversation.
I usually have a healthy ego. As such, I believe I have a unique mix of qualities. Sure, my employer might be able to move on without me, but I like to think that they would not be able to find my clone out there with my exact mix of skills, experience, and personality. If I am irreplaceable, why in the world would I think that I could replace someone else exactly and trying would not benefit anyone. I was chosen for this new assignment for a reason.
Just like my mom had done with me so many years ago, I realized I was going to have to pull him aside for a heart to heart after our initial meeting. I asked him, what made his predecessor such a great manager? I was up front with him. I told him that I would not pretend that I was going to try to do things the same way, but I would do what I could to accommodate his needs as long as I knew what those needs were. We wound up having a pretty decent chat.
I hope that as a result he’ll learn to recognize that I am not trying to replace the boss he has placed on a pedestal. We are both now in the situation of making the best of what we’ve been given. After my talk with my mom about my new stepdad, I consciously tried to make more of an effort. I hope it was noticed. There was never a follow-up discussion which makes me think it was. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this situation might also work out over time as well.