We have all seen this show before -- new bosses that come in and shoot themselves in the foot, leaving their direct reports bemused, bewildered and befuddled. Sometimes it's so bad that it almost seems like new bosses do the dumb things they do on purpose.
Well this past week we were treated to a show in which the new boss was literally reading the script. Things did happen on purpose. In watching this show, it's hard not to be amazed by 10 things the new Office boss Deangelo Vickers (played by Will Ferrell) did on his first day.
For those who have not seen this particular show, The Office, Deangelo is coming in to replace Michael Scott as branch manager of a paper distributor. The branch is populated with sales people, accounting people, warehouse people, a receptionist, and other assorted characters. In this particular episode on the new boss's first day, Deangelo did 10 things that may not have positioned himself perfectly. Specifically, he:
1. Started by telling everyone "a little about myself" -- sending a signal that what's most important to him is... himself.
2. Labeled salesman Andy "funny guy" right off the bat -- signaling that he jumps to conclusions.
3. Changed receptionist Erin's procedure for answering the phone -- signaling disrespect for the way things were done before.
4. Brought a barber into the office to shave him -- reinforcing his image of self-importance.
5. Cut sales representatives Jim and Pam off from talking about their baby -- signaling that he doesn't care what they care about.
6. Asked a group what he can do better (than their previous boss) in front of their previous boss, Michael -- putting all of them in an awkward position.
7. Had his office decorations delivered on his first day, while previous boss Michael was still there -- making Michael feel like he was getting kicked out.
8. Emotionally abused salesman Andy, asking him to be funny on call.
9. Physically abused salesman Andy, making him drink soap.
10. Failed to get a head start, manage his message, or consider the team.
To be fair, Deangelo did what was expected of him. The scary thing is that so many other new bosses have done so many of these things in their own way -- without the benefit of a script and when the opposite is what was hoped for. Those new bosses need to remember that it's not about them. It's not about what they say and not about what they do. It's about how they make others feel. While few bosses want their new subordinates to feel dread about what it's going to be like working for them, and few set out to make the impression Deangelo did, way too many do.
Instead of talking about themselves, labeling others, changing procedures, showing off, ignoring others' interests and feelings, and emotionally and physically abusing people, it's generally a better idea to focus on jumpstarting learning and relationships on the way to inspiring and enabling others. In particular, new bosses should do three things:
1. Get a head start, clarifying their messages, putting together plans, and getting a jumpstart on key relationships.
2. Manage their messages through day one.
3. Start to build the team by:
i. Asking them about themselves
ii. Getting to know people before judging them
iii. Accepting current procedures until they have a good reason to change them
iv. Listening to what's important to people
v. Going out of their way to make people feel comfortable
George Bradt is managing director of PrimeGenesis, a consultancy focused on transition acceleration and executive onboarding. He is co-author of The New Leader's 100-Day Action Plan (Bradt, Check, Pedraza, Wiley, 2009)