How Do I Stop Feeling Intimidated By My New Boss?

How can our reader impress her new boss when she feels constantly nervous in their presence? Our careers experts give some honest advice...

How do I stop feeling intimidated by my boss?

by Sue Unerman and Kathryn Jacob |

In a world of inspirational memes and #girlpost Instagram posts, it’s easy to forget that we all get stuck at work, or feel like we can’t find a way forward at times. Sue Unerman is the Chief Transformation Officer at MediaCom and Kathryn Jacob OBE is the Chief Executive at Pearl and Dean. Together they wrote The Glass Wall: Success Strategies For Women At Work And Businesses That Mean Business. Each week answer your work questions with pragmatic, honest advice that’s proven to work…

Q: I’ve got a new boss, I don’t know much about him. I got on really well with my old boss, and my question is: how do I make sure it works with this one. I’m worried that he’s going to think that I’m a part of the old regime. I know he’s been brought in to shake things up. The whole thing is making me really nervous and I can’t concentrate on my work. How can I impress him?

Kathryn: First things first. Decide what you want to achieve with this boss. Also do be measured in what you expect from him. He is probably as nervous about the new situation as you are. Be open and welcoming, not defensive.

Sue: Bear in mind that you do not have to be best friends with everyone in the workplace, especially your boss. Not everyone you work for is going to be your personality type. In fact I’d go on to say that very often it’s the people who are less like you personally who are the ones that you learn most from. However, if you got on brilliantly with your old boss, this will be quite an adjustment. I once had a boss who would buy me flowers every week. This was absolutely lovely. It hasn’t ever happened since. But my career hasn’t suffered from it. It was important to that boss of mine that I liked her and important to her that I knew that she liked me. I’ve worked for other bosses of whom that is true (although no flowers!) and I’ve also worked for bosses who frankly weren’t that bothered about whether I liked them personally or not so long as I delivered. Both situations can be good. It’s lovely if you immediately take to someone, but remember some people are “show-ers” and others are “grow-ers”. As in some people you like immediately. Other people grow on you. Even if you don’t take to him immediately he might grow on you.

Kathryn: Having been a new boss myself, it is a bit weird when people spend the first 2 weeks telling you how great they are rather than just doing their job (in a great way). In that first phase you’re trying to work out how your plans are going to play out and you in fact just want people to carry on as usual. As a boss I needed to work out who would actually do the work well versus who just talked about it. Keep your head down, get on with the job. However, make it clear that you are open to change and that you welcome new direction.

Sue: Can this come across as though you are in a way betraying the old regime? After all your old boss hasn’t necessarily disappeared from the company?

Kathryn: Good point, but being open and welcoming is not doing the dirty on the old boss. Change is a constant in work. You don’t want to be seen as part of the old guard. You can navigate this in a way that squares with your conscience and your loyalty to your old boss but doesn’t mean that you come across as untrustworthy. Take the time to judge what your new boss’ direction of travel is. Listen to him and ask for his opinion.

Sue: Remember as well that he might well talk to your old boss. You don’t say whether they left, were promoted or moved sideways but in any respect its naïve to assume that he won’t ask their opinion of you so definitely don’t burn any bridges here. People do talk to each other. Kathryn, how long should you give it before you decide whether the new situation works for you?

Kathryn: There’s a story in our book, “The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business”, about a woman we’ve called Naomi who found herself with a new boss. Initially all went well, but her new boss was more analytical than her old boss and required much more detailed reporting and analysis. Gradually Naomi realised that this was taking up a disproportionate amount of her time. All the qualities that she felt valued for, curiosity, flair, creativity, were being squashed into a world of endless detail and analysis. In parallel there seemed to be a cluster of other women around her boss who she’d picked out and who were much more in her image. As time passed she felt increasingly undermined and isolated, and after months of sleepless nights Naomi decided to quit. We think she made the right decision. You cannot succeed in an environment where you can’t be yourself. So give your new boss every chance, but stay true to what your strengths are.

Sue: If your new boss is new to the company they might have very different expectations about hierarchy. Do you know what his history is? Have a look at linkedin for example. He might come from a command and control culture or a background in finance that is different to your more independent or sales orientated experience. Cut him some slack if that’s the case, but talk to him about company cultures.

Kathryn: Be ready for the questions he might ask of you. They might include asking you what worked well in your job in the past, and how can it be done better. This isn’t a threat or judgement. It’s a way of improving things.

Sue: This might sound a bit like “apple for the teacher” but I would suggest that you show him that you appreciate him. The more senior bosses become the less people compliment them or even show warmth to them. If he does do something right don’t hesitate, tell him so. For example handling a difficult situation, or removing a blockage on your behalf. Don’t just take it for granted that your appreciation is obvious. Tell him so.

Kathryn: Don’t jump to conclusions before you get to know him and see him in action. Don’t just leave precipitously because it isn’t exactly like it was before. He might turn out to be the best boss you never had

Have you got a question you’d like Sue and Kathryn to answer? Email your questions to Please note, we will be unable to respond to every single question we receive, and will not be able to respond to any questions personally.

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