Congratulations! You got the job and now you are the manager of a new team. Unfortunately, not everyone is as excited as you are. Your new team seems to have already made up their minds about you, and the consensus is that no matter what you do, you will never be as good as the guy that just left.
The prior manager may have retired or moved on to another opportunity, but it seems everyone absolutely loved them. Not only do you have to learn the ropes, but you also have big shoes to fill as a leader.
Any time you take leadership of a team, you will experience some growing pains, but taking over for a beloved manager is hard on everyone. As the leader, you must find a way to establish yourself as the new manager while providing the team space to grieve and adjust. Here are some tips to get you, and your team, through this transition.
Be aware of your own emotional response.
What is your automatic reaction whenever you hear the old manager's name? Are you sick of hearing her name? Examine why you are feeling that way. Do you feel resentful or defensive? Do you feel threatened? Could it be that you feel overwhelmed at the thought of living up to what your predecessor did? Perhaps you have some anxiety, or your imposter syndrome is kicking in, or, maybe, you feel lonely and excluded. Whatever it is, take the time to examine your emotional response, own it and take responsibility for any impact they may be having on other people.
Focus on joining the team before leading the way.
It's natural to start looking for ways to make your mark when you start a new position, but when you join an existing team as a manager, remember that leaders of a team are also members of a team. Your first goal will be to help the team grieve the loss of someone who was likely not only a boss but also a strong mentor and champion. Find out the specific things that your team loved about the old manager, and give them time to voice and identify those items that made the biggest positive impact. Seek out any processes or practices that you can continue and demonstrate that you intend to build on the legacy rather than carving your own trail. Be OK with standing on the shoulders of a giant and using that as leverage to continue building.
It's tempting, when stepping into big shoes, to attempt to fit the mold. If the previous manager had personal attributes that team members resonated with, whether it was a specific sense of humor or mannerism that always accompanied even the harshest of feedback, only adopt or emulate it if it aligns with who you are as a leader. We all bring different personal attributes to the table, and if you are trying too hard to be someone you're not because you think that is what people want, it will come through. Ultimately, people respond to authenticity in other humans rather than the artifice. You may be different from the former manager, but changing your personality or approach won't make you seem like the old manager. Instead, it will highlight all of your differences by putting them in the spotlight.
Align changes with strategic goals.
Over time, if and when significant changes need to happen related to team structure, team processes or work assignments, focus on the "why" of the change when addressing it with your team. You may face additional change resistance if you start doing things differently from your predecessor. Be prepared for that and proactively explain the changes and tie them to specific, strategic goals. You will also want to address the "what's in it for me?" question for each team member to help them get on-board.
Be willing to learn.
Consider the prior manager a teacher whom you may not even know. Glean the best from what you hear and learn from it. Keep a personal growth mindset. While you will never fully replace the old manager, know that it is OK. But by demonstrating an eagerness to learn, you can build and continue a strong team dynamic and rapport.
If comparisons continue, address the issue directly.
Change takes time, but if you are well into your second 90-days and the comparisons continue to come up, start by monitoring the frequency before reacting. If the trend is decreasing overall, then your team is likely still adjusting to the new normal. But if the frequency is not lessening, it may be an appropriate time to discuss the issue directly with the more vocal individuals on the team. Find out why the transition has been so hard on them and take steps to address it. The success of this step depends on your effort to build trust and rapport in the first 90 days, and that effort is critical to getting to the root of this.
Though the transition will be difficult for everyone, you can make it easier and smoother by respecting the relationships that existed before you came on board, and through building rapport and trust with the team. Be considerate, authentic and patient. Change takes time, but with persistence, the comparisons will stop and your team will begin to trust your leadership.
Article originally published on Forbes