How to replace a legend…

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In late 2013, I accepted the Director position here in East Goshen Township and met Mr. Frank Vattilano. He had been the Director here for twenty-five years and had what lovingly could be called a cult-like following. I shadowed him for two weeks and everywhere we went, it was nothing but bear hugs and tears. He had a verbose, story telling air about him, he would meander between topics with the community just as all our grandfathers do at holiday time. My first reaction…this is awesome. This community obviously loves parks and recreation and cares about the professional staff that administers it. That said, I cannot tell you how many people gave me a smile and said “you have big shoes to fill”…

Here are some of my recommendations for “filling their big shoes”…

1) Embrace their awesomeness – they were probably really good for the community! Don’t feel intimidated by your community’s affection for an outgoing Director…that same affection can come your way!

2) Be confident in your abilities – you were chosen to be the legend’s replacement for a reason…the selection committee chose YOU over plenty of other qualified people. Celebrate the legend for what he or she was, but know that you are going to kick butt over the next twenty-five years.

3) Know your park and rec talking points – whenever someone said the “shoes” thing to me…I acknowledged Frank was awesome, then immediately told them 2-3 things they could look forward to under the “Jason” regime. Control the conversation…

4) Tell people you aren’t blowing things up (even if you are). Over the prior 25 years, East Goshen Parks and Rec had motored along and the community loved it. When I started however, I had my “objective” glasses on and could see we needed some work. Individuals, groups and communities don’t like being overtly told they’ve been doing things the wrong way for years…be tactful and nuanced when discussing wholesale changes.

5) Take a deep breath – replacing a legend takes time. Find ways to engender confidence in your leadership through small easy victories, you will get there!

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Author: Jason Lang

Director of Parks and Recreation East Goshen Township

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