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New Boss, Now What? Handling a Change in Immediate Leadership

Sep 3, 2020 | 11m

Gain Actionable Insights Into:

  • Common mistakes some people make when facing a change in immediate leadership
  • Managing the change while remaining effective
  • Do’s and don’ts when adapting to a new boss

The Challenges of a New Boss

No matter where you are in the hierarchy of your job, the prospect of a new boss can cause anxiety. If this is you, don’t fret. It is quite natural to feel trepidation when facing a change in leadership. Bosses play a significant role in our work life, both on a day-to-day basis and for long-term career goals. They influence performance, impact motivations and play a critical role in our opportunities for growth in the organisation.

A big part of anxiety stems from the fear of the unknown. This is because we are in our comfort zone, secure and successful having mastered the existing way of work. A change in leadership signals a change in our status quo and new expectations. What if my new boss has unreasonable expectations? What if their working and management style is different from what you’re used to? In addition to fear, you may find a mental resistance to change clouding your approach. Since most of us are set in our ways, the auto pilot mode which governs our mindsets and working style can become a mental barrier to change.

Mental baggage starts building even before we’ve met the new boss. To allay your anxiety and fears you may try to get information about the new boss through formal, informal, reliable, and unreliable channels. You may even use that information to start forming impressions such as, ‘the new boss is a ‘cost cutting specialist,’ even before meeting them! This potentially unreliable information can colour the mind and can hamper the process of establishing a healthy equation with the new boss. Basing a relationship on assumptions and unsubstantiated information without interaction is not a good way to commence a relationship with your new boss. 

Another mistake people make when facing a change in leadership is comparison. Two people are rarely alike, and you shouldn’t compare the new boss to the previous boss. Two people will always be different in their approach to work and human relations. This only means that the new boss is different from the previous boss, and not better or worse! Don’t jump to conclusions based on early impressions. Evaluation on the yardstick of comparison is a common tendency and a major challenge in establishing a healthy work relationship with your new boss.   

Another mindset which prevents a smooth transition is the mindset of, “Nobody knows this place as well as I do. ” This happens particularly when an employee has been in the job for a long time. There is a tendency to disregard any new approach or suggestion from the new boss. The common refrain at such times is, “These outsiders don’t know the realities on the ground.” When starting with a new boss, keep an open mind. They may not be from the same company or even industry but can have great ideas, which could work wonders in conjunction with your in-depth knowledge of the ground. Think of what you both could achieve with cooperation and collaboration! 

Let me share a real-life experience with you. 

A friend of many years was a senior leader in a pharmaceutical company. The company where he worked was undergoing transformation, and the CEO was replaced by a successful senior executive from a FMCG company. My friend was disturbed and even contemplated resigning. He found himself teaching the new CEO the intricacies of the pharma business. He was uncomfortable because he thought his job was to drive the marketing function and not to be an industry advisor to the CEO!

However, in a few months it became evident that the new CEO had skills and strengths, which, although different, were necessary for taking the business to new levels. The new CEO acquired a few businesses, sold a few brands, and grew the business and profitability multifold. Eventually, the entire team started respecting him, his leadership and his business acumen which led to the unprecedented growth of the organisation. Soon my friend realised that his initial concerns were unfounded, and, that he was unnecessarily shouldering the baggage of distrust and resistance.  

Hence, resist the temptation of prematurely judging the new boss. This is detrimental to both personal and business outcomes. Keep an open mind, cooperate and collaborate to succeed.

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Mahesh Asrani

Chief Audit Officer

COFCO International Limited



Managing Up