So Your Boss is Leaving
May 2, 2018
Change always opens the door to the unknown, especially when it involves leadership. I’ve written before about a colleague leaving, but what happens when it’s your boss? In some instances, it could be a good thing, but for those of you who have a collaborative and supportive relationship, your boss’s departure can be anxiety provoking.
Once you’ve had a few minutes to process the news, it is important to offer your support. Your boss may need you to compile information or take on an extra project or additional responsibilities in their absence. Step up and do what is asked, not just because it will make you look good, but also because you want to continue to foster that collaborative and supportive relationship.
But how do you allay your anxiety about the replacement? The best way is to be open-minded. Every employee brings their skills and talents, as well as their weaknesses to their job, your boss included. A new boss will be different, and that’s a good thing. A new boss will bring new skills and new talents to the position. Yes, you will need to adapt to a new management style, new expectations, and even new weaknesses, but if you approach the transition with a positive and excited attitude, your outcome is much more likely to also be positive. In other words, give the new boss a chance, help them shine, and in return, you will also shine.
Keep in contact with your prior boss, but do not talk shop, “Oh, can I tell you what the new boss did yesterday in our staff meeting?” That is tantamount to gossip. Keep conversations about the new boss limited to short positive statements. For example, “Things are going well, thanks for asking.” You don’t want to come off as a tattle-tail, nor do you want to make your former boss feel bad about leaving. That doesn’t mean you over state either because that could make your former boss feel as if their exit should have been sooner. Put yourself in the shoes of both your former and new boss and think about what they would want to hear. Most former leaders want to know their team is doing well, and most new leaders want to know their team is supportive. Taking an empathetic approach will always help you choose the right approach.
Conversely, what happens when you and your new boss do not see eye to eye? First, look at yourself? How can you help the new leader with the transition? How can you communicate better or differently? Are you being too pushy, telling your boss how it should be versus being open to their fresh ideas? If you are being helpful, open, etc., then perhaps schedule a sit down and talk about their expectations, etc. In many cases, this approach will prove successful and allow for a re-boot, but there are times when personalities don’t mesh and no matter what you do, the relationship is not going to flourish. Some new leaders intend to bring in their own staff over time, which means the new boss may have little, to no, intention of putting forth much effort in growing their relationship with you. In either of those situations, you have few options other than to look elsewhere in the company or outside the company. If this becomes your option, keep in mind that you do not want to burn any bridges, so while you are in the process of looking elsewhere, make yourself indispensable by working hard and be a peak performer.
If you are choosing to leave given the circumstances outlined above, it is perfectly acceptable to reach out to your former boss to network and seek a letter of recommendation. Be careful about being too honest about your current conditions, again keep your responses simple. For example, “I think we just have different working styles” or “I think Mary has a different vision for the department, and it would be best if I look elsewhere.” Bad-mouthing the new boss will not gain you points with anyone and it could get back to your new boss, which might get you fired.
Most people don’t like transition, but there is no reason why you can’t be successful through that process. Remember to stay positive, offer your assistance, and be open-minded as a new leader takes the reigns. If things don’t go well, after looking inward, you still have options.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies