Working It Out With a New Boss

Agood friend of mine moved to Seattle. He said he wanted to live in a more conventional city than San Francisco, but I think the real reason is that he must really like rain. But he hasn't been talking about the weather; it's getting used to his new boss that's been a challenge for him.

His new boss has no clue about his area of expertise. She cuts off discussions after about 30 seconds and tells him to do what he feels is best. She has made it clear that she has no time to discuss what he thinks are strategic issues. She tells him to just take care of it -- whatever "it" is.

Virginia Robbins

Virginia Robbins

For some of you, she might sound perfect. It’s appealing to be given the freedom to do what you feel is right. Such a hands-off approach could be seen as a compliment to your expertise. So, what's my friend's problem?

It's this: Bosses who don't get involved in your work aren't able to give you support when you need it. When it comes to budget allocations, raises or getting a plum assignment or a job after a merger, the boss who knows and cares about what you do will be more generous than one who does not. So, how do you get a busy supervisor to understand and care about your work?

If you're a new employee, the first thing you need to do is to discover the "truth" about your boss. Take the office gossip out for coffee and let him know that, while you like your boss, you're having trouble connecting with her. What might he know that could help you out? Few people will refuse a direct request for help, and your office gossip is likely to inundate you with both useful and not-so-useful stories. Listen to them all, but don't regard them all equally. The point is to develop a basic understanding of your boss, not to get dirt on her.

If the office gossip feels that he has been mistreated or slighted by your supervisor, he might tell you things about her that are extremely hurtful. You're probably going to have to forget the worst of them if you want to continue working for your boss. Remember, too, that most gossips want you to share something juicy in return. Be careful what you tell him, since he talks to everyone about everything.

Armed with new knowledge about who your boss is, you can begin to try to figure out her behavior toward you. Is she simply too busy to deal with you? Are you temporarily assigned to her? Or is it that she's being as nice as she can be to someone she likes well enough but whose work she just doesn't see as important?

If it's that last possibility, then it's best you know now so you can restart your job search immediately. Otherwise, your next step is to ask your boss to lunch. If she's like most bosses, she's probably aware that you need something more from her and will be relieved that you've raised the issue. Tell her that your main interest is that the two of you have a great working relationship. But the only way to get good feedback and resolve this issue is for you to be upfront.

So enjoy lunch. It could be the start of a new relationship with your boss.

Virginia Robbins is a former CIO who is currently the chief administrative officer responsible for technology and bank operations at a start-up bank in Lafayette, Calif. You can contact her at

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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