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You're the new boss. What now?
by Wally Bock

You're the boss. What do you do now?

Tim is nervous. He's about to start a new job as the boss of people he doesn't know. He's not coming as a savior. The team is performing up to standard, even though it could do better.

Tim has the same question most new bosses have. What should I do?

Start by learning about your people and the situation. This team isn't in trouble. You don't have to take drastic action, so take the time to get to know them and to let them get to know you. Start by getting everyone together.

Getting to Know Me

You want to meet with the team and with every member individually. Start with the team meeting so everyone hears the same basic information at the same time.

The people on your team want to know about you. They want to know who you are and where you came from and why you wound up as their boss. Most of all they want to know what your coming means for them.

Tell them how you got there. If you tell it as a short story (less than 5 minutes) you'll find it easier for you and comfortable for them.

Tell them what you're going to do next. Tell them that you'll be talking to each one of them. They need to know that you'll be gathering information and impressions before you make any changes.

Let them know your expectations.

Sharpe's Speech

Bernard Cornwell is a great historical novelist. One of his series is about Richard Sharpe who starts out as a private in the British Army and rises from the ranks, finally fighting with Wellington at Waterloo. It's a great read if you like military history and historical novels.

The novel Sharpe's Rifles is set just after Sharpe has been promoted from the ranks to Lieutenant. He's trying to learn what it's like to lead as an officer. He gets a lesson from a Spanish officer and nobleman, Blas Vivar.

Vivar tells Sharpe that he should tell his soldiers what he expects from them. The message should be short and clear. Here are Vivar's three rules

"They must not steal unless they will die for not stealing, they must look after their horses before themselves, and they must fight like heroes."

Richard Sharpe modified Vivar's rules to suit his own situation, but he kept the number to three and he kept them simple. You need something similar to share. People want to know what's expected of them. On the first day, Tim might say something like this.

I expect you to do your work as well as you can.

I want you to help the team succeed. Right now one way to do that is to help me understand things.

I expect you to help me and your team members stay out of trouble.

Once you've had your meeting and laid out expectations, it's time to meet with your people one-on-one and ask some questions.

Asking Questions One-on-One

The members of your team have been in their positions longer than you've been in your position. They know more about how things work. They're also concerned about how things will go for them in the future.

Meet with each person individually so you can get their honest opinion and so you can learn about each other. Pick a time and place where you won't be interrupted.

Ask them questions that will help you understand what's important and which give each one of your people an opportunity to share what's important to them. Here are some questions to pick from.

What should I know about you? What shouldn't change and why? What are the three most important things we need to change and why? What do you hope I will do? What are you afraid I may do? Is there anything else that I should know?

Learning About Your People

It helps if you have a simple, structured way to learn about your people. Usually you won't do this with direct questions, but with observation. But beware, you're probably going to need to take notes after you meet with someone or your learning will fly away on the wind.

What's their natural pace? Are they fast or slow? Do they seem more concerned with results or with relationships? What are their hobbies and interests? What is their family situation? What are their career goals?

If you make your expectations clear, take time to learn about the situation and learn about your people you'll be well on your way to success.

Wally Bock works with a limited number of managers to help them improve their personal and business results ( and speaks to audiences in the US and elsewhere. He also writes the Three Star Leadership blog ( Wally's free Conversation Guide ( will help you do better in your first days on the job.

Wally Bock may be contacted at or


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