It’s both nerve wracking and exciting when your promoted. If your predecessor was deeply respected and well-liked, the question becomes: how do I fill those gigantic shoes? How do I live up to the strong legacy of this newfound role? People go off the rails when they try to be more like their predecessor in order to fulfill some misguided sense of what is expected of them. But, the answer to this question lies in embracing your sense of authenticity and what makes you a unique leader.
Many years ago, I met Jon Stewart when we were both building our starry-eyed stand-up careers in New York City. (And sure, I guess there are a couple of differences in our audiences; his were more New York Comedy Club-ish, while mine were boardroom executive-esque, but work with me here.) It was crystal clear that Jon’s innate brilliance and actual stand-up career would take him to a place beyond the C-suite, but who knew his leadership skills would help revolutionize both on-air comedy and back office politics?
Twenty-two Primetime Emmy Awards later, Jon Stewart fearlessly led the Daily Show for sixteen years, surviving writer strikes and launching the careers of multiple comedic powerhouses such as Stephen Colbert and Jon Oliver. When he made the decision to move on, he handpicked Trevor Noah to take his chair and follow his legacy of excellence. Noah seems to be handling his newfound promotion with success. The Economist called his tenure promising, and all of us night owls will most likely settle in and think, “Jon who?” at some point.
Noah has embraced his own comedic sensibilities, which include less exaggerated accent shticks (thank gawd!) and more correspondents. Leveraging his African upbringing to provide a fresh POV on American culture has given the show a new perspective. For example, in a recent bit, Noah responded to accusations that Trump was not “presidential” by comparing him to African presidents (and dictators).
Stepping into a role which was previously held by an admired executive is an easy transition if you know the rules of the game.
There are five main points to consider when you have been asked to take the helm:
- Take a deep breath. Enjoy the promotion. Accept thanks when people congratulate you; colleagues want to witness your gratitude. Smile!
- Find your sea legs. Translation: Take your time to meet your new and old teams who will now be looking at your work with a fresh set of eyes as you step into the commander-in-chief position. Find your balance as you settle. You were promoted because your work and interpersonal skills were respected, so make sure to trust and use those skillsets.
- Listen. It takes patience to listen and skill to pretend that you are listening. A great boss can do both (although I would prioritize the patience part so people feel heard). Colleagues and subordinates will appreciate the time you take to listen to the positives and negatives of the current cultural situation.
- Replicate what is working. Don’t make major changes in a short period of time. Take notes during your one-on-one meetings with your staff and find the thread that worked. Sustain that thread to ensure you have the staff’s support while you’re assessing your next moves.
- Build consensus. Once you have evaluated and decided on some key changes you want to implement, don’t go at it alone. Speak to your boss and mentor to ensure that what you’re thinking is sound for the group. Then strike.
Your old boss will be referred to for about six months after you’re promoted, and then, my friend, you’re on your own to shine.
Noah is going to continue to run with the golden torch at The Daily Show, but rest assured he’s still human and finding his path that will make him a star in front of and behind the camera, just like you.
Jocelyn Greenky is the CEO of Sider Road Media, in New York. Her career includes management positions at Philip Morris and Dow Jones, in addition to executive leadership roles on Men’s Journal and Rolling Stone productions. Ms. Greenky has also been a Columnist for the Huffington Post. Follow Jocelyn on Twitter.