Who changes first? - Michelle Gibbings

One of the critical times at work is getting a new boss or becoming the new boss. Relationships can shift, and new ones will form.

Impressions are made on both sides of the relationship, and very quickly afterwards, an assessment of how much you think you will like working with the person.

As the leader, you’ll be determining your team member’s capability, capacity, trustworthiness and other factors that matter to you. While as a team member, you’ll be assessing the leader on their leadership style, knowledge and trustworthiness, as well as other factors that matter to you.

That assessment may prove favourable, and you walk away satisfied and confident that the relationship will work well. But what happens when you have assessed the person as deficient in some way? Perhaps you feel like your new boss will be a micro-manager, or maybe you worry that your new team member won’t be able to reach your high standards and expectations.

When that happens, the relationship can very quickly go downhill. Why? Because the relationship starts to become one-sided. And by that, I mean, one party to the relationship expects the other person to do all the accommodating and all the changing. They expect the other person to adapt to suit how they work, when often what’s required is a change from both sides.

Everyone has different working styles and needs, and when a new relationship forms, it’s incumbent on both parties involved to seek to understand the other person’s style and needs.

I remember interviewing a client for my most recent book, and we reflected on when a new Executive arrived at work. Prior to their arrival, her working life had been rocketing along. She had just been promoted to a more senior role and loved it. She enjoyed working with her boss, and then they resigned. A new Executive landed with different expectations and assumptions. Suddenly, her working world felt like it had been turned on its head.

The new boss had a very different working style. They were detail-oriented, and so she started to feel like she was being micro-managed. The new boss didn’t respond to emails and wanted to be across everything. It felt suffocating and with little room to move.

Working through her options, she took a proactive approach. So, rather than hoping the boss might change, she changed her operating style first.  As she did that, she found her boss started to shift his style to accommodate her needs more. Over time – about six months – a better rhythm came into play. Banter. Respect. Trust. Appreciation of each other’s differences and the talent they both brought to their respective roles. The change went both ways, and she eventually reached the point where she enjoyed working for the new boss, just as much as the old boss.

Different people value different things in working relationships. Understanding how you can best work with each other to meet those needs is the key to a healthy, thriving relationship.  The first step in this, regardless of whether you are in the role of leader or team member, is to seek understanding and insights.

Ask yourself:

  • What are your needs and expectations for this relationship?
  • What are their needs and expectations of this relationship?
  • Do you know what your boss/team member needs from you to help them be their best?
  • How can you support them to be their best?

When you have that understanding you are better placed to determine how you could shift your style so you can better work together. There may be small tweaks around the edges. For example, the need to communicate more frequently and in a different way, or the need to involve them more in discussions.  Whatever the action, it is likely to involve deliberate steps that are designed to strengthen the relationship.

Sadly, you may also discover that despite your efforts to shift your style, their style is so entrenched and rigid they aren’t able to adapt.  If you find yourself in that situation, it’s time for a different type of reflection and conversation about the next steps.

As the philosopher and author, Ayn Rand once said “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me”.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®

Michelle Gibbings is bringing back the happy to workplace culture. The author of three books, and a global keynote speaker, she’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated. 



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