How to Become Your Boss’s Successor

 If moving up the ladder is important to you, then part of managing your career is preparing yourself to succeed your boss.    Just because you’ve been getting positive performance reviews doesn’t mean you’re a shoe-in for getting your boss’s job.  It’s likely that your co-workers also have designs on that position, even though they may not have said anything. The biggest mistake we see people make is that they assume they are the frontrunner for the job and think it’s only a matter of time before they get it.  When it doesn’t happen they’re in shock and disbelief. 

What went wrong?  Unfortunately, they didn’t do enough to earn their boss’s job.

Here’s our “Take Five” on how to position yourself to be your boss’s successor:

  1. Make Your Case:   Approach your boss and tell them why you believe you are the best person to be groomed for the job.  Speak to your accomplishments and qualities that make you a logical choice.  Acknowledge the areas you know you need to improve upon and ask if there are additional ones.  Your boss will appreciate your direct approach and this will separate you from your peers, who may be waiting for something to happen instead of making something happen.
  2. Analyze Your Boss’s Job:   From a macro level, what is your boss responsible for?  For example, your boss may be responsible for Sales, Marketing and Manufacturing.  Analyze what the key responsibilities are in each functional area, to see what you could take off your boss’s plate.  Be realistic given your current level and what you are proposing.  It should be a stretch but not an overreaching one.  Be prepared to have a strong rationale for why it makes sense for you to take on these additional responsibilities, and how you can handle more without compromising your current job.
  3. Present Your Proposal:  Set up a meeting with your boss to talk specifics.   Communicate that you have identified the key areas in which you can help them, letting them know which ones you are most interested in. While you may have preferences for certain areas,  let them know you are open to any suggestions they have.    Don’t be afraid to state the obvious benefit to your boss – having you do more frees them up to do other things. If you’re met with too much resistance, then offer to take on the responsibility on an interim basis until you’ve proven yourself.
  4. Work Closer with Your Boss:  Bosses are usually working on various projects and could very well need extra help.   Look for a situation where the two of you can be involved in every phase of a project.  This will effectively make you the co-pilot.  By working closely with your boss you will learn the nuances of what makes them successful and cement the bond between you.  Working this closely will help your boss see first hand how you can step into their job.  In addition, should your boss be unavailable, you would be the go-to person on this project, enabling others to see you in your boss’s role. 
  5. Think Bigger:  People rise within companies because of their ability to contribute at a higher level.  Pay close attention to the key issues within your industry.  The ability to speak intelligently about the factors affecting your industry will separate you from the pack.  Being clued in will increase your chance of coming up with a solution to strengthen your company’s competitive position.   Practice thinking like a CEO and look for ways to grow the company.

One thing that prevents leaders from moving up is that they don’t have a successor in place.  By taking the initiative you are creating a situation in which both you and your boss will benefit greatly.


About whelanstone

I'm originally from New York - lost my accent when I moved down to Florida - and made San Francisco my home in 1985. I've been recruiting & coaching for 12 years, with the best partner (Fred) you could ask for, and love what I do. When I'm not busy working I write screenplays (haven't sold one yet) and travel - Morocco this past summer was fantastic. Fred and I started this blog because we wanted to share what we've learned along the way. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as we do writing it.
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