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A Lesson From The Playground: Getting Promoted



You've been promoted! Congratulations! You have so many opportunities and plans in your new role, but first, you need to help transition your current role. This isn't only trigged with a vertical move, it's anytime you leave a role or responsibilities on the team to move on to something else, and another person must fill your void. Once the person backfilling your position is selected, you should be ready to empower them to succeed as they look for new ways to solve problems and push that project, team, or group further than you could. You will often see the changes they're making, initiatives you led being mothballed for other ideas, and the culture around the group or team start to shift. They've moved on just fine without you. This is when it's time to double down on your empowerment and support, instead of falling into the childish trap of "that's not how you do that." Because the truth Is that IS how THEY do that, it's just no how YOU did that.

Anyone with children or who have been around them enough can see the parallels when one child moves on from playing with a toy. All of a sudden, that toy looks really enticing to the other kids. But when the child that moved on to a different toy looks back and sees their sibling playing with it, they all of a sudden turn into a subject matter expert on the toy and are quick to say, in a condescending tone, "that's not how you play with it." I'm sure you can see the parallels. The off-handed comments, questioning tone, and the "deep breath then hold technique" (as if there are not enough words to describe how you feel). All of these actions undermine the empowerment you're trying to give the person who replaced you.

It's during these transitions they could use your encouragement and empowerment the most. Others must see your support for them, and you must be ok with the idea they're going to execute the position differently than you did. If you continue to make comments on what they "should be doing," you're eventually going to chip away at who they are as a leader in your attempt to reshape them into who you were. They're not you, and that's not helpful! Once you've moved on, by choice or by being voluntold, you must accept that others are not going to play with the toy the same way you did, and that's ok. New ideas will emerge, new opportunities, and plenty of "why didn't I think of that." Will they stumble, hit bumps in the road, or come to you for advice at times? Absolutely, and that's part of the process.

I saw this play out was when I was promoted and was sitting on the interviews for my replacement. That is a tough position to be in. All the candidates coming in with their understanding of the role, talking about how they're going to do so much better than you, and questioning many of the initiatives or deliverables you would consider "wins." You should not default to, "this person is clueless of what this position requires," or "didn't they pay attention to all the work I did?". Instead, consider that it's hard to assess the entirety of a role or position from the sidelines, they're probably doing their best at understanding it from their point of view. Also, keep in mind that they were paying attention to what you said, but you may not have done a good enough job of making your initiatives or deliverables known to the entire team. These are not reasons for a candidate to not be considered.

This concept of someone not moving on to their next job, being bothered by how someone else is playing with their old toy, or assessing how they witnessed you playing with that toy, are not always easy to approach. If this were a child though it would be easy. You would simply tell them, "Please stop. You have already moved on to another toy. Let your sibling be".

I ask two things of you this week:

  1. If you've recently been promoted or moved on to another task and someone picked up where you left off, take the time to find something great they're doing and let them know. There is a good chance they're working hard to live up to and raise the bar you set. Your encouragement and support will go a long way.

  2. When the person who replaced you comes to you questioning a process or initiative you built out, talk more about the problem you were trying to solve instead of the solution. Many times it's better for them to expend brainpower understanding the problem and looking at it with a new set of eyes than to hand them some duck tape to slap on a three-year-old initiative they don't fully buy into.

Returning to the toy analogy, how would you feel if your child looked back at their sibling playing with the toy they had and said, "that's a great idea, I didn't think to play with it like that," or "you're doing a really great job playing with it"? You would be proud, and so would their sibling. That may even entice them to come back with more ideas in the future and encourage collaboration. Be sure to keep this in mind the next time someone is picking up where you left off. It's their turn to play with the toy now, so let them.


Note: All of the opinions expressed in this article are my own, and are not a reflection of the viewpoint of my employer.

#leadyourcareer

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