When I’d been at a big job for just four months, I learned that the person who’d hired me had been fired unceremoniously and that a new boss would be starting that day. Freaked, I called a former co-worker who had once reported to this person.
“She’s smart, but she can be really tough,” my pal told me. “Sometimes you’ll feel like wetting your pants.”
Oh that’s just lovely, I remember thinking.
When you face this kind of disruption, you need to gather as much as intel as possible on the new hire and then prepare to dazzle (there’s a good piece to read on the subject right here on The Daily Muse).
But that’s not what this column is about. Though it’s smart to be focused on how to impress a new boss, I think it’s also a wonderful opportunity to focus on yourself—to consider where you are in your own career, how your needs may have shifted, and how ready you may be for something fresh.
So if your boss changes—and that will probably happen at some point in your career—answer these three questions:
1. When the new boss asks higher-ups for an assessment of all the people who’ll now be reporting to him or her (and trust me, this will happen), how are you probably going to be described?
As a star performer? As simply “good enough?” Or as someone who needs a swift kick in the rear? Forcing yourself to answer the above question can be scary—but also galvanizing.
Okay, first things first. If you can imagine the new boss being told something less than stellar about you, arrange a meeting as soon as you can, find out what his or her expectations are, and do your best to not only meet but also exceed them. This will buy you time.
But more importantly, during this time you need to ask yourself why you’re not getting A’s. Are you really just lazy? (I’m guessing no.) Or could it be that you’re in the wrong company? Or the wrong position? Or even the wrong field?
Shortly after a friend of mine, another editor-in-chief, was informed about a boss change, a supportive colleague in the circulation department called and told her confidentially that the new boss had asked for a detailed history of her newsstand sales. It was hardly unexpected that her supervisor would do that, but hearing those words made her go weak in the knees. She was forced to think about how she might be perceived in the cold light of day. Her numbers were only good enough. She knew she probably wouldn’t be canned, but she began to see that her heart wasn’t in the job. She liked magazines, but this one wasn’t a good fit for her.
If you realize you’re in the wrong place, begin exploring and networking. It’s time to figure out where your heart really lies.
2. Could the reason you’re feeling anxious be partly because life was so damn good under your old boss, and now your comfort zone is being threatened?
Having a great boss who also creates a terrific working environment is as sweet as it gets. But the comfort and pleasure you felt with your old supervisor may have disguised the fact that, despite being good at what you do, the moment had arrived for you to move on.
Take time now to look at the career arcs of people you emulate. When have they reached certain critical points? Could it be that you’ve stayed too long at the fair without realizing it? If you’re in your 20s and 30s, you want to move around not only for the sake of your career, but also to keep improving your salary. This is where the greatest percentage of financial growth occurs.
Okay, let's say you do some thinking and realize your current position still make sense for you now. That comfy feeling you’ve enjoyed may be related to the fact that you are not being challenged as much as you think you are. Career growth should scare us a little. Once you get to know the new boss and have shown him or her you’re on the same team, begin to ask for new responsibilities or to acquire new skills.
3. Deep down, are you smarting that the job didn't go to you?
Maybe your former boss never announced that he or she was leaving, and so you couldn’t apply for the opening. But on some level, does it bug you that you weren’t even considered for the position by those above? Consider whether you look, sound, and act promotable. And if not? Do something about that.
Here’s another possibility. You did know your boss would be leaving, but you didn't throw your hat in the ring. If you’re feeling unhappy, it could be that you’re more ambitious than you previously acknowledged.
That’s a great thing to discover. Now, become a better architect of your own career.