Crash Course in ... Handling a new boss

How to avoid the pitfalls of dealing with a new boss.

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The office is abuzz. A new head honcho has been appointed and is due to arrive in a couple of weeks' time. You've realised that starting off on the right footing is essential: this could be a career-defining moment. So how do you play it?

Do your homework. Find out what you can about him or her before they arrive. 'Search the web for information on the organisation your boss is leaving,' says Siobhan Hamilton-Phillips, founder of Career Psychology. 'This will give you some idea of the possible differences in organisational culture.' Corinne Mills, managing director of Personal Career Management, adds: 'If they've been working in the same industry, you'll quite likely know someone who knows them, so find out their likes and dislikes.' Try to discover what brief they have been given in the new position.

Clear the decks. It's a good idea to tidy up any unresolved issues and problems before they arrive, says Mills. 'You don't want them arriving on their first day and saying to you: "What's all this mess?" So anything that stops at your feet should be squared off in advance.'

Be positive. Whatever else you do, you'll want to make a good impression with the new boss, which means you may want to take extra trouble about your appearance. But attitude is even more important. 'People often indulge in a bit of macho posturing and subtle power play with a new boss; even being unhelpful,' says Mills. 'If that's your attitude, you won't last. So even if it seems obvious, go out of your way to be helpful.'

Pitch yourself realistically. 'Managers find it notoriously difficult to make judgments about people's capabilities,' says Stuart Duff, partner with business psychologists Pearn Kandola. 'So the onus is on the individual to demonstrate their true level of capability, not to over-talk or under-talk. The best way to build trust is to show that you can get on with your job competently.'

Study your subject. One of the most important things to understand about the new broom is their personal style of communication. 'How much information does the person want?' asks Duff. 'How often do they want to communicate, and do they prefer short, sharp briefings or more lengthy meetings? See if you can answer these questions through observation.'

Give them time. The new boss is going to be frantic for the first few days. So after introducing yourself, give them time before you try to turn their attention onto yourself and your own aspirations. Be the flexible one who fits in with their needs and schedule.

Be receptive to change. 'Every time someone new joins a team, group or department, there is a chemical change,' says Hamilton-Phillips. 'So stay adaptable. Having a new boss can be a maturing experience; you will learn new ways of thinking, new challenges, some good, some not so good.'

Do say: 'If there's anything you need, let me know and I'll do my best to help.'

Don't say: 'That's not how X (their predecessor) used to do it.'

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