“You’ve got big shoes to fill!”
This happens every time.
When a new CEO enters into a successful company. When a new pastor enters into a church previously led by a long time pastor. When a new President fills the role of leading a successful non-profit.
That phrase is repeated over and over again. And, there is some truth to it. Every organization that has been led by a person for some amount of time has usually grown to a certain size which involves many layers of complexity. The person moving into that role has to “fill in” their knowledge, understanding, and leadership capacity to handle that complexity.
In addition, there are many stylistic spaces, created by the previous leader, that the new leader has to navigate. The new leader has to understand the leadership personality of the previous person who filled the role and how employees’ (or volunteers’) expectations and interactions were influenced by that leader’s personality.
But, with all that being said, I don’t know that it’s really helpful to tell an incoming Leader/CEO/President/Pastor that they have big shoes to fill. The phrase automatically assumes that they only exist to carry on the legacy and leadership of the person who preceded them. The phrase also automatically assumes that the person coming in does not have the experience or knowledge base at the present moment to lead the organization. While there may be some truth there, that truth is unhelpful in setting a positive tone for the arrival of the new leader.
Let’s give new leaders the space necessary to grow organically into the roles that they are entering into. Let’s remove the pressure from them having to somehow fulfill the status quo, the stylistic design, or the organizational complexity that makes up the organization. While all of those things are real and need to be understood and processed, let’s allow new leaders the opportunity to develop their own personality as they lead into a new future for the organization.
If you are a leader coming into a previously existing role, you must chart a new course while honoring the path of the past.
Do not walk in and fill someone else’s shoes…walk in, learn all you need to learn, and increase the size of your own leadership capacity. Get yourself your own big shoes to wear!
So how about we change the phrase?
Something like… “Get ready, your shoes are about to get really large!”
Or this one? “Go buy a pair of bigger shoes!”
Do you have any other ideas? Leave them in the comments!