How to Deal When Your Manager Leaves

filling in for manager

What do you do when your manager leaves the company and you're expected to fill in? I have two friends in this situation. One is filling in for her manager and is gunning for a permanent promotion — how does she transition into the new role?

My other friend is filling in for his manager and is being urged to step up and fill the position, but he’s perfectly happy staying where he is. How does he gracefully say no?

The first question to ask is: Do you want a job or a career?

A job provides consistency but leaves you at the mercy of economic conditions outside your control. A career is something you consciously build with the expectation that knowledge, experience, and excellence are a hedge on economic uncertainty.

Your first friend clearly decided on a career over a job. If she’s been lucky enough to be asked to fill in, she should embrace that opportunity to show what she’s capable of. There’s no need to get hung-up on transitioning — she should just throw herself into the position. It’s best that she not focus on title or money in the short term and instead put all her energy into proving how smart and capable she is.

If the position is there to be filled for the long term and your friend is effectively doing the job, she should build a case for getting the title and the salary commensurate with the position, then proactively approach senior leadership with it.

If the position is vacant only for a finite period (like a maternity leave), your friend’s goal should be to impress enough higher-ups that even if her manager comes back they will continue to give her more responsibility and expand her role. Great companies find ways to keep talented people challenged, motivated, and inspired.

If your second friend decides he wants a job and he’s not interested in career advancement, it might be risky to turn down the opportunity. If management looks at his position as one they want to fill with a loyal, dependable employee who wants to stick around for a long time, his risk is low. But if they look at the position as a launch pad for greater opportunities, his level of risk is quite high. Management will see him as an employee who is shutting off a faucet of developing talent flowing in to the organization. Either way, he has to be honest with them — and with himself.

Christine Tardio is a trusted advisor and business coach to a dynamic range of women business leaders. She can be reached at

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