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Succeeding with a new boss

A crash course in Brown Nosing 101.

Our spouses and our friends choose us. After a short dating ritual (a.k.a. interviewing), our initial bosses also choose us. We enter our most critical relationships with mutual enthusiasm and a desire to make them work. Yet, even with such a positive head start, many relationships fail.

When the element of choice is removed, relationships can spiral downward quickly. And if a new boss has been brought into your legal department as a “change agent” leader, you should definitely worry about what that portends for your job security and prospects. The majority of inquiry calls I receive from currently employed inside counsel turn into discussions about boss incompatibility or pending reorganization.

Simply changing employers to restart with a boss of your choosing is more difficult than ever. So establishing a good relationship with your new boss is critically important. A surprisingly small amount of literature is available on the topic of proactively bonding with a new boss. I will now fill that void. Please reread my introductory teaser line at the top of this column to see where my advice is heading.

Too many attorneys stubbornly refuse to brown nose a new boss. Ego gets in the way. And attorneys generally believe in the silly notion that doing a good job is sufficient.

New bosses want to be shown a lot of love, and I recommend that you show it quickly. This means immediately embracing any new procedures or best practices ideas from the head cheese. That’s the bare minimum of brown nosing and qualifies more as basic common sense. I suggest a pretty proactive brown nosing strategy. Specifically, talk with attorneys who worked for your new boss at another company or law firm. Ask about communication styles that work well with the new boss. Figure out what areas of professional or personal interest you may have in common. Try as early as possible to build a rapport.

In ways large and small, subtle and unsubtle, let your new boss know that you are on board and committed to his or her vision for the department. Do so with as much sincerity as possible. Sincere or otherwise, most new bosses will enthusiastically receive these efforts. In most cases, the new boss wants your loyalty and will be relieved to have it.

If you are unlucky, you may get stuck with a new boss who seems determined to reorganize. Under such unfortunate circumstances, I suggest an even more aggressive game plan. Ask for a meeting. Tell your new boss that you want to fit into his or her plans, and ask what you need to do in order to make that happen. Make it clear that you would embrace changes to your role, including areas of responsibility and reporting relationships. This is your best chance to get a seat on a moving train versus waiting for it to run you over. Such an approach can and does work.

Even in a reorganization scenario, some incumbents usually remain. Brown nosing to survive a layoff sounds harsh. But so what? The outcome may be excellent. You could become a key team member for the new boss. Bond early and the new relationship might just turn into a great vehicle for your career advancement. Think positively about that possibility and give it your best proactive effort.

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