BLUF: I keep hearing people want me to be the next boss -- but our current boss isn't going anywhere.   Do I need to respond?

I work in a support organization for a large university.  Our chief is not well-respected, internally or externally.  In fact, we are probably headed for a merger with another organization on campus, and many feel it is due to her mismanagement of our organization.

I've been a department head for about a year, and by using Manager Tools, have had good results with my department.  A number of people in other departments have approached me about transferring in to my department, although I have not had many openings.  

Here's where it gets weird.  Colleagues I trust are reporting that many people in my organization have said they would like me to take the chief's role when she is gone.  Others have directly told me they would like to see me in that position.  I assure you I have never instigated these discussions nor mentioned any desire for that position.   

I wouldn't mind that role, and I think I would probably do well.   But... the chief isn't going anywhere that I can tell.  I don't want to be cast in the position of plotting against her.   Is there something I should say when people talk to me in this way?  So far, I've just been bashfully shrugging my shoulders.


donm's picture
Training Badge

Your plan should be for your boss to succeed so spectacularly that she catapults to the next level and takes you along as one of her supporters.

You deserve it if you get fired. "So far, I've just been bashfully shrugging my shoulders" is enough for you to be considered to be complicit and undermining.

pucciot's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

I agree with _donm_.

Being bashful could seem like public passivity covering for private plotting.

This has happened to me as well.

I recommend that you have a good statement prepared for whenever you hear this or get wind of it.

Something like :

 "Why, Thank You. I appreciate your confidence in me.  For right now, I have plenty of good work to do in my current job.  AND I am totally dedicated to helping Mr Smith [the boss] achieve the department goals he has set."

"Well, that's nice that you think so much of me.  Right now I have lots on my plate where I am. I support Mr. Smith and his efforts as our crew chief. "  

"Well, that's really thinking ahead.  I appreciate your confidence in me.  Mr Smith is doing his job, and _my_ job is to support him and the goals he has set for the department."

--  When they counter or add that Mr. Smith is not very good at the job   - you should defer by saying....  

"Hey, nobody's perfect and He's the boss.  I'm focusing on doing my current job as best I can.  That's what we are all here for."

If they ask you if you would want to do that job... then say

"Yes, perhaps sometime in the future.  Right now I am focusing on my current job.  It's not my place to hurry anybody out the door, unless they want help up the ladder.  I support Mr. Smith"

I hope you get the idea.

Shrugging your shoulders won't be enough any more.

Practice a few simple sentences :

A - Thank the person who offered comment for their compliment

B - Let them know that you are focused on results and relationships in your current position

C - Let them know publicly and unequivocally that you support the current boss

If it starts getting so bad it is clear the boss knows this and is bothered... You may even consider catching your Boss in a casual moment and let him/her know that you are not interested in pushing him/her out the door.  And that you support him/her.

All the best to you


MurrayAntoinette's picture

Great advice, thanks! 

duplicate_account_MarkAus's picture

Manager Tools has several podcasts about dealing with Gossip, which is really all this talk between your colleagues is.  (I take you at your word that you're not the source of it and you are right to not engage too much with it).

You don't need to squash it, or pretend you don't think you're worthy.  Simply refuse to feed rumours and idle chatter.  Thank people for the compliment given, and focus on providing great results and building strong relationships.   Remember there is no such thing as an heir apparent in business.