“Good morning, team!  I would like to introduce you to  your new leader.  She starts on Monday.  Make her feel welcome.”

Sound familiar?  If you are working in the executive world, reorganizations are a regular occurrence.  These changes, while beneficial for the company holistically, can have damaging effects when the new team leader and the team do not align.

We know that not everyone thinks the same, gets to the end result using the same path, communicates in the same manner, or even has the same end point goal for their actions (servant leadership vs. self-serving leadership).  While some of this is acceptable and is to be expected, it doesn’t make for an easy transition.   But sometimes, we have new leaders who truly aren’t leaders, but are supervisors.  How do you overcome the differences when you find that your supervisor is less knowledgable about the business than you but refuses to acknowledge those gaps?  How do you deal with someone who makes personal attacks instead of keeping the topics focused on the business?  What if at every turn your new leader seems to be self-serving, trying to be in the lime light, instead of helping the team come together and grow for the good of the organization?

These are hard issues to deal with and because time is of the essence in business, we have a decision to make each time we are faced with this type of “leadership.”  Ultimately most of us simply want to lead our teams, solve the problems, and make the business better.  It just seems like a misallocation of time to now have to put brain power and effort into figuring out how to fix a gap with a new supervisor.  However, if you realize you do have to make this time commitment and effort to get on the same page, how do you get there?

Resolving the Mental Battle

First, accept that fact that the two of you are different.  Differences aren’t completely bad nor do they signal a need for you to be the one to do all of the changes in order to make this new relationship work. Part of the pressure in this situation stems from you feeling as though you may need to conform/change to be like your new supervisor.  This isn’t always the case.

Next, write down the differences you are acknowledging.  Don’t let them stay in your head, where you can continue to guess, wonder or beat yourself up over them.  Write down the differences you have noticed, the actions displayed, the words used, the emails of concern, the phone calls/discussions, etc. that are bothering you.  Writing them down is part of the acceptance because it will remove their power over you.  Once you do that, these various pieces aren’t floating around in your head, clouding your mind and your decisions.  You now have a clear head to tackle the problem using your brain instead of your emotions.

Once you have written down the differences, you have to decide who owned the action that bothered you—was it you or was it your supervisor.  If it was you, you have some changes to consider, which is fine.  Development is always a good thing.  However, if it was your supervisor, prepare to have a conversation.  You are going to have to lead up and help her grow.  What are some steps you can take to start that process?

Take Action

  • Seek to understand your supervisor
    • What motivates her?  What does she stand for?  What does success look like in her eyes?  Does she like more information from you or less?  Does she like weekly updates by email or on a conference call?  Does she want you to approach her with the problem and the solution or is she the type of leader that wants to work out the solution with you to learn your thought process?  if you ask these questions and get the answers, you will then better understand how your supervisor works and you can work to deliver to those expectations.  This also helps you understand the differences you wrote down previously.  Many times the differences we perceive are due to a lack of understanding.
  • Ensure your values will not be compromised
    •   Now that you know the key pieces that drive your supervisor, you have to determine if your values align. Unless your company has standing values that are expected of everyone, this can be difficult to align around.  Realize that you won’t know that is the case until you understand who you are working for.  This too requires a conversation.   You have to help your supervisor understand you; what you personally stand for, what your brand is, and how you would then like to accomplish the work in a way in which delivers to the supervisors’ expectations without compromising your own values.  Once you talk, you can determine if you will be respected and allowed to work in a way that is true to yourself.  You will also determine if the time you are about to invest in leading up will be properly received.
  • Support your supervisor  
    • Whether you like her or not isn’t the question, supporting your supervisor is a basic expectation of any position you have on a team.  Provide her with the details she needs about your business so she doesn’t have to ask, wonder, or feel as though you are purposefully not supporting her.  Remember that people typically think the worst when there is information lacking.  Remove that doubt in her mind by giving her the information she needs before she has to ask.  You don’t have to get along to respect the fact that she too has a job to do and your role is to give her the information she needs in order to do it.  It is truly that simple.  Helping her be successful by supporting her ensures that she is more likely to listen to your feedback when you give it because she knows you are on her side.
  • Provide feedback
    • Once you have learned your supervisor, she has learned you, and you have started to show that you are supporting her as part of your role on the team, the next step is to provide candid but respectful feedback.  Only through dialogue, asking questions, providing insight on your thoughts on how to accomplish the work of the team, etc. will you help your supervisor become the leader the team needs.  These conversations have to be regular occurrences where you give feedback and receive feedback.

Remember, you don’t have to like your supervisor to work effectively.  You may take all of the above steps, provide feedback, and still not align.  In the working world, we will never agree with everyone and that lack of alignment can still result in effective results.  However, you do need to feel respected, valued, and as though you can work in an environment where you have the ability to accomplish your work without compromising your values and you can provide feedback.  If through your conversations you can confirm that these two pieces exist, you will be successful in you role, no matter your opinion of your supervisor as a person/leader.