In business today, there can be any number of reasons why a boss might lose power. She could be toppled in a coup and forced to leave. She could be squeezed out as the result of a merger or acquisition. Or managers even higher up the food chain might be disgruntled that your boss isn’t making her numbers. While you may be unhappy to see your boss leave, right now it’s all about you.
In most cases, bosses don’t just drop off the face of the earth without warning. There are usually red flags. Watch and listen! You can often read it through shifts in her (or his) performance, relationships, and behaviour. Indications of the power-loss get confirmed by gossip and through subtle behavioural changes from her direct reports and your colleagues.
Too often, though, young professionals (and more seasoned professionals, truth be known) don’t recognise the signs until after the fact. But here’s the good news. Once you learn to pay attention, there’s a strong chance that you’ll be able to recognise and interpret signs before the axe drops and take the necessary steps to strategize and protect your career.
What’s the game plan?
Once the new boss is announced, immediately start positioning yourself to succeed under the new regime. It doesn’t matter where the new “leader” is hailing from. What does matter is whether you’re able to leverage the shifting power balance to your advantage. These are your four sure-fire strategies:
1. Do Your Reconnaissance
The second you find out who’s moving into the corner office, find out everything you possibly can about her. Your goal is to develop a complete picture of your new boss. Hit the phones. Use the Internet search engines. If you know someone who might know anything useful about the incoming boss, make the call. Forget about six degrees of separation—you need two degrees! Get a good handle on your new boss’s history and management style.
Here’s what to investigate:
- What’s her professional track record?
- Where did she work and what jobs has she held before taking the job above you?
- How long did she stay in each of her previous positions?
This information could give you some insight into her intentions. As you’re running your background check, be sure to investigate her hiring and firing pattern. That will give you a better idea of whether she tends to keep her newly acquired teams together or break them up.
The more you know, the more you’re armed to make good decisions.
2. Nail Your Audition
A lot of professional women (OK, men too) assume they have a 60-day grace period when a new boss arrives, but nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s the reality check: starting on his first day in office, your boss is identifying those who can, and cannot, help him achieve his goals!
Your boss’s sorting process starts the first moment he sees you in the corridor. Over the next few months, as the auditions continue, she or he will be deciding whom to keep, whom to promote, and whom to toss.
Knowing your boss’ history and style increases the likelihood that you make the cut and that you’ll be able to make that all-important first impression a very successful and positive one.
3. Become a Native Guide
Even if your new boss has been a successful executive elsewhere, what worked for her in her previous company or culture may not work in the new one. Herein sits your opportunity.
She will come on board needing team members who can educate, inform, and get her up to speed. No matter how well she’s been briefed, she can’t possibly be savvy about the internal power structure. She’ll be watching (and looking to learn) how decisions are made, how people interact, and how internal politics are in play. You can provide the insight!
Serve as a native guide. The new boss may need your advice even more if she’s an industry outsider who needs to get up to speed on your products, your competitors, and corporate strategy. Taking on this role buys you extended audition time and helps your new boss acclimate. It also increases your visibility.
This is a good opportunity to shine. Ideally, this can solidify your relationship with the new boss and help secure your position on the team.
4. Watch for Sacred Cows
Sacred cows, defined as people your boss protects and relies on, or figuratively ‘worships’, present a risk to you only if you ignore their power or don’t know how to leverage it. The boss’s “sacred cows” have influence with the boss and can be your advocates. Don’t immediately try to befriend a sacred cow, though. You’ll be more successful if you first learn who holds more influence.
In Robert Greene’s book, The 48 Laws of Power, which delves into power relationships in the courts of early kings, he paints a picture: “Great courtiers throughout history have mastered the science of manipulating people. They make the king feel more kingly, they make everyone else fear their power. They often end up more powerful than the ruler, for they are wizards in the accumulation of influence.”
Here’s the skinny:
You don’t have to lose your job in a regime change! Successful leaders learn how to leverage change at the top. If you use your good judgment, and do your homework, you won’t get blindsided by organizational power shifts, promotion politics, or management missteps.
Amy Dorn Kopelan is CEO of Producing Your Career, instant-impact experiential leadership and professional development programs. With more than 20 years’ experience as an executive with Capital Cities/ABC, Amy co-authored the book I Didn’t See It Coming
, the “don’t get blindsided” bible for all professionals. Amy speaks at national conferences, “produces” top talent inside of companies, and has been featured in BusinessWeek.com, CEO Magazine, CNBC’s On The Money, Chief Learning Officer Magazine, HBR and CNN.com.