How to Overcome Your Predecessor

promoted to manager


Overcoming the Legacy of Your Predecessor

Maybe they retired. Perhaps there was some restructuring. Maybe they left the firm, or simply got promoted. Like many new managers, you may find that your predecessor walked on water and now you have to overcome that legacy as the incumbent. Transitioning into a new management position is tough for even experienced managers. But having to overcome the legacy and popularity of your predecessor greatly adds to the complexity and challenge of a change in leadership.

Assessing the Influence of Your Predecessor

Aside from our natural resistance to change, overcoming your predecessor is often difficult because of the established relationships he or she had with the people who are now your employees. Further, it is these relationships that make your employees so loyal to the person who was there before you. Keep in mind, though, that the popularity of your predecessor may or may not have been for the right reasons. To help you assess the type of influence your predecessor had, there are three things you will want to assess about your team:

1. Level of Accountability – The most important attribute you need to evaluate about your new team is the level of accountability your employees demonstrate. Do they meet their commitments? While we hope that all employees feel a sense of ownership and personal responsibility, the reality of it is that your predecessor may have been popular because he or she did not hold people accountable and employees to advantage of it. Conversely, your employees may indeed display a strong sense of accountability and personal ownership of their duties. Why is this important? The level of individual accountability in your team often correlates well to the team performance.

RELATED: How to Drive Accountability Within Your Team

2. Sense of Urgency – The second aspect you will want to assess with a new team is the inherent sense of urgency that employees share. Is there a general buzz about the office, or are the employees a little too relaxed for your taste? High productivity is the result of drive and energy. To achieve the results you are expected, you will need to instill a sense of urgency among your employees. Gaining an early understanding about the level of urgency within your organization will help you make quick changes and break old habits if necessary.

3. Office and Work Conditions – Lastly, you will want to evaluate the work conditions of your team that were created (or tolerated) under your predecessor’s watch. How important was the work environment? Is the office clean, organized and well-taken care of? Do people demonstrate a sense of pride? The work environment can indicate to your how your predecessor treated and motivated employees. Why do work conditions matter? The environment your employees are accustomed to indicates the level of expectations your employees will have of you. If your employees are provided with top-of-the-line equipment despite a financially struggling business, you may want to recalibrate their expectations. If the infrastructure is poor and equipment dated, you may be able to make an initial impression on the team by investing in improvements to their work environment.


Once you have taken some time to evaluate your new organization and some of the ways your predecessor managed the organization, you can then shift gears to start making your mark. To do so, here are six tips for overcoming the legacy your predecessor:


1.  Get the Inside Scoop if You Can

I often recommend to people interviewing for management positions to try to gather the circumstances for the vacancy – was someone fired? promoted? Before your first day, it’s always advisable to get feel for what’s going on from your hiring manager so you have some sense of what you’re getting into. Doing so will help you get your bearings quickly as well as help you set up your strategy to approach the situation. The best type of transition to management is a quick on, so getting the inside scoop where possible will enable you to swiftly overcome the legacy of your predecessor.

2. First Impressions are Important, But Not Set in Stone

As with any new position, there will be a number of different challenges coming your way that you have not had to work through previously. For this reason, you will need to figure things out on the fly as you settle in your new role – the products, the customers, new names, new faces. As this takes place, of course, you will spend a lot of time getting to know your new team, just as they will be getting to know you. If it’s a situation where there is great loyalty to your predecessor, do not overlook the importance of setting your own standards. Set up a meet and greet early on and talk about you style, your expectations of them, and what they can expect from you. Share your vision for the future. Set the bar high to leave a great first impression.

3.  [Subtly] Offer Your Resume

Making a good impression has a lot to do with making connections with people.  A great way to do this, as well as a way to earn some initial street credit with your team is to slowly disperse your credentials and experience. The intent here is not to boast and impress, but rather to establish credibility and trust with your employees. Overcoming your predecessor requires that you make your own relationships and personal connections with your employees. By gently revealing your expertise, you are reassuring your employees that know you know what you’re doing and that you have their best interest in mind.

4.  Remind Employees that Change Can Be Good

You are new to the team. Your predecessor may have had a long tenure in the position and have done a good job, but as with most things in life, there are always things that can be improved. To help reinforce that change is a good thing, meet with employees one on one and ask them where they are frustrated, or how they think the team can be better. Ask for candid feedback. Once you’ve gotten all of this feedback, you will be able to draw themes between your conversations. Get in front of the team in your next department meeting, and highlight some of those themes and your plans for change. And don’t be afraid to say that the times they refer to are behind you all, and that this is the new order. Talk about the future, and where you see the team is going.

5.  Establish Your Expectations

The most effective way to overcome the influence and legacy of your predecessor is to establish your own expectations. Following your initial meet and greet, set up monthly department all-hands-meetings in which you cover a standard agenda (news, announcements, metrics, recognition, etc). As part of your standard agenda, deliberately include a segment for your expectations, in which you focus on one specific topic each month. Examples could include promptness, working hours, respect, communication, attire, etc. Use the time to address something specific that may have occurred in the past few weeks. For instance, if you overheard some of your employees engaging in unprofessional conversation at work, you may wish to emphasize that you expect tolerance and respect from every employee, no matter what the circumstances.

RELATED: Turning Around An Organization’s Culture in 14 Months

6. Reinforce to Show You Mean Business… Quickly

Does this mean you should enter the office like a SWAT team and intimidate everyone on your first day? Absolutely not. But it does mean that, in addition to getting to know your employees, you should reinforce the expectations you set early on and start to establish yourself as an authority to your employees. Reinforcing your policies and setting expectations quickly tells your employees that you mean business, and this will help you overcome the legacy of your predecessor.

Overcoming the reputation and legacy of your predecessor can be a unique challenge, but it’s important to recognize that the moment you become the new manager of a team, you become responsible for the team’s success. Thus, it’s crucial that you engage the team quickly to make your own mark.

Looking for More? Learn 5 Simple Ways to Promote Cultural Awareness in the Workplace


  • mike

    I just took a supervisor position August was a year. I was lost on my first day not to know what to expect, how to over come their old boss status, a year later I’m still struggling, some changes i made was okay but wasn’t implemented as it should of had been. Now i have been through three bosses since then, all have had different aspects. A year later still struggling and losing my grip. I have to find my way and find it quickly. From what i read here has helped some by giving me aspect of what i should of done! Unprofessionally this i know, I’ve made waves with some of my employees. What to do now is all i can ask. I ask other supervisions for assistant, all i get it they work for you or hey make them pay.

    • MRH Team

      Hi Mike,
      Thanks for the comment and congrats on becoming a manager.

      The first thing I would say is to absolutely not ‘make them pay.’ It may work once, may work twice, but certainly won’t work in the long run. It will only encourage employees to make your job harder, and will make them more difficult to manage.

      Instead, focus on finding some sort of common ground. Roll up your sleeves and get involved if possible, showing them you’re part of the team, not just a boss who tells them what to do. They may have that desire for their old boss, but that was a different time. Make sure you show them you have their interests in mind. The legacy of their previous boss will only fade when they feel they can trust you, when they see you taking care of them in some way, making positive changes, etc. It takes time, but every day is a chance to start.

      Best of luck!

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