How do you change when your leader changes?

Unrecognizable person standing on doormat

One of the more significant changes we deal with at work is the change in our reporting relationship. Ray is in this position:  The person who hired her (who actively recruited her into this new company) has left – and she now finds herself reporting to a person she doesn’t know, and frankly, didn’t choose to work with.

While disappointed, Ray may not realize she’s in a precarious position. A new leader has to prove their own worth with quick results. They often are brought onboard to change what isn’t working. If Ray doesn’t pay attention, she may find herself being viewed as a liability by the new leader. Here are the immediate strategies we discuss:

  1. Don’t take it personally. When a leader we like leaves, they might tell us their backstory in detail. While it’s nice to be a confidant, a bitter experience recounted can taint our own view. Ray needs to keep a balanced perspective. It’s not her job to fight a lost battle, and it’s not a personal affront that someone she respected is gone.
  1. Don’t create drama. While disappointed, Ray needs to ensure she doesn’t cast the incoming leader as a villain or a hero. She needs to stop comparing them to the previous, well-liked leader. She needs to disengage from unproductive gossip in her team. She can turn to her personal support network (friends, family) to safely vent her angst and frustrations. And she need to be careful about bad-mouthing the new leader, inside and outside.
  1. Actively solicit direction on goals. In the first 90 days many leaders are looking for a quick win. When hired, leaders are often given a very clear mandate to shake things up. Ray needs to ask her new boss what he/she most wants to achieve. She needs to probe with curiousity, not with dread, about possible changes. A simple question “how can I support you” is a good start.
  1. Give the benefit of the doubt. During change, rumours abound and often they are full of imagined negative motives, and hidden agendas. Ray needs to fact-check and rely on actual data and her own experience. She needs to assume the best intentions from the new leader, even if the outcomes are not to her liking. People’s actions are rarely as nefarious as their detractors make them out to be.
  1. Be a guide to the organization. Like any new employee, the new leader will need help assimilating to the culture. Ray can help by sharing historical context and what she’s learned about “how things work around here.” From simple things like best meeting rooms to where people go for lunch, all can be helpful.

Within a few months, Ray and her new leader have forged a workable and effective relationships. The best news is that Ray’s leader sees the good work and expert contribution she brings to the team.

These blog posts feature fictional leaders dealing with common organizational issues.

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