Dealing with a new supervisor is always an interesting experience because your situation all comes down to blind luck. There is no science involved; in your eyes your supervisor will either be a good or a bad one. Every supervisor has their good and bad points, which can be expressed in terms of leadership style, interpersonal skills, or pet peeves.
When you get a good one, enjoy the rainbows and unicorns while you can because it never lasts long. Situations like transfers, promotions, demotions, retirement, and terminations change your bliss at the drop of a hat. I've learned a few things about dealing with new supervisors in my 30-plus-year career in law enforcement. Here are some of them in no particular order.
1) Communication is your only path to success. What kind of relationship you develop with your new supervisor will depend on how well you communicate with each other. Any new relationship is a work in progress. There will be several important conversations you should plan for. They are not done all at once but over a short period of time. Here are three examples you should consider:
Discuss mission viewpoint. How does the supervisor view his or her role in accomplishing the agency's mission? How does that vision affect you and your unit? Is your world going to be turned upside down or left as it is? What role will each member play in that vision? Whether you agree or not, you must understand how your world is about to change.
Discuss expectations. What are their short and long-term goals? What is their version of success and how will it be measured? What responsibilities are yours, what are theirs, and find out about any overlap. Find out when it's appropriate to ask for help.
Discuss personal development. You need to share your own short- and long-term goals. Let them know that you want to participate in special projects or assignments. Talk about the schools and training you either want to attend or would like to plan for. Make your intentions to take the next promotional exam known and ask for additional responsibilities to gain insight into their world.
2) Schedule a meeting. Never surprise your supervisor with an important discussion. Give them the opportunity to prepare. Tell your supervisor you'd like to schedule some time to discuss an issue. Let your supervisor tell you a time that would be appropriate. When I was asked, I would say something like, "Come on in and we will talk about it now," or "Let's talk about this in the afternoon."
3) Don't make it about you. Getting to know your new supervisor is all about them and an opportunity for self-promotion. Focus your questions on performance issues, agency and unit missions, leadership, and anything else that relates to their perspective. If your supervisor wants to know about you, they will ask.
4) Figure out the best way to communicate. It's a different workplace now that we have four different generations working in the same place for the first time in history. Some supervisors like face-to-face meetings, while others prefer text or emails. I have known a few that would not approach any topic without a summary memo first.
5) Find out how quickly you need to respond. Never accept a task without a due date. If you are told, "Get it done when you can," it's a set-up for failure. Trust me, your supervisor has a due date in mind. Find out what that is or run the risk of being told that you should have done it sooner.
6) Don't shoot down every new idea your supervisor has. A new broom sweeps clean. New supervisors want to make changes if for no other reason than to draw attention to the fact that they are making things happen. If you are asked for input, give it carefully by explaining a balanced perspective and in a logical way (don't ever respond emotionally). Don't block an idea just because it's new or because you wouldn't do it that way.
7) Offer to Help. Don't confuse offering to help with sucking up. There is a definite line in the sand between team player and boot licker, and everyone will see you as one or the other. Be the team player and it will help the leadership transition go more smoothly.
8) Observe. Don't take anyone's word but see for yourself first, before you make any judgements. Wait and see if the information you received about them was right or just someone's sour grapes. See bad behavior for yourself before you join anyone's bandwagon. Remember, they have heard things about you as well and you would want a fair chance before they drew any conclusions.
9) Be willing to change. No one likes change. Be prepared to adjust to new demands and procedures. When you get promoted, you'll want to do things your way. As long as what's asked is not illegal, unethical, or immoral, go with it and see what happens. Keep in mind that if the change doesn't work out, it was their idea not yours.
10) Change your perspective. Instead of thinking, Here we go again, think of it as a new beginning. Take advantage of being able to start fresh. You might get along better with your supervisor or like what they bring to the table. If it's a bust, you'll have plenty of time to be miserable.
11) Never complain publicly about your supervisor. A listening ear can also be a running mouth. You want to vent? Vent to your husband, wife, or close family member, or yell while hitting a punching bag in your garage. That zone partner you have been sharing your thoughts with, you know the one that says he is your friend, is the same guy who will run to the supervisor and tell them what you said. People will always say they're your friend while they are getting what they want from you. Once that stops, they just might do a complete 180. Don't ever confuse a work relationship with friendship.
12) If your new supervisor used to be your co-worker. Don't kid yourself by thinking nothing has changed; it has. The roles have changed and though your friendship hasn't, remember that work is work and off-duty is off-duty. True friends don't have any issues. My very first sergeant is like the big brother I never had. We stay in touch to this day (Thanks, Captain Richard Klawe, Retired). Don't think for a moment he never chewed me out. At my retirement he shared several such stories about me. Fake friends say things like, "Oh, you get promoted and that's how it's going to be?"
Focus on What You Can Do
The reason no one likes change is because they don't know how it will affect them. People get very comfortable and fall into routines. You hear it in conversation all the time. They will say things like, "We never did it that way!" or "Why are you the only one that makes us…?" Dealing with a new supervisor is nothing new nor are the techniques used to deal with them.
Human nature is what it is; a ball of emotional conflict wrapped in a logical facade. Everyone thinks they know how to do it better. Do yourself a favor: do your job to the best of your abilities, follow policy, and don't worry too much about a new supervisor. There is always a new one waiting around the corner.
Amaury Murgado is a retired special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (FL) Sheriff's Office with over 30 years of experience. He retired a master sergeant from the Army Reserve. He currently serves as the Business Development Manager for Live Free Armory.