Flourish in the Fire: How to Grow in a Temporary Role

This week’s side lesson: when you fall off, get right back on. I lapsed in my posting schedule (but not my newsletter, small victories!) First up, continuing on this newsletter on Careers, let’s talk about something we’ve all been through:

What happens when you’re thrown into duties beyond your “job description” and you don’t want to go back into your box once your team structure is resolved?

Every organization faces change, but you learn the most about your leaders when it’s unexpected. Most offices don’t have a support team ready to swoop in to help with the transition when a colleague or supervisor leaves. Even if you do get help, it’s likely you’ll find yourself in an unexpected leadership role.

It can be tough to adjust to a shift in responsibility when you have to take on duties that are beyond your technical experience. Even so, this presents an excellent opportunity for growth, so here a few tips to make the best of it:

Be Flexible

If you ever think “that’s not my job,” do it anyway. Even simple tasks that you’re not accustomed to are an opportunity for learning or networking. Draw the line at personal favors – you’re not picking up coffee for anyone unless you offered because you’re getting some for yourself.

Identify Gaps

Now that you’re in the middle of the storm, what do you see that needs improvement? Is your team (or what’s left of it) communicating effectively? If you can identify a piece of the process that’s broken, consider different ways to fix it. Depending on the energy in your workplace, you might just be able to call a casual meeting and ask people for their input. If things are a little more formal, you may need to meet with the boss and present your solution.

Build Relationships

When a team is reduced, your relationships with other colleagues become more important than ever. Don’t hesitate to ask for advice or assistance from those around (and above) you. Isolating yourself when things get frantic is unproductive at best, damaging to your sanity at worst.

Maintain Communication

I can’t stress the importance of this point enough – even on a small team (or especially so) it is critical to keep your colleagues informed. If you’re collaborating on a project, be consistent in reporting your status, answering questions, and sharing lessons learned. There’s pages worth of writing material on this topic, so I’ll move on – but you can expect a dedicated post later.

Exceed Expectations

Doing the bare minimum within your new duties will not cut it. While it may spur your office to try to fill the position faster, it’s not good for you to suddenly be seen as a slacker because your load’s been doubled. Exceeding expectations does not mean doing everything yourself. Be engaged, be resourceful, delegate, and ask for help.

Ask for It

When things start to settle, be honest with your manager about the duties you’d like to keep. This is a bold move, but most will appreciate your honesty.

Even if your accidental boss role is temporary, it can have lasting effects on your career. Push yourself to rise to the challenge and kiss your limits goodbye. I promise you’ll be better the moment you stop thinking anything resembling “I can’t…”


We may not know everything, but we can learn anything, so don’t say you can’t until you’ve put in the work to learn how.