Breakage and the New Boss: Punt, Pass or Kick?

It happens. You’re trying to help the new boss but they don’t take to the help you’re offering so well.

Precise field and goal kicking using the oval ...

Australian football - Image via Wikipedia

The new boss says the right things when you raise a concern or idea, but they don’t integrate or act on any of your suggestions. They keep doing what they’ve been doing, which turns out making your job and work bumpy, and the team miserable. Processes that formerly were smooth are now choppy, and things have become much more of a day-to-day scramble.

Things, in short, are not-so-hot.

While your new boss is looking good to their new boss, there’s breakage verging on carnage on the team. What your new boss says is happening is not what’s really going on; everything is not so rosy down below, and projects and deliverables are slipping by the minute. You can hear Celine Dion warming up the vocals for My Heart Will Go On from the movie Titanic in the back of your mind.

What do you do?

The choices, as I worked them through with a client, may not be all that great, particularly when the new boss has the clear backing of their boss. People who look only upward for direction, feedback and ideas are unlikely to change behaviors from peers or subordinates who offer suggestions. Why should they? All the validation they need is coming from above.

Worse yet? When things tank these types of supervisors are frequently folks who are slow to take responsibility and quick to place blame on someone else. You, for example.

Cut to the chase; what are your options?

  • Keep doing the best job you can but instead of suggesting a single course of action with your boss, offer a couple or three different options as possibilities. Rather than generate a preference (“I’d suggest you do this. . “) suggest a number of ways. Why? You will be less invested in any one choice, (and feel slighted if it doesn’t get chosen) and responsibility for the choice will be more with your boss and less with you.  Think of this option as the “punt” option; you become less engaged in the process and outcomes, still working hard, and realizing that what you recommend may not have much impact.
  • Hunker down; do what you need to do to get by and let your boss lead the way. This option is a passive approach – you’re doing what’s asked of you but not much else. Hunkering down assumes that the storm will pass. Your hope is that at some point the boss will move on by either being promoted, hired away, or fired. Hope that it’s the the former, not the latter; bosses who manage up well (and manage sideways and down badly) can leave a wake of destruction behind them. Sticking it out though through hunkering down can be a smart option if you think your boss will be a short timer in their role and you’re trying to avoid being in the line of any fire.
  • Decide life is too short and find another job, either within the firm or outside. The leave option is the “step aside” move; recognizing that it’s a bad match with you and your new boss, and you’d prefer to move on rather than stay and watch your good work go south. Avoid burning bridges on the way out – it’s a small world and you may want to return to the firm if you can some day. You leave because it’s not a good match, and you want the new boss to work with subordinates who are best able to complement the new boss’ skills.

Is there a best choice?

No. Any three of these options are a best choice depending on where you are in your life, your career,  your tolerance for organizational politics, and the job market for you and your skill set. All of the moves have upsides, and all have downsides.

What is clear is that you should figure out what’s most important for you now, and choose a path that works best. It may not be ideal, but sometimes that’s what life serves you.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.


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