Monday, August 11, 2008

Replacing & Being Replaced

I'm not a Packers fan, but I'm rooting for Aaron Rodgers this NFL season. This young man will tread the minefield of replacing the immortal Brett Favre as Packers quarterback, after serving as Favre's backup the last three seasons.

I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone called upon to replace a legend. For that matter, anyone coming into any organization to replace someone faces a difficult challenge. So does the person who is leaving. So does every other stakeholder affected by the transition.

So far in my career, I have come in as the "new guy" seven times. I've moved on and been replaced by someone else six times.

On some of these occasions, I replaced someone who walked on water. Other times, I replaced someone not as highly esteemed. Either way, it's tricky.

In the first case, there is no shortcut to bypass the time it takes to win over the grieving fans mourning the loss of your predecessor, whose legend only becomes more golden with the passage of time. ("There just haven't been times like those since...[sniff]...I'm sorry, I just get so emotional....")

In the latter case, a ticker-tape parade is thrown for you at least once a week, and the no-good louse you replaced ("Oh, thank GOD for you!!!") becomes lazier and even more grossly incompetent in people's memories with every passing day. (This can go to your head if you're not careful.)

I'll never forget my arrival at my second teaching job. I took over in mid-year for a saintly teacher who left for another job. A fellow teacher showed me around the school, introducing me to everyone, and we came upon a parent volunteer in the workroom. Knowing this parent had a child in what was soon to be my class, my tourguide decided to introduce me to her.

"Mrs. ______________, this is Mr. Dominguez. He's the new teacher taking Mrs. _____________'s place."

It was suddenly clear Mrs. ________________ had not seen the memo about Mrs. _____________'s departure.

It was as if my tourguide had told this woman that her son had been caught with a thermos full of vodka. Her cheeks flushed. Her eyes bulged in horror and welled with tears. Then, right in front of me, Mrs. ______________ blurted to my tourguide, "But, I don't want Mrs. ____________ to leave!"

Welcome aboard.

Through these experiences, I've developed a sort of etiquette to abide by whenever these transitions take place. These rules have kept me out of hot water so far:

*When you're the new guy:

Ask a lot of questions and do a lot of listening.
Do the very best work you can do, quietly.
Be honest about your shortcomings.
Speak of your predecessor only when it is unavoidable to do so, and only in positive terms.
Overlook the insensitive remarks of those who fault you for not being just like your predecessor.
Call upon your predecessor for help or advice if needed. Don't let your pride get in the way.
Have faith. Time is the only cure.

*When you're the one leaving:

If you get to meet your successor, be kind and express confidence in his/her ability. Share all relevant information.
Understate your importance, but make yourself available, just to your successor, should he/she desire contact.
Praise your successor in the presence of your grieving fans.
Unless your successor requests otherwise, clear out and stay out. Don't haunt the place.
Do not allow yourself to become a depository for complaints from your grieving fans about your successor.

*When you're the grieving fan:

Grow up! Prepare your mind for a mature transition.
Be kind.
Never say, do, or even think, anything that would harm the new guy's chances. Make a special commitment to this.
Do not remind the new guy how the predecessor did things, unless you are asked for this input.

*When you're the one who celebrated the predecessor's departure:

Keep it in perspective. The new guy isn't perfect, either.
Don't badmouth the predecessor or exaggerate the new guy's greatness.
Take a look in the mirror. Any chance you were part of the problem with the predecessor?

What all this comes down to is the matter of how we treat others, and how we want to be treated, when we are at our most exposed and vulnerable. Every rule listed above is directed against the temptation to take advantage of someone else's vulnerability, and serves as a reminder that we're all likely to be vulnerable sometime.

No matter how many times we conquer new territory, no matter how confident we become in our ability, we will all face a moment sometime, somewhere, when we are made to feel like this:

"The scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the
midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now, Moses, in the
law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do you say?" -- John 8:3-5

Of course, this story condemns self-righteous hypocrisy, and the men who brought this woman to Jesus did so out of false motive, but imagine how the woman felt at this moment. Does the word "humiliation" even suffice here? Yes, she was indeed engaged in sin, but she didn't deserve this treatment. She was vulnerable. She was exposed. She was alone, although she should not have been. (Where was the man she was in bed with, again?)

Consider how she was treated at her most vulnerable moment. The men who brought her to Jesus took advantage of this woman's vulnerability to use her for their own purposes. Jesus, on the other hand, restored dignity in a moment of shame. He did not allow the sin to pass unchallenged, but neither did he allow a soul to be abused.

How did you feel in your moment of unflattering exposure? That time when your faults were on display for the world to see and judge? That time when you threw the interception that cemented the opponents' victory, that interception your predecessor never would have thrown?

If you've lived through a moment like that, did it change your approach to moments when the shoe is on the other foot? When it is you with the advantage, and someone else who is exposed? When you are the interviewer asking the questions, instead of the nervous job-seeker scrambling for the right answers?

How do we treat people who are vulnerable? How did Jesus treat them?

"Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted."-- Galatians 6:1

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." -- Matthew 5:7

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