Workplace Doctor: Long-serving employee and new boss have different ideas of success

Abu Dhabi sales manager needs to embrace the new sheriff in town.

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I have been working as a sales manager for my Abu Dhabi employer for 14 years and recently acquired a new boss. Until he joined six months ago, I genuinely thought I was good at my job. But now, with his constant jibes and derogatory remarks about my performance, I am not so sure. My confidence is being affected and I feel undermined. Does he just not like me or is my work really not up to scratch? TN, Abu Dhabi

You have certainly earned your corporate stripes with 14 years in the role. Over that period you may have honed your sales approach, developed a way of managing people and adopted an attitude to work which delivered results. Otherwise why would you be there so long? Now a new sheriff is in town and you face a challenge of balancing between what you know works from your experience and what this new boss would like from you.

Let’s think about this a little deeper. You have spent more than a decade living in one country and have adopted, embraced and even shaped the norms and customs. Work is conducted to a set of unspoken rules, people interact in a particular way and performance expectations are clear. Imagine now, a new boss coming in from another continent, relocating to your region with a completely different world view and vastly different expectations of how things should be done. This could be one reason why he is challenging and undermining you. He may be from a very different organisational culture and could have an alternative view of what good looks like. Like you, this has probably been shaped over a number of years and has become his own map for performance.

If this is the case, you must close the gap and seek common ground. Understand more about his background and show your openness to incorporate some of his business norms and expectations into your work and how you manage your own team. At the moment you are both probably speaking very different languages. Maybe you need to make the first move and learn a few words of his.

From my experience of working with senior people, I also know how frustrating it can be to join a new organisation. All you want to do is implement your ideas and use your experience, but you often hear back the rebuttal: “it doesn’t happen like that here”. He may be questioning your performance because a part of him feels challenged by you. You may see it as being well connected and knowledgeable about what works, while to him it may come across as being dismissive of new ideas, resistant to change or blocking him from doing what he was employed to do. Rather than being a barrier, be a facilitator – embrace his feedback and show a willingness to modify your performance. I am not sure this situation is about likeability or even your past performance; think of it as bringing the best of both worlds together and becoming an ally rather than an enemy.

Ultimately the line manager is the most important stakeholder in our business life; without them on our side, work can be a tough uphill climb. Therefore he may be undermining you out of frustration rather than spite. Long service in an organisation, especially in today’s fast-paced economy, is a rarity, and with a career like yours comes stability and experience. However, it is easy to appear static and stuck in your ways, so this situation is an opportunity for you to build an important relationship. An openness to feedback and a willingness to learn are two factors all bosses want. This is a chance to grow further without leaving the safety and security of a career you have worked so hard to craft. Rather than letting his remarks damage your confidence, let it develop you further through stepping outside your comfort zone to move your performance to a new level.

Doctor's prescription:

At the moment you may, unknowingly, be making this corporate VIP feel like an unwanted visitor. Instead, welcome him into the culture, be open to his experience and how he would like things to happen. It is easy for us to fall back on the familiar comfort of past experience. It takes real courage to embrace a new perspective and adapt to a different view of our own working world.

Alex Davda is a business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at for advice on any work issues.

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