At my law school library, we are getting a new library director! Luckily for us, by all accounts our new boss is nice and normal, so I am not personally worried about her arrival. However, change is often both exciting and scary, and my new boss got me thinking about the promise and perils of new bosses generally! Because anything can happen with a change in leadership… Will a new boss bring exciting ideas and energy that revitalize the workplace, turning it into a nirvana-like Disneyland? Or will the new boss transform the place into a living hell, driving his/her underlings into early graves with toxic narcissism?
Getting a new boss can be a big deal! The boss-employee relationship is one of the most fraught in human society. We can imagine the cave people of old noticing they had more gazelle to chomp on after a skillful hunter directed the hunt, or less winter starvation after a wise and experienced elder managed the pre-season food gathering efforts. Of course, human nature being what it is, instead of thanking the stars and their leaders for their bounty, they often met at the fireside to complain about inept leadership, boast about their own probable superiority, and plot their overthrow!
People Hate Their Bosses!
Sadly, in the modern era, many of us still have difficulty with our bosses. We have all heard friends’ and family members’ horror stories about narcissistic, toxic, mentally ill, unfair, irrational, etc. bosses, and many of us have harrowing tales of our own. One hardly needs statistics to prove the conflicted nature of the boss-employee relationship, but here are some anyway! In a recent widely cited Life Meets Work study, more than half of employees report their immediate supervisors are either mildly (32%) or highly toxic (24%). Multiple workplace surveys consistently show that between 65% and 75% of employees report that dealing with their boss is the “worst aspect of their job.”
Your Boss Can Kill You!
The usual “parade of horribles” depressing statistics about toxic bosses, toxic coworkers, and workplace stress have taken on new importance in recent years as the body of research has grown about the myriad of medical problems caused by workplace stress. According to a 2015 study, excessive workplace stress results in more than 120,000 deaths and $190 billion in health care costs annually. Not all workplace stress can be attributed to horrible bosses, but if you lose the boss lottery and get a toxic boss, the best idea is to get out because the health risks are not worth it. A Swedish study found that male employees with toxic bosses were 60% for likely to suffer life-threatening cardiac events. Other workplace studies show that victims of toxic bosses are more susceptible to anxiety and depression, which can lower the effectiveness of the immune system, leading to colds, strokes, and heart attacks.
What About the Boss?
As stressful as it can be to get a new boss, think about how the new boss must feel! He is often confronted with greater stressful life changes than his new employees. Much of his old life has been left behind at his old job, perhaps the comfort and safety of a familiar routine, a trusted organization, a network of reliable friends and coworkers, etc. And, a new boss that is also new to the area has left his whole life behind – not just his job, but his home, neighborhood, habits, friends, and maybe even family. Then, at the new job, he is immediately is confronted with a very delicate social situation. He, too, can read the Internet about how much people hate their bosses, and therefore knows he is walking into a lion’s den. And, worst of all, he is going to have a new boss himself!
The Boss Lottery!
Round and round and round it goes, which type of new boss will appear, no one knows! There are many efforts to classify bosses and much advice about how to get along with the different types, so it wouldn’t hurt to read up on the topic so you will be prepared to analyze your new boss. According to Daniel Goleman, author of the 1995 blockbuster Emotional Intelligence, there are six types of bosses and therefor six different strategies for working with them.
Visionary bosses have a vision for the future, and want to work with their team to get there. To work with them, Goleman recommends jumping in with enthusiasm, listening to their ideas, and brainstorming options.
Coach bosses motivate employees through setting goals and honest conversations. Goleman recommends being honest about issues, setting realistic goals, and learning from mistakes.
Affiliative bosses create connections in order to produce a harmonious workplace. Goleman recommends keeping emotions in check, building relationship with colleagues, and giving/receiving honest feedback.
Democratic bosses solicit input from everyone before working to create effective consensus. Goleman recommends giving honest opinions, listening to colleagues, and understanding decision before committing to them.
Commander bosses give clear orders and expect compliance. Goleman’s recommendation is to do what is asked, focus on results, and make sure you understand what is required.
Pacesetter bosses set challenging goals for the team and pitch in when necessary to achieve the goals. Goleman’s recommendation is to work hard for the team, ask for clarification when needed, and provide regular progress reports.
How to Get Along with The New Boss?
Other than trying to identify your new boss’s type, what can one do to mentally prepare for the boss’s arrival? It is probably important to keep an open mind, and know oneself. We are all familiar with our own propensity to make “a heaven of hell, or a hell of heaven.” So, it is probably a good idea to just mentally commit to having a decent relationship with the new boss. Just start off on the right foot by being friendly and open, and try to make the new boss feel welcome.
It is important to be aware how past experiences will color our view of the new boss. Having a series of great bosses in the past might lead us to be more judgmental toward the new boss, with feelings that she just can’t measure up. To combat this, it might be good to empathize with her, and give her the benefit of the doubt, remember that she is the one in the difficult situation, caught between skeptical new underlings and the demands of her new boss.
Getting a new boss can be stressful. Though I was glad to hear that my new boss is reputed to be normal, not everyone is so lucky. I will say that having a bad experience with a boss can be a blessing in disguise (in the long run, that is). After having a pretty terrible boss (not you Mike!), I no longer fear future bosses, because what are the chances that anyone could be worse? And, I am confident that I can put up with anything for the time it takes to find a new job. Also, it is important to consider that nothing is as constant as change. I always say, “if you don’t like something, wait a few minutes.”