Your first meeting with the boss will be one of the most important meetings you'll attend as a woman new to management. It's about understanding who s/he is, what makes him or her tick and building a relationship that will serve both of you well going forward. Prepare well and leave him or her thinking WOW, this is going to be great!

Ten Things to Understand
About Your Boss

Your boss will be amazed at how well you "understand" him or her if you are tuned in to the following:

  • What is s/he trying to accomplish?
  • What are his or her goals?
  • What does s/he want you to accomplish?
  • Is s/he ambitious or content?
  • If s/he is ambitious, is it about substance or recognition?
  • Why is s/he where s/he is?
  • Are you more ambitious than s/he is?
  • What do you want out of your current position and is that compatible with his or her goals and ambitions?
  • Do your goals advance his or her ambitions or conflict with them?
  • What kinds of problems most worry him or her? What kinds of victories most please him or her?
If you understand where your boss is really coming from, you will minimize the chance for misunderstandings and avoid situations in which you function at cross purposes. Your first meeting with the boss can help accomplish this.

Learn As Much As You Can
Before Meeting With The Boss

Unless your position is newly created, a meeting with your predecessor will probably occur as part of the "passing the baton" process. But if necessary, schedule some time with the person who held the position you are taking over. Find out what it was like to work for your new boss, what kind of person s/he is, what his or her "hot buttons" are, and ask for their suggestions on how to form a productive working relationship with the person.

(If your boss has been promoted and you are stepping into that position, still reporting to him or her, you'll already know much of the above.)

Initiate Your Meeting With The Boss

In the real world, your boss may just walk into your office on your first morning and suggest you spend a little quality time together now before things get too busy. By all means, have a friendly chat then. Most likely it will be a "congratulations", "my door is always open", type chat. So ask if you could schedule some time after you've had a day or so to catch your breath to be sure you're on track.

A major benefit of initiating the meeting with the boss yourself is that you can also suggest a time and thereby give yourself a chance to prepare an "agenda". I actually stood in front of a mirror and rehearsed a greeting and the first few things I'd say. It felt silly but I was more confident walking into that meeting.

Prepare for the Meeting

If you already have an existing relationship, your preparation for meeting with the boss will be a little less stressful than if you're meeting with a relative stranger. But either way, remember you have a new role now so it will be a new relationship, with new ground rules and new expectations. So it will be a new kind of meeting.

The following process worked well for me.

1. Determine your desired outcome.

  • A clear understanding of what your boss expects of you.
  • How you will know you're on the right track.
  • Establishing mutual respect and trust.

2. Make a list of questions you'd like answered. Try to avoid sounding rehearsed. Instead, aim for a conversational meeting. It will put both of you more at ease.
  • Are there any problems or issues you should be aware of?
  • What are your boss's goals for your team?
  • Should you have regularly scheduled update meetings?
  • What suggestions can your boss make to help you to be successful?
  • Are there changes on the horizon that you should be aware of?
  • What should you focus on in the short term? The long term?
When you sense that the meeting is winding down - there are frequent or extended pauses in the conversation - ask if your boss has any questions or advice for you.

Try to let him or her stand first, indicating that your first meeting with the boss is over and reinforcing that you respect the difference in your roles. Seal the deal with a firm handshake while looking him or her right in the eye - a sign of sincerity - and smile.

You're smart enough to know this, but it is SO important that it bears repeating: don't ever repeat anything that has been discussed behind closed doors - especially with your subordinates - unless you are directed to do so. This could happen during your first meeting with the boss.

Build and keep a reputation for absolute discretion! It will be one of your most valuable assets.

Trust Your Instincts

Len Schlesinger from the Harvard Busines School spent 20 years studying the impact on accomplishment within the relationship between individuals and the people they report to. He believes there are some basic truths at the heart of this relationship.

  • Everybody dislikes the person they report to at one time or another and complains about it.
  • Everybody complains about the same things: lack of encouragement or recognition for superior effort.
  • You can't change this person - don't even try.
  • You can't adapt to anything and everything this person wants.
  • You can't simply declare yourself a free agent.
  • You can't change this person but you can grow yourself by learning from what you like or dislike about him or her.
With all due respect to Harvard University and Dr. Schlesinger's "basic truths", I did have a boss who was absolutely perfect. And I had another boss who was so bad that I did declare myself a free agent and left the company.

So my "basic truth" is: almost everyone will go through a rough patch with the boss at some point. It may be obvious what's causing the problem. If you're sure what it is, fix it if you can or ask for a meeting with the boss. Or you may not have a clue as to what's causing the problem. Your boss may be dealing with personal or professional issues most probably unrelated to you or your performance. My advice in the latter case: Be patient. It will pass.

Future Meetings With The Boss

If your boss likes to schedule regular meetings, it makes your life a little easier since they will probably follow a similar format. But when you have a problem or a hot idea, don't hesitate to ask for an unscheduled meeting with the boss. Believe me, s/he is never too busy to avoid a problem or listen to an idea that makes him or her look good too!