In addition to death and taxes, what is certain is that at some point in our careers, we will be handed a “new” boss. Getting him or her to hear us is not always easy.

The Myth

There’s a myth out there that we need to put an end to right now. Here it is: “If I just do my job, keep my head down and fly under the radar, my new boss will eventually see my value and reach out to me with compliments and clarity on what else I need to be doing.” While it might work out, that’s a hefty gamble to make with our careers. Here’s just one example of what can happen if we operate with this myth as our guide:

Scott was a Director of Marketing for a large financial institution. After much turmoil in the upper ranks, Susan was hired as Scott’s boss. Scott was a big proponent of the myth I laid out above and believed that the less he spoke with Susan in the beginning, the better. He figured his results should speak for themselves and eventually, Susan would reach out to him after she saw how dedicated he was. Scott began working later and later into the evening as well as on weekends to get all the work done. He was feeling tired and exhausted but also quite satisfied with what he was getting accomplished. I’m sure you can imagine the shock Scott must have felt when after 9 months into Susan’s tenure, she pulled Scott aside and said things weren’t working out and let Scott go.

What went wrong and why is this myth the culprit? Scott’s mistake wasn’t with his work ethic or his level of commitment. Scott’s mistake was his failure to keep a constant pulse on what was expected of him from Susan and what she valued in her team. After Scott’s dismissal, Susan later told me “Scott was a hard worker, but he was working in the wrong direction and did little to clarify what was expected of him. Things are changing so quickly around here that he quickly became irrelevant.”

The 3 Critical Conversations to Have with a New Boss

Are you in danger of this happening to you? There are three conversations we need to be having with our new boss as soon as possible to avoid the same fate as Scott. Consider asking your boss out to lunch ASAP. Here they are:

  1. What do you expect of me this year? Do you know what is expected of you? If you believe the answer to that question is your job description, you are perilously close to becoming irrelevant like Scott. The only way to truly get an answer to this question is to have the conversation with your boss and ask him or her what is expected of you this year. You might be surprised how different their answers are from your job description or title!
  2. As best as you can tell, how am I doing? This is an important question, because the answer you get will shed light on your reputation and what he/she values from his/her direct reports. One of the worst things we can do at work is to assume we know what our boss thinks of our performance. That’s a risky gamble and I don’t know about you, but every time I’ve ever visited Las Vegas, I’ve always left with less money than when I arrived. I’m not a fan of gambling at work, so don’t. Ask the questions and have the conversations.
  3. What’s expected of you (your boss)? What are the pressures and expectations placed on your boss? They are new so clearly something has changed to warrant their arrival. Get curious about the expectations placed on him / her to gauge how you adjust your own goals. Of the three questions, this last question is by far the least frequently asked. And yet, if you don’t know what is expected of your boss, how can you do a good job of aligning your work to support him or her? I was working with a client a few weeks ago and when we came to this question he said, “You know, I never thought of asking my boss what is expected of her? And yet, if I don’t know her goals and pressures, I may make a decision that actually does more harm than good.” Treat your boss as if he or she is your most valuable customer and start getting curious.

“If I just do my job, keep my head down and fly under the radar, I’ll be o.k.” – That myth has taken too many innocent lives. Get with your new boss ASAP, get curious and inoculate yourself from the unfortunate fate that too many have suffered. You might be surprised with their responses.