Dear Lifehacker, My old boss was great. She and I got along, and she was a great manager. She got a new job and left the company, and they just hired someone to replace her. He’s OK; he’s just getting his bearings, so I’m withholding judgement. How can I set the stage early so he and I learn to get along well and work together? Sincerely, Concerned Colleague
Getting a new manager when one you trust and have worked with for years leaves can be really challenging. Speaking from experience, it can be a shock, and it can be enough to make you want to just leave your job. However, if you and your old boss didn’t get along (which clearly isn’t the case here), it can mean a breath of fresh air and a chance for a new start.
The important thing to remember is that your relationship with your boss is a two-way street. It may not seem like it’s your responsibility to step up and make sure you two get along, but you’ll be happier for having done so than if you wait for your boss to make the first move. Test the waters, and you’ll be rewarded — either with a good relationship or with the early knowledge that things won’t work out.
Prepare for Change
It goes with the territory, but the first thing to understand is that things are going to be different. No one likes change, and a lot of the initial discomfort of working under new management comes from sheer resistance to it. Even if the change is good, it’s still not going to be what you’re used to. If you accept that things are going to be different out of the gate, you give yourself the flexibility to adjust to what’s going to come next. Don’t expect your new boss to just fit into your old boss’s mould — it’s just not going to happen. There will be growing pains.
That doesn’t mean accept all changes. Keep your eyes open and pay attention to how your new boss is shaping up. Is he interested in your opinion, or that of your colleagues, or is he just taking direction from his manager? Is she interested in your work, or is she hands-off? Is there sudden interest in new priorities, new projects and new hiring? Think about what that might mean for you, and keep your options open. New hiring and new projects could mean great new opportunities, or it could mean new people in to push the old guard out. Don’t let yourself be caught off guard.
Discuss Expectations and Goals Early
The best thing to do to be sure you and your new boss get off on the right foot is to talk to one another, one-on-one. Schedule an informal meeting over lunch or coffee to get to know one another. It doesn’t matter whether you work in an office setting or in a stockroom, you deserve to know how he or she plans to manage your workload, review your performance, and set priorities. If you can, take notes and get everything in writing so there’s no confusion.
If your boss has little say over more than whether you can take a day off, a chat over coffee will do. If you value your job or your boss has a say in your career path, it’s a bigger conversation. Talk about your current projects, what your new boss wants to do, and your personal career path. Also, you’re not currying favour, so don’t suck up — no one appreciates that. You want to get on the same page, not score points.
I know the feeling. At one of my previous jobs, I got a new boss, and we didn’t get along at first. My old boss had been hands-off and gave me complete freedom. My new boss wanted to be involved. Initially, I mistook his engagement for oversight, and his questions as interrogation when he was really just curious. It took him offering to sit down over coffee before we were on the same page. Not everyone has that opportunity, but if you get it, take it — and don’t wait for your boss to come to you. I was lucky — he could have just axed me, but he took the high road, and we turned out to be good friends, even now.
Pick Your Battles and Make Easy Changes
Working for a new person will also require you to adapt to the way they work. If you prefer email, your new boss may prefer phone calls or face-to-face conversations. You may have had a boss that didn’t need regular updates from you at all, and now you have one that wants reports every week. Maybe they’re a bit of a micromanager. It can be annoying and take you out of your rhythm, but you’ll have to be ready for that. If you want to keep your job, you’ll need to learn to adapt. You may have to do some “managing up” in order to make it work, but it’s worth it to build a better relationship all-around.
Also, pick your battles. Go to bat over the things that are really important, and let the little things drop. If you really need your afternoons to get work done and your boss prefers scheduling meetings right in the middle of your best working times, be ready to go to bat for yourself and explain why they should be the one to adjust in this case. You may win, you may lose, but it’s more important to understand when you should fight and when you should bend with the wind.
Remember, You Have a New Boss, but They Have a New Job
Before you get really frustrated, remember: You may be struggling to deal with a new manager, but your new manager (even if they came from inside the company) is struggling with a new job. They probably have a new boss of their own, one that sees them as an opportunity to do new things — which of course, will eventually also mean more work for you. They may be passing along work that your old boss would have pushed back against, but they aren’t in the position to (being new and all). Keep that in mind, work with them to establish priorities, and in time they’ll learn the ropes.
At least give them a fair shake. Remember how you were when you were new. You may have done work for people then you’d never do now just because you were new and trying to make a good impression. Even so, that doesn’t mean you should let yourself get walked on. If the work is unreasonable, let them know and explain why.
Bow Out If You Have To
It’s often said that employees leave managers, not companies. It’s not universal, but it’s true that more people leave jobs because of a bad boss than because of “the company.” If you know that you and your new boss just won’t get along, or your new boss is symbolic of some deeper changes, it might be time to bow out.
This is especially true when office politics come into play. For example, a departing manager may be an opportunity for a VP or director to slot someone they like into a position for which they’re not qualified. Departments may bicker over where a team will eventually end up, or who gets their budget and headcount. Don’t get embroiled in office politics above your pay grade. Keep your options open and your resume up to date. Like we said, you should give everyone the benefit of the doubt and a fair shake, but there are times when you need to get out while the getting is good (and you can use your last boss as a positive reference.)
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