After the Promotion: Filling Big Shoes in Your New Role

This article originally appeared in the National Center for the Middle Market Knowledge Center.

Any new job is a challenge. With a promotion, you have different responsibilities and are dealing with a set of new personalities. But all of those issues are compounded when the person you’re replacing is larger than life. How can you ever replace the person who previously held your job? The short answer is that you can’t. You need to establish your own, individual identity upfront and ensure that you’re not viewed as “less than” — just “different than.” Here are several strategies you can use, courtesy of Judy Robinett, author of the forthcoming How to Be a Power Connector: The 5+50+100 Rule for Turning Your Business Network Into Profits.

Recognize your strengths.

You can’t — and shouldn’t try — to be a replica of your predecessor. Instead, focus on your unique strengths and make your mark in those areas. It can sometimes be hard to recognize where we excel, so think about working with an executive coach or, to get started, simply “ask five of your friends what the top three things are about you,” says Robinett. “We’re often the last to know about our gifts.”

Celebrate your victories.

It’s easy to get discouraged after your promotion, when it seems like everything the previous officeholder touched turned to gold. “Research shows that ‘doing’ comes first, then self-confidence follows,” says Robinett. “A great strategy is completing a Victory Log. Take out a piece of paper and number from 1 to 50. Write down what you are proud you have achieved and review it regularly. These can be little or big accomplishments. I wrote down I was proud when I made $30,000, then years later, when I made $300,000.” Reminding yourself of victories will keep you motivated to press forward.

Develop your network.

In any position, your network will be essential to your success. But that’s even more true when you’re replacing a prominent leader and may have critics who want to knock you down a peg. Actively seek out the advice and support you need. “Join at least two powerful groups,” says Robinett. “85 Broads or industry specific groups have chapters across the U.S. that provide support, networking and training opportunities.” Additionally, she says, you should “build your network to 25 critical people who are competent and share your values.” When developing this roster, “focus on deep, wide, and robust,” which Robinett defines as people with influence (deep), geographical diversity (wide), and integrity (robust).

Understand the metrics.

There may be a lot of armchair quarterbacks critiquing your performance — people in your industry, peers, subordinates, and maybe even the media. But keep your focus on the most important stakeholder in this equation: your boss or bosses, who are the ones who determine what “success” actually looks like for you. “Find out what is critical to your boss — how is he being judged?” asks Robinett. “If you consider him or her your customer and focus on bringing solutions, not problems, to the table, you’ll continue to be a rising star.”

It’s never easy to follow in a prominent person’s footsteps. But if you employ these strategies, you can soon truly make the position your own.

This article originally appeared in the National Center for the Middle Market Knowledge Center.

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Dorie Clark

Dorie Clark is the author of Reinventing You (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013), and the forthcoming Stand Out (Portfolio/Penguin, Spring 2015). She is an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and a strategy consultant and speaker for clients such as Google, Fidelity, Morgan Stanley, Microsoft, and the World Bank. Follow her on Twitter @dorieclark.

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