Career advice: Understanding a new boss

Anthony Hill is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader, answering questions about the side effects of pursuing a graduate degree, the opportunities available through working remotely, and the best way to become a teacher.

Anthony Hill

Title: CIO

Organization: Golden Gate University, San Francisco

When my boss retired earlier this year, someone from outside was brought in. She operates very differently. Where my old boss liked to pick the staff's brains and foster discussion, this new one gets ideas of her own and isn't interested in any input from us. Many of us feel we're heading in the wrong direction with some of her initiatives, but we don't get a lot from her about why she's doing what she's doing. What can we do?

Understanding what others want and need is one of the hardest challenges in management, and being managed. Often, the experience you are describing stems from basic personality differences or a lack of understanding about what others are perceiving. It may be that your old boss was an extrovert, and thrived on discussion and collaboration, while your new boss is an introvert and is more comfortable working with ideas. Often, the latter can be perceived as not wanting input or just coming up with their own ideas solo, but the reality is they just are not as comfortable asking for input or proactively creating outbound communication. Remember, she is new in the job, does not know the team well, is trying to prove herself, and would likely benefit from you and the team taking the first steps to reach out and collaborate. It may take multiple tries.

It sounds as if you could be waiting for her to somehow know what you want and provide that to you. All good managers and leaders know how to get input from their team and channel that input into action. I suggest giving her the benefit of the doubt and help her with collaboration, something that is obviously a personal challenge for her. If that fails, then she operates at her own peril, because a manager is only as good as her team and she needs you to be successful.

I'm paying my way through graduate school by holding down my full-time job doing networking for a big company. I'm doing my job as well as ever, but I sense some resentment. I guess I just want someone to tell me what that's all about.

Congratulations on your motivation and work ethic. I have managed people pursuing graduate degrees while working full time, and I've done that myself, so I know that you have to manage your energy levels and make sure you are still contributing the same amount of creative energy at work as you did before your graduate studies.

There is a difference between "doing the job" and contributing creative energy that goes beyond basic job requirements. It may be that your co-workers or managers are picking up on an energy change with you and sense you have begun to reallocate your energy away from the job. You may not even be aware of this potential change in you because you are so busy trying to manage all your time demands, and the signs are subtle. They could also have picked up a sense from you that when you get your degree you will begin looking for a new job. Earning a graduate degree says a lot about your character and is excellent career advancement for you, but it can breed resentment in those who believe they see you preparing your exit. Ultimately, they only know what you telegraph or say about yourself. Carefully manage those perceptions, and perhaps obtaining your advanced degree will result in a promotion at your current employer. They would be crazy not to want people like you.

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