How to Influence Your New Boss, Part II

Posted 08.07.2009

One of the questions that I get asked all the time in coaching sessions and speaking engagements is, “How do I work with or influence my new boss?”  That’s a great question because it outlines a situation that most executives are going to face multiple times throughout their careers.  I wrote about this topic a few months ago in a riff on how Secretary of Defense Robert Gates rather seamlessly transitioned from working for George W. Bush to Barack Obama.  (You can see that post here.)

A  couple of weeks ago, I got a call from a reporter who was working on a story about how to influence your boss and found the Gates post online. He was pitching the story to a web site that’s focused on Gen X and Gen Y guys in the workforce.  When he told me the intended audience, my first thought about how to influence your boss was, “Ask for directions.” Of course, as any wife or girlfriend who has been lost with her guy in the car knows, asking for directions is one of the hardest things for guys to do. Getting into why that’s the case would provide enough material for a whole separate blog. So, let me focus in on why asking for direction is my first piece of advice for anyone (not just guys) who wants to influence their new boss.

Here are three quick tips:

Ask for Directions:  What I’m not talking about here is asking for step by step directions on how to accomplish an assignment.  That’s probably one of the worst things you can do actually. What I am talking about is asking up front for the boss’s direction or picture of what success looks like. (i.e. “If we were completely successful on this project what would you expect to see six months or a year from now?”)  One of the biggest causes of executive level failure is to not get up front clarification of the expectations for success. Take the time to ask for directions.

Ask How Your Boss Wants to be Kept in the Loop:  When you were in college you probably learned that different professors had different expectations on how to write a term paper or respond to an essay question. It’s the same thing with bosses. They all have their own preferences about how they want to be kept in the loop. When you get a new boss, ask her how she wants to be kept informed and how often.  The good ones will be able to tell you. If they can’t, ask around among your peers about what’s worked for them.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes:  Regularly take time to step out of your own shoes and get into your boss’s.  A great way to do that is to do what top leadership coach Tim Gallwey calls transposing. Transposing consists of asking three questions as if you are the person you’re trying to work with or influence. The questions are:  What am I thinking? How am I feeling?  What do I want? Coming up with some thoughtful responses to those questions should give you a broader perspective. Once you’ve got a perspective that goes beyond your own, it becomes easier to understand how to influence your boss (or anyone else for that matter).

What quick tips do you have on how to work with or influence a new boss?