Behavioral dynamics around a new boss

One of the most interesting studies of human behavior can be conducted when an organization has a leadership change at the top.

A new leader wants to make a mark, wants to proof him- or herself. The pressure of books on strategy and 100-day plans for new leaders, of hiring executive boards who gave the new leader targets to shape up the results, and (not least) of apprehensive, excited or stubborn employees who stop doing what they used to do because things will probably change anyway. All these expectations cause most new leaders to behave differently than they would do once they’re settled into their job.

However, the behavior of the new leader is actually not the most fascinating. The behavior of (some of) the employees is.

If you think people behave fairly consistently, watch what happens when a new top manager starts. At first, both the leader as well as the employees around the new person, behave at their best. They want to make a good first impression. The process resembles courting, but with a power twist. The employees expect the boss to have a double agenda (to change the world as they know it), so they will work hard to protect their own position. It’s not uncommon to see how people not only defend viewpoints they vehemently disagreed with before, but even seem genuinely convinced of them. Just to stay in line with the ideas of the new boss, to avoid jeopardizing their position.

It demonstrates how a change in power usually initiates a kaleidoscopic shift in the opinions, actions and attitudes of people close to the new boss. Most people desperately want to secure a premium place in the new reality, so they adjust their behavior to appease the new leader. Although the underlying psychological need is understandable, the extend of this effect baffles me every time.

A new leader benefits most from people who helps him/her understand the organization, the history, and point out risks or sensitivities without being stubborn. Who basically treat the new leader as they would a new colleague, without the politics of pleasing the new boss and vehemently protecting their carved out space.

On the other hand, this can only happen when the new leader openly communicates about what s/he wants to achieve, and welcomes all viewpoints instead of favoring specific viewpoints from day one.

So next time, when there’s a leadership change, ask the new boss to be open about what they want to achieve. And return that with your open and honest opinions, while continuing your job the best way you can. You do yourself, your boss and the organization a favor.

How to make sure your next job does not bring you down

When you’ve applied for a job, and are invited to an interview, you prepare for the questions you might be asked. You think about what they might be looking for, and prepare for what you should highlight in your experience and personality. You look at the job requirements, to decide which of your achievements you want to bring across. You look up tips and tricks on typical questions, and what the smart answers are.

And you’re right. There are numerous things you can (and should) do prepare to present yourself at your best.  It makes sense to increase your chances to land the job you want.

But don’t lose yourself by just focusing on getting that job. It’s even more important to pay attention to what you need from that next job, or the organization, or the culture and colleagues with whom you will spend the majority of your time.

Some people might say, does that really matter? Any job will do. Or, the job is so great, I just want it regardless of who else works there. Or, this company will look so good on my resume.

The problem is: when a job is a bad fit, the negative effects can last for years. Or even sidetrack your career. Over the years, I’ve met several people in a job that was a bad fit, and pretty soon it broke down their confidence and reputation. They often found themselves alone in their opinion, or their approach. Their results started to decline. They lost confidence, but started to work harder to make up for it. The spiral went further downward from there. By the time they finally realized they weren’t able to make it work, they lost the courage to look for something better.

Please, do yourself a favor, and avoid entering this downward spiral. Focus on whether the culture, the colleagues, and the job are really a good fit.

How? During a job interview, pay attention to the following, to decide whether the organization suits you:

  • Read the atmosphere between interviewers. Are they having fun together? Do they truly listen to each other? Give each other space to ask questions?
  • How respectful are the interviewers about the organization, and other (previous) colleagues? Are they competitive? Do you sense silo-thinking between departments? Do they seem engaged in power fights? Are they badmouthing others?
  • How do the interviewers respond when you tell them examples about what you liked in previous managers or companies. Do they roll their eyes? Or do they enthusiastically respond with similar examples of their own?
  • Arrive 10-15 minutes early. If you’re lucky, they’ll let you wait in the lobby or a common purpose area where you can observe people interacting with each other. How do the passing employees act with each other? Do people have a smile on their face, or do they all seem cranky, stressed, or otherwise negatively occupied? Can you find interesting inside information in internal company magazines that might be lying around?
  • Ask interviewers about their tenure in their current job. If everyone seems to rotate quickly, check why.

Add questions of your own. Think about the answers, and whether they suit you. Check them against what you need from your next job.

Make sure your next job does not bring you down, but brings you growth, fun and satisfaction instead!