Change at the Top: How to Succeed with a New Boss

Posted 11.28.2023

Lately, it’s felt like “I’ve got a new boss,” season in the coaching conversations I have with executives. I’ve had several of them in the past few months and there are some patterns I’ve noticed in the conversations.

First, getting a new boss is anxiety inducing, especially for more senior executives. The further along you are in your career, the more likely you are to have carved out a lane for yourself and established a track record of success. Getting a new boss can be disruptive for anyone at any level but especially so for senior executives who have invested a lot of time, effort, and ego into their careers. It’s no wonder that getting a new boss can make senior executives anxious about their future and what they might lose.

Second, what they’re usually most concerned about losing isn’t their income or the specifics of their job description. Most senior executives I talk with are good to great at their jobs and can quickly find another opportunity if their current one ends. What they’re typically more concerned about losing is the power and influence they’ve accumulated.

So, third, there’s usually a period of time when they spend a good bit of energy strategizing about how they can keep that power and influence. That’s understandable but it’s almost always the wrong move. The right move can feel counterintuitive to these high achieving executives. When you get a new boss, the right move is to sublimate your ego and quit thinking about what’s best for you and start thinking about what’s best for your new boss.

What executives with a new boss often fail to do is ask themselves, “What can I do to help my new boss be wildly successful in their role?” Answering that question requires both knowledge and empathy.

The knowledge part usually comes the easiest. Smart senior executives are tuned into the metrics and key performance indicators that will define success for their new boss. So, answering how they can help their boss achieve those goals is usually clear if they create the space to think about it.

The empathy part is typically harder for the executives with new bosses to tune into because it’s not so much about what their new boss is thinking about but more about how their new boss is feeling about their situation. Beneath that seemingly confident exterior, it’s quite likely they’re feeling at least a bit nervous or anxious about their own future success. They’re probably experiencing the “it’s lonely at the top,” feeling that raises legitimate questions about who they can trust and depend on now that they’re in their new role.

So, if you’re the executive who has a new boss, how do you become the person they can trust and depend on? Here are some tips:

  • Stop thinking about what you need and want and start thinking about what they need and want.
  • Over time, confirm what they need and want. First, by observing and listening, and second, after you’ve begun to establish a relationship, asking what’s most important to them.
  • Then, do what you can do to deliver on what they need and want.

My favorite definition of trust is that it comes down to three factors: sincerity, credibility, and competence. Sincerity is about acting with positive intent. Credibility is about doing what you said you were going to do in the time frame you promised.  Competence is about delivering great work and outcomes. When you consistently demonstrate those three qualities to your new boss, any concerns you’ve had about maintaining your power and influence usually take care of themselves. Both increase when you quit worrying about your goals and start demonstrating how you can help your boss achieve theirs.

If you liked what you read here, subscribe here to get my latest ideas on how to lead and live at your best.