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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Man Down: What to Do When Your Boss Gets Fired

I can’t recall exactly how many managers I’ve had over the years, but it’s been quite a few. And as you can imagine, some were fantastic mentors and helped shape my career, while others—well, let’s just say that voodoo doll-making class was totally worth it.

But, good or bad, most of us come to depend on our bosses for some level of guidance, accountability, and continuity. So what happens when you come in to work one day, only to be informed that your manager has just been escorted off the premises? Even if you’ve been daydreaming about this day for months, having her suddenly out of the picture can be a massive disruption to performance, both for you and your team.

Over the years, I’ve seen all sorts of reactions to this scenario—and as you might expect, there were a few that turned out better than others. If it happens to you, here are three steps I’d recommend to collect yourself and sail on through.

Don’t Panic

The very first time one of my bosses was “let go,” my immediate reaction was to panic. I assumed that if my boss, who had all this great experience and knowledge, could be kicked to the curb, so could I. The first few days after the announcement, I fretted and worried, and ultimately ended up making some silly mistakes as a result.

Here’s the thing to remember: Why your boss was relieved of her post has nothing to do with you. If it did, you would’ve been fired right along with her, right? Is it possible your boss’s firing is an omen for things to come? Of course it is. But even if your company is cleaning house, the last thing you want is for the higher-ups to see you as a nervous wreck. And if it turns out to be an isolated incident, your fretting could damage your reputation with the existing management, not to mention your new boss.

As the saying goes, keep calm and carry on.

Make Yourself Visible

Once you’ve calmed your nerves, the next thing you need to do is make your presence known. Bosses often serve as a buffer between their teams and senior management, especially in larger companies. So there’s a good chance the higher-ups don’t truly understand what you do, or worse, don’t even know who you are.

But when there’s a shake-up, everyone will be watching your team closely to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible. This gives you the rare opportunity to step into the spotlight and make sure everyone from the VPs to the CEO know how valuable you are.

Now, I’ve seen colleagues use their boss’ firing as an opportunity to boast about past projects, make fancy presentations, and remind everyone where they went to school—but I’ve never seen this work to anyone’s advantage. What has worked for me is a simple equation:

Arrive early, stay late, be positive.

I’ll get to the positive part of the equation below, but the first two parts are important foundations to start with. You want the powers that be to see you working hard and stepping up to help your team and the company adjust during the transition.

Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting you up your hours per week from 40 to 60. Just make sure you get in a bit earlier than everyone else, and stay just a bit later. Ask around for other projects you can take on. There will no doubt be lots of extra work, and if not, I’m willing to bet your inbox could use a cleaning. You may not be solving the global financial crisis or curing cancer, but you will show that you’re dedicated to the company, and that’s work worth doing.

Steer Clear of Boss-Bashing

It seems to be an unwritten rule that the moment someone leaves a company, the gloves come off, and negativity and gossip inevitably come out. While this may be a natural reaction (and it’s probably a coping mechanism), jumping on the boss-bashing bandwagon is never a good idea.

As you probably already know, comments have a way of making the rounds in (and out of) the office, and they will eventually find their way to someone important. You may not think the CEO cares how a junior employee felt about the person she just fired, but you’re probably wrong. Chances are, that decision wasn’t easy—even if your boss deserved it—and reducing the event to office gossip implies you aren’t taking the situation as seriously as she did. Big mistake. You want the remaining management to notice you, but you don’t want it to be for your prolific gossiping.

And if you find yourself surrounded by others who choose to gossip about your former boss (or anything else for that matter), politely excuse yourself. Even if you aren’t doing the gossiping yourself, it’s easy for a passerby to overhear the discussion, and assume your guilt by association.

Instead, stay positive and keep doing your job. You don’t need to go overboard (you don’t want anyone to think you’re happy the boss was canned)—just try to be as even-tempered and hard-working as you’ve always been.

You’ll see your fair share of bosses come and go over the years, and it’s never easy to watch one leave against her wishes. But how you handle yourself in the wake of a management makeover will speak volumes about your professionalism, maturity, and dedication to the company.

Check out more from Workplace Disaster Week

Photo courtesy of valakirka.