Following the death of longtime host Alex Trebek, Jeopardy! just announced it will resume production later this month. (New episodes already filmed featuring Trebek will run until sometime in January.)
The first of what will be a "series" of interim hosts? Ken Jennings, arguably the best Jeopardy! player of all time. (With a hat tip to the literally game-changing James Holzhauer.)
Makes sense: While certainly not beloved to a Trebekian level -- who could be? -- Jennings is widely admired in the Jeopardy! community.
Even so, it's a tough gig. As the old adage goes, you don't want to replace a superstar; regardless of your performance, it's almost impossible not to pale in perceived comparison.
The better gig? Replacing the person who replaced the superstar.
Buy a successful family firm that was run for 30 years by its beloved founder? Tough gig. Take over a department that was run by a creative, empathetic, emotionally intelligent boss who worked hard to develop every employee? Tough gig.
Take over from Steve Jobs? Ask Tim Cook: Tough gig.
Unless you make the family firm, the department, or the company -- and its people -- the focus.
Taking over in a flashy, public, "There's a new sheriff in town" way? That's fine when the business is struggling. That's fine when change is essential. That's fine when business as usual is the absolute worst approach.
But not when a business is already thriving.
Alex Trebek was the host of Jeopardy!, but he allowed the game to be the star. He never forgot he wasn't the reason people tuned in; his job was to service the game and the contestants.
Like a great referee, Trebek knew his job was to be seen -- but not noticed.
The same is true for great bosses.
Great bosses focus on serving, not on being served. Great bosses focus on creating an environment where the brand -- its products, services, and people -- can shine. Great bosses focus on ensuring great employees can achieve and shine and grow on the basis of their own effort, talent, and skill.
What should Jennings do? First, take a page from the Tim Cook playbook. Cook didn't try to become the next Steve Jobs. He just worked (and works) to make Apple an even better Apple. Cook lets the products -- and by extension, the people who create them -- shine.
Jennings shouldn't try to become the next Alex Trebek. He should be himself, and let the contestants and the game shine. Because the host can lose in the court of popularity, but he or she can't "win."
Ultimately, only the game can win.
But here's the cool part: When the game wins -- when contestants like Jennings himself, Holzhauer, and Brad Rutter win -- then Jennings also wins.
The same is true for you. When the company you just purchased keeps winning, you win. When your employees win, you win.
Even if your contribution basically only amounts to staying out of the way.
Always makes sure the "game" wins.
Because that's the only way you will win -- especially over the long term.