5 Ways to Handle a New Boss

With job vacancies soaring and companies scrambling to hire, millions will be trying to figure out how to work with a new boss.

There are four words that can completely change how someone feels about their job: meet your new boss.

Whether it’s the first day of work at a new job, a promotion to another team, or the latest management hire, executives of all types face this nerve-wracking period. And it’s happening a lot more often lately: There are 50% more job vacancies this year than last, and experts anticipate an increase in people looking for new jobs. Plus, a backlog of promotions delayed by the pandemic will dramatically change office scenarios for millions.

Jacob Zabkowicz, vice president and general manager of Korn Ferry’s global recruitment process outsourcing business, says one of the biggest concerns he hears from newly hired or recently promoted talent involves how to build a strong relationship with a new boss in a remote environment. It’s hard to get to know someone outside the office when you live in different time zones, or get a read on someone’s style or nonverbal cues over Zoom, after all. With that in mind, here are some tips from our experts.

Forget the old boss.

Everyone knows that nothing good comes from comparing your current partner with an ex. The same goes for bosses. “This is a new relationship,” says Zabkowicz. It will never have a chance to succeed, he says, if you are constantly measuring the new boss against the old one. Whether you loved or hated your old boss doesn’t matter—the new one will never be able to match the subconscious opinion you’ve already formed. “You have to be open to the experience of working with a new person,” Zabkowicz says.

Do your homework.

Talk to as many people as possible about your new boss. See if you have mutual connections on LinkedIn whom you can tap for advice. Ask new colleagues or people they’ve worked with before about their style. Every leader has what Korn Ferry Advance career coach Lemise Dajani calls their “must-dos and absolutely-avoids.” “Find out what they are,” she says.

Get in rhythm.

Friction comes from a lack of communication, says Zabkowicz. “Being up-front about what both sides want out of the relationship sets the stage for everything else,” he says. Asking what your new boss expects from you, and being direct about what you expect from them, is critical to getting the relationship off on the right foot.

Pay attention to details.

Look for cues on how your new boss speaks and interacts with your colleagues and with other teams, including at levels above and below them. What they say, and how they say it, can provide insight into your new boss’s personality and leadership style that might not otherwise surface in direct conversation—insight that can help you anticipate how they think and what makes them tick.

Put yourself in their shoes.

Remember that being a new boss comes with many challenges. For one, your new boss is likely to have a new boss of their own. Dajani says empathy can go a long way toward building a relationship with a new boss. She says asking about and offering to help with some of the challenges they are experiencing is a good way “to get a sense of what’s occupying their mind space.”