How to handle your new boss

Make a good impression, but don't be a teacher's pet.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 30 Mar 2017

The arrival of a new manager can be a tense time. It can change the culture, the way you work and the way you feel at work – and not always for the better. Not for nothing do they say that you leave your boss, not your job.

An optimist might hope that the person walking through the door for the first time tomorrow morning will be the very exemplar of modern leadership: authoritative not authoritarian, inspiring yet practical, a visionary but also a listener. You don’t have to be a pessimist to label that wishful thinking, just experienced.

Whether your new manager is a dream come true or a nightmare made flesh, you need to adapt. The question is how.

Be helpful, but don’t overstep

Your new boss will have a lot to take in: what is their team like, how does the business work, what value can they bring. A calendar packed with meetings hardly makes it easier.

In that context, the very best first impression you can make is by being helpful: constructive, easily digestible top-line summaries will go down a treat with your time-poor new manager.

There are dangers, however. If you deluge them with irrelevant information, you’ll only make their life harder. And if you come across as trying to set the agenda (‘you should know this’ as opposed to ‘what do you need to know?’), they might feel the need to show you who’s boss, not a reaction you want from them, especially so early on.

Be open to criticism but be willing to stand up for yourself

You are not the only one who feels the need to prove yourself. A new leader, like any new hire, is vulnerable. They need to show their bosses that they made the right choice, and they may not have too long to demonstrate it.

This means they will invariably come up with big ideas for how to improve things. Saying ‘but we tried that in 1998 and it didn’t work’ is unlikely to do you much good – you need to show willing, and accept implicit or explicit criticism of the way you’ve been doing things. You never know, some of it may be right...

The balancing act here of course is to let them manage you without becoming a pushover. If you don’t push back – gently but firmly - where you believe you are right, they will never learn to respect your opinion.

Be nice but don’t be a sycophant

Take them out to lunch. Offer to fetch them a tea or coffee. Ask them how they’re finding the place.  Just don’t be a creep.

All those are just friendly things to do, giving you a chance to get to know them a bit better and interact on a more human level. But if you force it, if you’re only doing it because they’re the boss, then they will sniff you out – and so will everyone else on your team.  

This is your manager, not some capricious pharaoh to be appeased by silver-tongued flattery. If you want a relationship of mutual respect, can the sycophancy.  

Do your job well, but don’t be afraid to look elsewhere

If your new boss is worth their salt, then how you talk to them will be far less important than how good you are at your job. There is nothing more helpful to your cause than excellence – both as an individual contributor and as a part of the team.    

If your new boss can’t see that – if they’re vindictive, misguided or tyrannical – then don’t be afraid to look for another position. Life is too short to suffer in silence, and if your manager’s really that bad, they might take you down with them.

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