How to Deal with a Difficult Time Adjusting to a New Boss

Folks, we had an {{important conversation}} last week on the {{The Everyday Leader Podcast}}.

Lately, we’ve been working with several leaders who are dealing with the very real situation of having to adjust to a new boss, and having a difficult time with it. We wanted to share some useful thoughts on the topic in case you are facing a similar challenge too.

Let’s paint the picture, shall we?

You have a job you love. You’re great at what you do. You are recognized for your talent, and there is a sense of value that you bring to your position and to your company. Your team likes you. And your team is rockin’. You have worked hard to get here… and you have made progress year-over-year.

Are you perfect? No. But things have worked well and you’ve felt good about yourself, and your career, on the grand majority of days.

And then–wham. You get a new boss. Seemingly overnight, everything has changed….

You now feel like you are living under a magnifying glass, and everything you do is being questioned. Maybe you’re being called out in meetings, or undermined, or just circumvented completely. Or perhaps it is more subtle for you but you just have a feeling. A sinking feeling… that things are not what they used to be. That someone has, in fact, moved your cheese.

First, we want to honor you – this is a tough situation and generally just stinks all around. The struggle is real… and no, you’re not imagining things.

But friend, we have to get real with you. We have worked with so many leaders through this situation and rarely does it end well. Your new boss, unless he or she is an abhorrent a-hole who digs his or her own hole very quickly, is here to stay. The quicker you can recognize that the game has changed, the sooner you can be the master of your own destiny.

When a new boss comes aboard, it is up to you to figure out how to make it work.

During last week’s episode, we offered eight tips for dealing with the dynamics of your new boss.

Here they are.

#1 Seek to Understand What Matters Most to Them

Seek to understand. Put on your investigator hat and try to figure out what matters most to your new boss.

Ask questions about their preferences, vision, values, hobbies/interests. But don’t stop there—dig a little deeper. Seek to understand why they wanted the job and what they hope to accomplish in the next 3-5 years.

The goal here is to learn as much as you can about what’s driving him or her and how you can connect to those things.

#2 Be Really Observant of Their Behaviors

Notice when things work well for them versus when they don’t. If you notice that there are people they really like who seem to be in the right fold, watch and study what those people do that seems to work. And if you know you can trust them, just talk to them. Ask them directly, “what do you do to get along so well…?”

#3 Let Go of Your Own Agenda and Get on Board with Theirs

If you’ve been in the flow and things have been working well for you for a while, it might be hard to abort the mission (so to speak) and let go a little bit. Step back and recognize that this is the time to get on board with their agenda and give them a chance.

If you’re bummed about who got the position, or you objectively just disagree with the choice, it’s time to put that aside. You’re now going to have to be patient and also ask for the patience of your team members as everyone adjusts to the new dynamic.

It might be just as hard (if not more!) for those working for you, so the onus is on you to support and lead them through it.

Last but not least, it is absolutely critical for you NOT to spread any ill will about your new leader. And to model this behavior and spur others to suspend their judgment too, try to be as supportive, encouraging, and as positive as you can.

#4 Find Opportunities to Subtly Educate Your New Boss

Your new boss probably has a lot on their plate at the moment, which might result in their not asking you the right questions. Sometimes you need to step in and explain things (or at least try to weave it organically into conversations) yourself.

Educate your new leader on what it is that you do, why you do it, how you manage your processes, or any other important things you feel play a role in helping you achieve the outcomes you’re responsible for.

Rather than coming off as defensive, try to educate them from more of a supportive perspective. For example, rather than taking a hard stance that suggests “this is the way we do it around here!”, attempt a softer approach that says “let me share with you what we’ve found to work well around here”.

The key is to not be condescending, but really finding subtle ways to bring awareness to what you do.

#5 Ask for and Honor Their Fresh Perspective

The odds are that your new boss is fighting to provide some value right upfront, so the more you make them feel like they are, the more they’ll feel comfortable “backing off” of you.

You want to make them feel like they truly are a value added and help to showcase their wins even if they’re somewhat your wins as well. This will help them get through those first 100 days or so and enable them to make a meaningful impact during their transition.

#6 Find Ways for Them to Win

Remember that their wins are your wins as well.

Try to align with their needs and their strategy so that you can show you want to partner with them, and that they can lean on you for their own success. This is a smart way to connect with them particularly if you’re finding it difficult to do so on a more personal level.

But its most important to at least make an effort and try.

If you’re trying these things and they’re just not working, then you can get to the point of being able to say, “nope, that’s not working for me and I need to find another solution or try a different approach.

#7 Embrace a Growth Mindset

Take a step back and recognize that this is an opportunity to gain some insights, and to hopefully grow. (Remember that growth happens during adversity more often than any other time, so this is an opportunity for you to learn even if it is challenging or annoying).

Take the perspective of “okay– where am I now; what am I gaining from this; and what are the nuggets I can take with me no matter what?!”. This will undoubtedly help you to show that you’re flexible, on board, in-it-to-win-it, and not necessarily going against the grain or creating another problem.

#8 Have the Difficult Conversation…But Tread Lightly & Take Baby Steps

If you’re finding that the tips above still aren’t doing the trick, that probably means you’re at a point where you need to have some difficult conversations.

There are probably going to be some things that you’ll end up needing to say, but our recommendation is to hold back from that until you’re able to say them smartly and with positive intention. On the flipside of these conversations you’ll have better answers for yourself in terms of where you’re going, so you want to be very planful and focused on your feedback, your needs, and staying open to your new leader’s perspective.

You really want to go into this conversation with a holistic perspective.

All that being said, these are all suggestions for really trying to make it work. Clearly, there are some situations when making it work may not be the best option. More on that in the future…

#9 Maintain Your Reputation

Reputation management is key.

You’ve spent a lot of time building and maintaining a solid track record and a strong reputation, and it’s critical that you keep that intact because it’s one of the worst things you could lose when going through this.

The longer you’re stuck in a no-win situation, the less chance you have of coming out with your reputation unharmed.

Just take a serious look at how you want to come out on the other side of this and manage to that—keep your cool, keep your emotional intelligence in check through difficult situations, and talk more with those who are outside of the organization than those on the inside.

Keeping away from the gossip mill and complaining to a minimum is critical. It’s okay to check in with peers for reflection—how it’s going for them, what their experiences are, etc., but try to keep it on the up-and-up.

#10 Work Your Network ASAP

No matter where you are in this scenario, work your network asap.

Get out there virtually and in-person. Reconnect with those who’ve been a part of your work life. Be thoughtful about what might be next for you, whether that’s inside or outside of the company.

Get out to different events, look up associations, read books, and look at what’s relevant—what’s going on right now? What’s shifting in your industry that you kind of lost track of because you’ve been so busy working? It’s time to expand your horizons.

I know at the beginning we said it doesn’t always end well. But what we really meant by that is it doesn’t always end with things going back to the way they were…

…but things CAN end very well for you even if you find yourself in a new situation, whether that new situation is at the same company or elsewhere. Just try to focus on bringing out the best in you and on creating an even better future than what you had previously envisioned.

Ultimately, rise above so that you can make the most of this unexpected shift.

This is your chance to take yourself out of the situation a little and look at it for what it is! We’re not trying to be cliche here, but remember that when one door closes, another one opens…

You can get through it. We believe in you 🙂

Good luck to ya, and as usual – contact us if we can be helpful!!