In my last blog post I shared the first step of dealing with the disappointment of starting a new position full of enthusiasm only to find as the weeks have gone on that the boss you were so excited to work for has turned out to offer less promise than you’d hoped.

This step was to face up and recognize that your boss is human too.

In this post…we’ll look at Step 2- Discuss Mutual Expectations with the New Boss

More often than not, I find that the challenges that surface in early weeks of a boss-direct report relationship arise because expectations have not been aligned.

This doesn’t necessarily mean there is a MIS-alignment…but simply that the alignment conversations haven’t taken place. There are too many assumptions being made.

Conversations about expectations need to focus on the WHAT and the HOW.

A) First the “what”…

If your boss isn’t sending you warm and fuzzy vibes…perhaps it’s because you’ve launched in by focusing on the wrong priorities. Your job description is not necessarily the right place to start. Be sure to have a conversation that identifies the most important initiatives over the next few weeks to demonstrate that you are ramping-up in a productive and appropriate manner. In other words…what does your boss REALLY want you to do in your first few weeks?

Here’s a client scenario. After three short weeks on the job, Jill was getting the sense that her boss was somehow let-down by Jill’s contribution. When she got the nerve up to check-in with him, she learned that the subject her boss most wished she would address was a long-standing organizational issue that was well within the scope of Jill’s role at her previous organization. Resolving this issue didn’t involve a learning curve for her at all. This expertise was, in fact, one of the key reasons Jill had been hired…despite the job description focusing on areas that were outside of Jill’s comfort zone. Jill had mistakenly understood that the “right thing” to do was to show commitment right off the bat to learning about all of the areas that were new to her. This misunderstanding could have easily derailed the relationship and Jill’s perceived performance in her role.

Now, how about YOU’re “what”? Based on the discussions through the recruitment process, what had you expected to be able to focus on in the initial few weeks of joining the organization? How are these expectations being met? I’ve witnessed new Onboarding coaching clients who are stewing over the disappointment of not being able to sink their teeth into the assignments that they’d been promised. It’s my belief that sitting on this disappointment is a sure start down the road of disengagement. Better to have a conversation about what’s different from what was expected. Then, in a non-blaming way, work to clarify how and when you may be able to experience the initiatives you thought you would be part of your mandate.

B) Now let’s look at the “how”…

Even clients who are perfectly aligned with their bosses on the “what” expectations for their first 90 days, often have missteps on the “how”. Mutual expectations around communication style, mode of communication and frequency are all too often left to chance. It’s only when things go horribly wrong that the discussions take place and by then it’s often too late.

In my self-coaching workbook, “Wow Them In Your New Job!”, I include an exercise that encourages new hires to set time aside with the new boss to talk about:
• Whether they prefer email, phone or face-to-face
• Frequency of updates preferred
• Turnaround times expected
• Nature of feedback preferred, etc.

Remember that this is a conversation about “mutual expectations”…it’s a chance to express your needs as well…it’s not just about pleasing the boss. Optimal communication meets the needs of both parties.

Having these “what” and “how” conversations to clarify expectations as early in the game as possible can go a long way to rectifying an uncomfortable relationship with a new boss. I’ve witnessed many boss-direct report relationships turning around profoundly with even one open and direct conversation about expectations.

So, if you are disappointed with how things are going with your new boss… what do you have to lose? Arrange for an “expectations” conversation as soon as possible.

My next blog post will address Step 3. After attempting steps 1 & 2, it’s time to decide if the gap is workable—or not.

In my last blog post I focused on the disappointment of starting your new position full of enthusiasm only to find as the weeks have gone on that the boss you were so excited to work for has turned out to offer less promise than you’d hoped.

I observed that my clients who are most successful in moving through this disappointment are those that take the following steps:

1. Face Up. Your Boss is Human Too
2. Have a Discussion About Mutual Expectations
3. Decide if the Gap Is Workable. Move On… or Not.

In this post…we’ll look at Step 1.

Face Up. Your Boss is Human Too

Once you’ve recognized that you are indeed working for a human being who is bound to have foibles, bad days and development needs of his or her own, you need to figure out what cost to you is your boss’ humanity.

News alert! Perhaps at some point in the future, we will all report directly to an avatar, but in the meantime…reality is that you will ALWAYS work for a human boss (unless of course you start your own business and then the clients become your human bosses).

So, you need to decide rationally… Is the situation with your boss so extreme as to be intolerable? For example, ethical issues, harassment, undermining behavior (If so, move directly to Step 3). Or, is it simply less than an ideal relationship and thus ripe for ample opportunity for learning for you?

As I often coach my clients… try to flip the situation upside down.

How is THIS boss as THIS time with THESE flaws actually perfect for your own development and progress as leader? The Center for Creative Leadership has long identified having a difficult boss as being one of the developmental experiences that contributes most powerfully to growth of successful executives. What can you gain from this relationship?

How can you get over yourself? So, the dream of the ideal boss hasn’t been fully realized…now what? You’ve made the move, you’re in the role. How do you make the best out of the situation?

How can you lighten up about your boss’ flaws? In relationship coaching we are taught that focusing on the positivity in the relationship is the best way to nurture a relationship. It’s all too easy to train our eyes to see what’s missing or what is different that what we’d prefer. What if you were to be deliberate about taking the time to notice your boss’s strengths and how you could benefit from being around these strengths?

I recently coached a client (I’ll call her Kelly) who acknowledged that she had been so blinded by how impossibly hard-driving a previous boss had been that she literally couldn’t see any of the “good” in him. She failed to learn from him how to “pre-sell” ideas through one-on-one conversations prior to major presentations for executive team approval. Kelly’s boss was an absolute master at this art of influence and it is now a skill that my client is working hard at developing. How much further ahead might she be now, had she not turned ignored the leadership lessons her previous boss COULD have offered?

So, provided you aren’t working for someone who compromises your personal ethics or deliberately undermines your sense of self, I challenge you to shake off the victim mentality and see what learning there is for you in this relationship.

My next posts will address Steps 2 and 3.

Moving to a new organization is an exhilarating time. A clean slate! A fresh start! No baggage! A shiny new boss that just picked you from hundreds of candidates in a hiring process!

Yes, it’s an exciting time. This post focuses on the relationship with the “shiny new boss” and how this relationship often morphs very quickly and the “dew comes off the rose”.

The recruitment process is by nature a courtship. We put on our best clothes, we emphasize our most attractive qualities and we bring our respective lists of what we are looking for in the other party—candidate or employer. In the role of hiring manager, the boss wants to be respected and admired. In a competitive market for top talent, he recognizes that his management style is part of the “attraction offer”. It’s a rare hiring manager that completely lets down his guard in the recruitment process and reveals all of his leadership faults.

So… you are wooed! This boss appears to be everything you are looking for. Everything your current manager (whom you’ve known for the past five years) is not. All the qualities you listed as being important to you in a manager, he miraculously seems to have. You can’t wait to be mentored by this perfect boss.

Then a couple of weeks into your new job, the dew begins to come off the rose.

Once the orientation meetings that were pre-booked by HR are no longer being added to your calendar, you can’t seem to get the boss’ ear. He travels so much and always seems to be closeted in critical meetings with the executive team.

The parts of YOUR job description that he used to handle have not been delegated to you yet and the annual budget process is starting in two weeks. You don’t have a clue of what’s been spent in current year on the budget line that you were supposed to inherit.

Your boss always seemed so patient and respectful in the interview process, yet lately he has been edgy and curt.

You have a sinking feeling that your new manager is not the ideal boss you thought he was afterall.

In my coaching of leaders in the first few months of their new role—during the onboarding phase—this scenario is repeated all too often. Many clients find themselves waking up to a reality of a boss relationship that is not what they had dreamt of finding in their new role.

It’s been my experience that the clients who are most successful in coming out the other side of this disappointment are those that take the following approach:

1. Face Up. Your Boss is Human Too
2. Have a Discussion About Mutual Expectations
3. Decide if the Gap Is Workable

In my next blog post, I will elaboarate on each of these 3 steps.

Stay tuned!