how to gain respect as the new boss

Walking into an existing team as the new manager is tough. People are often wary of a new manager and will be scrutinizing your every word and action, as they try to figure out what to expect from you.

If you’re the new boss, here are five things you can do to quickly gain the respect of your team.

1. Take a genuine interest in people, their backgrounds, and the work they do. Meet with people individually and listen more than you talk. Try asking questions like:

  • What do you see as the main goals of your role?
  • What are the most important things for you to achieve this year? Are you on track to doing that? Are there milestones to meet on the way? What things are you worried might get in the way?
  • What’s your most pressing project this week / this month?
  • What do you like the most about your job? The least?
  • What would help you do your job better?
  • Is there anything I should know about how you like to work?

2. Talk to people about your management style and what they can expect from you. What kind of interaction can they expect from you? What types of things do you want to have input on, and at what stages of the work? Do you want email updates or prefer talking in person? What drives you crazy in a staff person that they should know to avoid? I also like to give new employees a rundown of things that I know can be annoying about me – and what they can do to head those things off.

3. Wait a while before you start implementing changes. You don’t have to wait months, but you should wait long enough that you truly understand why things are done the way they are before you change them. You might think you have a better system, only to discover that there’s good reason for not doing things that way – and staff members might not proactively explain those reasons to you if you appear intent on having things your way.

4. Don’t insult the way they’ve been doing things or the manager who led the team before you. You might look around and see badly run systems, glaring holes, and poor decision-making before you; that might even be the reason you were brought in. But be careful how you talk about those impressions, or you may find yourself with a lot of insulted team members on your hands. Even if you think you’re confining your criticism to the past manager, team members will likely feel your assessment reflects on them as well. (And they may still have loyalty to the old manager, too.)

5. Don’t get defensive. Your new team members might be curious about your background. That’s reasonable, so try not to hear it as “prove to us that you deserve this job.” Similarly, keep in mind that change is tough, and having a new manager come in can be nerve-wracking. If people have the occasional moment of resistance or skepticism, don’t let it rattle you. Focus on getting to know the team and how they work and on establishing a foundation for working together.

{ 65 comments… read them below }

  1. Whippers*

    My new manager could definitely have done with a few of these tips when she started. And still could actually.

  2. Maggie*

    It’s so hard to remember this when you start as a new manager. You are SO EXCITED to effect change that you can trip over yourself and forget the all important ‘info gathering stage’ of management. I really like the ‘also include what annoys you and what will annoy them’ and ways to work around it.

    1. Jenny*

      To be honest, at new jobs I always have the opposite problem. I come in and want to observe and figure out what’s broken before I start fixing things. I want to learn what they’ve been doing before I start telling them what they need to do and at a past job a boss was always very annoyed that I didn’t want to come in and change every single thing right off the bat. I was still figuring out where the finance department sits and she’s wondering why I haven’t changed all of our vendors.

      1. Jamie*

        Unless you were still wondering after months and months IMO your bosses were wrong.

        For change to be effective you need cooperation and buy in. You need people to trust you that you’re making good decisions and that you don’t make them in a vacuum.

        If you come in and make changes without getting a feel for the status quo even if you’re 100% right people will feel like it’s change for the sake of change and they will be skeptical you understand the true nature of the changes.

        Now in instances where tptb know what changes they need implemented and are too cowardly to do them themselves so lay it all on the new hire to be bad cop…that’s toxic. But if they are your changes it’s unreasonable to expect you to implement before planning and how do you plan without data?

        I like your approach a lot and I’d have a lot of respect for you if you came into my org like that.

        1. James M*

          For some reason (dyslexia, maybe), I read “tptb” as “phb” (Pointy-Haired Boss).

    2. Kelly O*

      We’re dealing with that right now – someone who wants to CHANGE ALL THE THINGS (with apologies to Hyperbole and a Half) without recognizing context.

      He then gets defensive and controlling when you try explaining why we do a certain thing. It’s perfectly reasonable and logical, but because it’s not what he wants, when he wants it, it’s wrong.

      Frustrating. Especially when we all had such high hopes after the former administration left, and now we’re almost wishing it was the way it had been before.

  3. Kay*

    Just out of curiosity Alison, what kinds of things are on your list of “things that can be annoying about me”? I think this is a great idea because honestly everyone has qualities that will rub some people the wrong way and usually getting it out in the open helps.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ha, I just gave this speech to someone. I said that I’m sure there are other things about me that are annoying that I don’t know about, but the ones that I do know about include:

      * I will follow up on things if I don’t hear back about them, even small things — and I have the memory of an elephant for this category of stuff for some reason, so the way to head it off is to proactively update me about stuff, even if it’s just to let me know it’s still in progress.

      * I take deadlines literally — if we say “end of day Tuesday” and I haven’t heard back about it by 6:00 Tuesday, I’m concerned and will ask about it. If you’re taking that deadline as meaning “before Alison is working Wednesday morning,” tell me that so I’m not wondering.

      * I’m annoyingly precise — if you say “I need a couple of days for X,” I’m expecting to hear back within 2-3 days. That’s true even if X is minor and it doesn’t matter if it takes longer. If you make a precise commitment, that’s what I’ll have in my head.

      * Related to all of the above, I believe what I see — so if I see a couple of times that we’re out of alignment on stuff like the above, then I start worrying that there’s more like that that I’m not seeing, which causes me to ask about stuff more — which is annoying on the receiving end.

      * I get nervous if you’re not taking notes. I absolutely refuse to believe that anyone can remember every little nuance of a complicated discussion, and I’ll become concerned if you’re not writing things down.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        I’m with you on deadlines. People have forgotten the art of setting expectations.

      2. BRR*

        I don’t think a lot of those things are annoying though. They seem necessary to be a good worker. You’re following up on things and you’re adhering to deadlines. I feel like many people write to you when they have a coworker who isn’t doing those things.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There’s another working style (which I’ve had to reluctantly accept is a perfectly fine one) where this stuff is annoying to them — people who get great results but who are are way more fluid/imprecise than what I describe above. I’m not talking about people who miss a deadline by a week — that’s unacceptable in any work style — but rather people who don’t see sending something at 6 p.m. Tuesday as meaningfully different than sending it at 9 a.m. Wednesday. So I like to be really clear at the outset about what will drive me batty if they do it.

            1. Hlyssande*

              I’m really glad you mentioned rent checks becaue it had totally slipped my mind. Whoops!

          1. Thomas W*

            It’s a difficult line to walk, so I appreciate managers who are open about their preferences. I don’t view any of the things you listed as annoying — they’re just the way you do things, for valid reasons. In my new job, my bosses are super hands on. They want to know about everything, all the time: what I’m going to tell the client about x, following up about the status of every little thing, etc. They fit the list you made just now quite well. I admit that I prefer more autonomy, but if this is what it takes to be successful in this particular role, then I must adapt. It’s only painful if you let it be (assuming they’re not horrible micromanagers).

      3. Katie the Fed*

        I like those!

        I’ve told people the following about me:

        – Please don’t barrage me with a bunch of questions when I walk in in the morning. Let me drink my coffee and scan through my emails before you attack.

        – Don’t interrupt people when they’re talking. And no sidebars in meetings. It’s rude and distracting.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Oh, I am so with you on that first one. Give me 15 minutes to get my stuff put down, get logged into my computer and so on, and we’ll both be much happier. If no one is unconscious or bleeding, I promise it can wait that long – and if they are, contact building security, not me.

        2. Tinker*

          Heh. Often enough I end up just putting up with it, but there is a great sad face in my soul when people come between me and food — for instance, coming by my desk when I’m eating or some such.

          When I’m doing LARP weekends, I’ll stand out in the rain, I’ll carry the darn tub with the armor in it, and I’ll fight in the dark in a muddy field lit by occasional glowsticks and populated by overenthusiastic players with spears, but in the morning I will speak to you after I have had breakfast and not before.

      4. Anonie*

        I do all of these except the last one. People may find it annoying but I don’t stress about my work because of it. I have a deadline driven job and I have to be this way or I would go crazy!

      5. YoungProfessional*

        AAM – I’ve gotten into so much trouble in the past for taking notes. I’m glad managers out there realize that it’s useful (especially if you’re a visual learner)!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I am glad to hear it is not just me. One boss gave me instructions on how to do a task that would take two hours. He spent 15 minutes explaining this task. I grabbed pen and paper and promptly got scolded for taking notes. “I don’t have long to explain this, I cannot wait while you write it down.”

          Well, that was efficient. (NOT) He spent the rest of the month explaining all the parts that I messed up each time I did that 2 hour task. grrr. (By some miracle,I actually remembered all but one or two steps of a thirty step process.)

          1. Ben*

            Yeah…..why would a manager complain about note taking? I have experienced this …
            I do not get it at all. Boss snarky about it every time I grabbed a pen. Never liked to explain, I rarely asked, and HATED it when I wrote down instructions….what an ass.

            But why ? Any ideas?

      6. Anon 1*

        I don’t find these traits annoying because I have the same standards. I have an excellent memory and will follow through on even the smallest details. What is annoying is when managers have these standards for their direct reports but not themselves. If I have a boss that says next Tuesday I’ll give you feedback and I have to follow up by Thursday, I get annoyed. Granted managers can be busy, however, in my line of work I’m equally as busy and still find time to get things done on time. And if I can’t I preempt the situation by letting my manager know what is going on.

      7. Lora*

        Oooh yeah, that would drive me bonkers. To me it comes across as micromanaging–you give me a list of what you want done on Monday morning, with deadlines, I tell you what I did this past week, and it’ll get done a lot faster if nobody bugs me or interrupts my train of thought. I can easily have a huge list of things done by Thursday afternoon and have Friday off, if nobody gives me anything last-minute or “just this one thing” in the middle of the week. No mid-day meetings, no firefighting, no negotiating a peace treaty over whose turn it was to make coffee. Which NEVER happens, but I despise being interrupted for any reason that doesn’t involve flames, smoke or flashing lights. Bug me every ten minutes about a task which isn’t at the top of the priority list and takes 20 minutes to perform? To me that comes across as an inability to prioritize, and that you are waaaaaayyyy too nervous and overwrought about minor crap, and now I have to worry about how you will react in a geniune emergency–which in my field generally involves dead bodies and a big crater in the ground where the facility used to be, angry authorities and press corps, etc.

        That said, what my folks find annoying about me is that I don’t do much hand-holding and I rarely tell people anything if there isn’t much to tell. I’m happy to teach someone how to do a task they never did before, I make a concerted effort to talk to everyone daily and ask how it’s going, tell them they did something awesome at least once a week, tell them in no uncertain terms what I don’t like and why, stick up for my crew when I need to, but my most annoying feature is “I will tell you stuff when I have something to tell you, until then I trust you to do your job half-decently.” People tend to want a lot more interaction than that, and my reaction is often surprise: “Why? I trust you, you’re smart, you do a good job.” It’s like they want someone to say “I love you” every day and I’m asking, “why? I already told you that YESTERDAY, jeez.”

        1. aebhel*

          You sound like my ideal manager, tbh.

          If you don’t have a new assignment for me and everything is going smoothly, why do we need to have a meeting about it every ten minutes? Let me do my work! :)

  4. Jamie*

    I’d be better off giving people a list of things about my work self that aren’t annoying. It would be a much shorter list.

    I have seen people make every mistake on this list – and just makes everything so much more complicated than it needs to be. So much of it just boils down to transparency when appropriate, communication, and listening.

  5. AnonEMoose*

    I would add “don’t expect your new team to trust you right away.” This is especially true if the last manager was toxic; if that was the case, people are going to be skittish. That’s not their fault, and it’s not yours, either, but please be patient and willing to demonstrate that they can trust you.

    1. Jamie*

      True – although I would absolutely rather replace someone toxic than beloved.

      I can help them unlearn toxic – but filling the shoes of beloved? I don’t have it in me.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        That’s interesting; I hadn’t thought about it that way before, but it does make sense.

      2. NavyLT*

        I’ve always found it easier to replace someone who was competent and well-liked (or either one of the two, really)–it’s easier to inherit a smoothly-running division with good morale. That said, it’s more personally satisfying to take a division that was mismanaged and get things turned around.

  6. Jenny*

    I’ve heard you need to beat someone up your first day to show that you are dominant. No . . .wait, that’s prison. Never mind.

      1. Jamie*

        In prison the law limits how many hours they can make you work…rim shot!

        Kidding – I’m not usually so cynical but today…prison doesn’t sound too bad. Three homecooked meals a day, a place to sleep, playing cards with the funny deputy.

        I may be thinking of Mayberry jail and not actual prison.

        I had no idea I harbored a secret desire to grow up to be Otis.

        1. louise*

          A couple days ago I told my yoga teacher that I’d like to try solitary confinement and see how long I’d last. I’m pretty sure I’d enjoy it longer than the average bear. Meals provided with no dishes to wash after, no one talking to me, naps allowed, and endless time to stare at a blank wall? Those are specifically the things I seek out in my time off.

          1. Arjay*

            I know! I think I’d be fine with it in everyday life, but especially in prison. You’re going to put me in solitary, away from the rapists, murderers, and psychos? Sign me up. (Yeah, I’ve been watching Oz a lot lately.)

  7. some1*

    If you are replacing a manager who was let go, have some empathy about what that’s like for the reports left behind.

    Don’t “jokingly” tell your report of an hour that she’s fired.

    1. Henrietta Gondorf*

      I had a new boss do this while we were walking to a restaurant for lunch on the first day I met her. I was gobsmacked.

      1. some1*

        Yeah, I have a twisted sense of humor, but don’t ever joke about my livelihood. Don’t joke about me being fired, or that I’m not getting a raise after all, etc. Michael Scott was a character, not a model for real-life workplace humor.

        1. Whippers*

          There is nothing funny about joking that someone is getting fired. Seriously, what is someone trying to achieve with that “joke”?

  8. Jess*

    These are great tips, especially #1. I would have so much respect for any manager who took the time to ask those questions and listen to the answers.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I do like it a lot when a new manager wants to take the time to understand what I do. I’m not sure how honest I’d be about things I dislike about my job, though…ask me again after you’ve demonstrated that I can trust you.

      But asking me what I do and how it fits into the overall picture of the team/department? That’s awesome and much appreciated!

  9. Katie the Fed*

    I would add: follow through on anything you promise, even if it’s just small stuff. People are watching for those signs that you follow through, so even if it’s sending someone you say you’ll send – make sure you do it.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yep. They are testing the waters with the small stuff. If you can’t deliver that box of pens you promised, how on earth will you cope with the tough stuff?

  10. B*

    Would be really interested to read the ‘being reorganised to manager of your existing team’ version of this. I was managing one person who’d been in the organisation 15+ years more than me and one who had literally been there over 33 years before I started. I hadn’t been promoted beyond them, I had been appointed a grade above them two years earlier, but they hated me. And just to make it worse, my line manager who had previously managed them was (and still is) close friends with one of them (they go on holiday together every year) and wouldn’t really let me *do* anything.

    Hey ho. It was a dysfunctional situ back then, it’s better now. But it would be nice to know what would usually be the right thing to do this this position!

      1. not a mrs*

        Great article! I don’t suppose you have any tips from the other side? i.e. adjusting to being managed by a former peer? Obviously stuff like awareness of and responding to the change in power dynamic is relevant to both sides, but I’m blanking on anything else :)

  11. T*

    Many years ago I was assistant manager at one of a small, locally owned chain of stores. At one point, our manager was off property for six months at a time because he was helping set up a new store. After he got promoted to a new role, the company brought in a new manager for our location. I really wish she had done some of the things Allison recommends here. However, what I really would have liked was for her to sit down with me, her assistant manager, to talk about how the store ran, what she would like to see change, and what she wanted my role to be. Instead, she made decisions that still seem goofy to me almost twenty years down the road. I really think she felt threatened by me either because I had also applied for the same position or because many of the staff continued to look to me for leadership. One time we had some obvious shoplifters in the store on a Saturday evening. After they left (I’m not sure if they got anything), I called our employees who would be working the next shift and also called around to our other stores to give descriptions. The manager had already left for the day by the time I called around, but she chastised me when she found out because she had planned to do the same thing come Monday (the next day we were open). I was doing the same thing I would have done under any of our previous managers and what I would have expected any of our staff to have done if no manager had been present. She felt that I had acted out of line, yet she had never communicated to me what my role should have been once she came on board or even what her plans were regarding that particular event. In retrospect, I still think I did the right thing because we had already had shoplifters go from location to location within the same day.

    I think the takeaway is to make your expectations clear, especially to staff under you who also play supervisory roles and to remember that you’re all supposed to be on the same side, working for the same goals.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Most retailers I have worked for expect immediate action in the case of shoplifters. I have no clue why you would wait a day to start that action plan.

      She probably never felt she was the manager when you were there. I had a new manager tell me that once. The real problem was that nature abhors a vacuum. My manager took a reactive stance- wait until something goes wrong and then make a half-hearted attempt to do something. People definitely felt that there was no one steering the ship.

      I think when a new manager reacts the way yours did one of two things is going on: she knows that she is not doing a good job OR worse yet, she doesn’t understand her job.

    1. Chriama*

      Me too. Is there a different layout for mobile? I’m reading on my phone and it seems different. I think the new layout will really be put to the test with tomorrow’s open thread so I’m hoping it gets posted before I have to be at work ;)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The new layout is a responsive theme, which means that it will look a little different on your phone than it used to. Mainly, you won’t see the sidebar you’ll have a dropdown menu at the top. You should be seeing it now!

        1. Chriama*

          I didn’t notice the menu but it seemed like the comments filled the page width (I usually have to zoom in). And I noticed the sidebar links at the bottom. Looks good!

          1. iseeshiny*

            Yes, reading from my phone there’s no need to change the screen size – I like it! Also I like that the default is to have the comments not collapsed but with the option to collapse – I like that better than the other way round.

        2. Anonymous*

          Also, did you change the background color? I’m not seeing the color/texture you mentioned earlier that you were considering.

  12. Megan*

    I had a similar related problem. I’d had this supervisor for years in a casual job in the marketing department of a university. I absolutely loved her and we had quite a good relationship. She left for another university, and a new supervisor come in in her place. Let me be the first to say she was great at the job, fair and even, all that. For some reason I just couldn’t get past Supervisor A leaving and resented Supervisor B. It took me ages to realize I was resenting Supervisor B because she wanted Supervisor A, and I ended up fessing this to another supervisor of sorts (she is above the two supervisors, and sat in along with Supervisor A on my interview). She advised that I tell Supervisor B that I was simply missing Supervisor A and I did actually like her, etc.

    I did, and haven’t looked back.

    Ironically, I lost touch with Supervisor A. I no longer work there and nor does Supervisor B – and yes we talk often and got lunch last week! I love how that happens.

    I do feel deeply loyal to the ‘first’ of things and I struggle to accept a new thing/person in its place. I know I need to work on that.

  13. darqmommy*

    Once I was in a brand-new supervisory position at a special school program for children with significant health needs. We had a contract to serve many of the county’s developmentally disabled children, and when I assumed this role I quickly learned that staff were not using basic sanitary and dignity protections to change pull-ups. They were entrenched in bad habits, and had been left to govern themselves for quite some time. I was brand-new, and I knew I had only ONE chance to earn their respect while making my point. Know what I did? I called a meeting, expressed my concerns openly, and asked them sincerely for their input on how we could change the situation. It worked perfectly. Everyone knew on some level that the current situation was unacceptable, and when asked directly, instead of being told, they came up with wonderful ideas on solving our problems. We invested some money in basic equipment, had staff assist with setting it up and owning the outcomes, and EVERYONE in that program knew we had made a major improvement.
    Sometimes a new boss can be the “sore thumb” that provokes a culture change if s/he will just stick to what s/he knows is right. Many times, employees are waiting for guidance instead of pushing for change themselves.

  14. aebhel*

    Does it make me a bad person that I want to anonymously email a link to this to my new manager?

    Every single thing on this list, she’s done the opposite. With extra-special hilarity on #4, because our previous manager has moved on…to a position higher up the ladder. Diplomacy fail!

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