How to Build a Great Relationship with a New Boss

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Working with a new boss can be a tense experience. In his book, The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Michael D. Watkins outlines a comprehensive program for executives taking on a new role under a new boss. One of his tips is to negotiate terms of success with the new supervisor.

“It’s well worth investing time in this critical relationship up front, because your new boss sets your benchmarks, interprets your actions for other key players, and controls access to resources you need,” writes Watkins. “He will have more impact than any other individual on how quickly you reach the break-even point, and on your eventual success or failure.”

Watkins offers the following tips for establishing a productive relationship with your boss in the first 90 days of your tenure.

  1. Reach out proactively.

Your boss might be the type who sits behind a closed door and doesn’t make an effort to circulate with his or her direct reports. Sometimes executives take this as a good sign or breathe a sigh of relief that their new boss isn’t a micromanager. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Right?

On the contrary, Watkins warns that very little communication from your boss can lull you into a false sense of security. If you receive no overtures from your boss, Watkins recommends reaching out proactively.

“Otherwise, you risk potentially crippling communication gaps,” he writes. “Get on your boss’s calendar regularly. Be sure your boss is aware of the issues you face and that you are aware of her expectations, especially whether and how they’re shifting.”

  1. Bring solutions, not problems, to the table.

Although you want to make sure you give your boss plenty of warning if you see problems developing, you don’t want to become known for being the constant bearer of bad news. Whenever you need to discuss a problem, take time to see the issue from your boss’s perspective and think up some potential solutions. This way, you’ll be associated with positive rather than negative messaging.

Watkins also cautions, however, that you should not develop full-blown solutions to problems before discussing them with your boss.

“The outlay of time and effort to generate solutions can easily lure you down the rocky road to surprising your boss,” he writes. “The key here is to give some thought to how to address the problem – even if it is only gathering more information – and to your role and the help you will need.”

  1. Let your boss’s priorities, goals, and ideas guide your actions.

Caring about what your boss cares about can be an ideal way to establish a collaborative environment. If you’re working on developing a relationship with a new boss, Watkins advocates targeting some of your boss’s preferences and devoting your attention to those areas.

“One good way is to focus on three things that are important to your boss and discuss what you’re doing about them every time you interact. In that way, your boss will feel ownership of your success.”

  1. Don’t expect your boss to change.

It’s always nice when we work with people whose styles are similar to our own; however, you can’t rely on a common working style to build a great relationship with your boss. As Watkins points out, people frequently have different approaches to communication, motivation, and management. Remember that your role is to adapt the style your boss prefers and cater to his or her preferences.

In the book, Watkins describes the case of a man whose new boss had an aggressive, hard-driving approach that did not pair well with his own team-building style. Using the comprehensive 90-day method Watkins outlines, the man was able to take a proactive approach with his new boss and deliver strong results in the first 30 days. After a second month of great results, the man had built the credibility and capital to request that he be judged on his results and not on the manner in which he got them.

Your relationship with your boss is critical. A contentious relationship can spell disaster for all concerned. Use these tips to establish a great working relationship, and you’ll increase the chances that you’ll enjoy productive interactions, smoother communication, and mutual success.

Get more insight from Michael D. Watkins in his book The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter.

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[Image via Flickr / ben dalton]