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Working Wise: Stepping Out of a Shadow

Dear Working Wise,

I was recently hired to replace a long-term employee who left. I am constantly getting comments from my new co-workers like “Bob left some big shoes to fill.” I know Bob was good at his job, but how can I get out of his shadow?
Signed, Shadow Boxer

December 30, 2015

Dear Shadow Boxer,

Long-term employees carry a lot of organizational memory. It’s not that Bob was better than you can be. He just had years to learn the corporate culture and build the skills and relationships that he needed to succeed.

Given time, you will learn the same information and build the same trusting relationships.

Start by shedding some light on that shadow and looking at what Bob did objectively. Bob probably was a very valuable team member, but you are not getting the entire story.

Talk to your supervisor and some of those key staff about how Bob did things. Try to get specifics about what he did well and what could be improved.

Use this information to develop your own plan for success. Think of ways you can improve on what Bob did, blaze your own trail and get everyone thinking about the future.

  1. Be Enterprising. Show initiative, demonstrate good judgment and ask questions. You will need to learn quickly. Ask your supervisor for regular feedback and be prepared to act on it. Take an active role in work activities and social events. Participate in meetings, volunteer for important committees and welcome delegated tasks. You need to show to everyone that you are helpful.

  2. Be Professional. Avoid the temptation of becoming a miracle worker by taking on too much, or working solo. Instead, develop strong working relationships with your supervisor and co-workers by being professional and responsible. Meet deadlines and keep your supervisor informed about accomplishments and problems. Don't commit to do things if you can’t do them. Try to keep up-to-date on developments in your industry and improve your skills through training. Strike a balance between work and family responsibilities.

  3. Be Resourceful. You need to recognize that growth requires change and resourcefulness. Be creative, share ideas and develop problem-solving skills. It’s wise to always have a Plan B, in case Plan A doesn't work out. Flexibility should be one of your key assets, because you don’t know when things will go awry. Time management and networking are also critical. Knowing how to get things done and who to rely on can save you countless hours of frustration. Supervisors look for self-motivated people.

Use what you learn from your coworkers and supervisor to increase your value—both perceived and real—and Bob’s shadow will haunt you no more.

Photo Credit: © iStockphoto/aldomurillo

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