“Stuck” In Management, Cause #3: The Temporary Commitment


This is the next bullet point in my continuing series on how you can find yourself “stuck” in management, and how to get yourself “unstuck.” In this post, we’ll talk about how you may find yourself filling a “temporary” management role that somehow became more permanent than you had planned.

You’re dependable, reliable, and a natural leader. One day your manager calls you into her office, sharing information that has not yet been made public.

“We had to let Joe go today.”

You’re a little stunned at the news. “Oh, wow. I knew there were issues, but I didn’t realize it was that serious.”

“You know how hard it’ll be to find his replacement,” she continues. “We know you want to stay hands-on, but you’re one of our most senior people, and we really need you to help us out here until we can find someone else.”

Being an ethical and loyal professional, you immediately respond from the gut. “Of course I can help out a little while. Did you start the search yet?”

“We’ve reached out to a couple of agencies, but we’d really love to promote from within. I was hoping you’d be happy in the position and consider it for yourself.”

Due to that sense of obligation I mentioned in my prior post, you’re tempted to agree to try it out. But you shake yourself out of your stunned state just in time to remind her how you really want to stay technical.

“I understand,” she replies somewhat disappointedly, and then goes on to tell you about a management meeting that afternoon to discuss the transition.

And that’s just the first sign the desire to look for a permanent replacement is dissipating.

Through nobody’s fault, months go by and the “temporary” arrangement is forgotten. You appear to be performing well, because, well, as a consummate team player, you know they’re depending on you.

This is extremely dangerous. It’s the boiled frog scenario. You missed the chance to jump out of the water when the topic was first broached, and now you’ve gotten used to it. And so has your boss.

At this time, you either give in and stick it out, or you’ll need to leave. A clean break is needed, because by this time, it’s way too late to go back without it becoming a demotion.

There is no easy solution in this scenario. You didn’t want to leave your company hanging at a critical time, but as stunned as you were at the original news, you needed to pause and think things out. Two lessons: 1) A sudden request should not trigger a spur of the moment career decision. Take at least a few hours to absorb everything before giving an answer, and prepare your reasons for turning it down. 2) Never, ever let months, or even weeks go by without following up on their replacement plan, and to remind your manager that this was just temporary, explaining why you’re value is higher in your prior role. Don’t make it sound like you’re turning down a promotion. Frame it with what they’d be losing by moving you out of the role that you did so well for them.

Next time, we’ll talk about loyalty, and what that really means these days.


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