Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Grace has a great relationship with her boss, Donna. Donna is demanding, but always fair, communicates clearly, and is fun to be around. But their relationship is more than that. Grace has a chronic condition. She has good days, and days that are not so good.
Donna has been supportive every step of the way. They have over time come to the point where Grace feels totally comfortable opening up to Donna about her chronic condition and how it affects her life. Donna has not only been understanding, she has been willing to make accommodations when Grace needed them, as well as giving Grace opportunities to further develop her job skills.
Without a doubt, Grace’s boss Donna is at the top of her gratitude list.
So you can imagine how Grace felt when Donna called her into her office to speak privately this morning.
A big change
“Grace, I have some news to give you,” Donna said. “I am going to be leaving the organization in a couple of weeks.”
Grace didn’t know how to respond, and so she sat quietly.
“I know this is a shock, Grace. An opportunity came up and I just couldn’t turn it down. I have to say that saying goodbye to you is one of the hardest parts about leaving. I knew this wouldn’t be easy on you.”
Grace nodded. She wished Donna well. Then they talked about Donna’s departure plans and the support she would need from Grace over the next two weeks.
That evening, Grace called one of her friends to talk about Donna’s announcement. “I feel lost,” Grace said. “I’m happy for Donna, but I’m worried about what this is going to mean for me. Will my next boss be so supportive?”
Have you ever been in Grace’s shoes? Losing a boss that you have worked well with can be difficult to accept. It’s hard not to be worried when you’re faced with all the uncertainty this introduces into your life. And, like Grace, if you have a boss that you can open up to about your chronic condition, who is understanding and willing to help you succeed in your job, then finding out your boss is leaving can be a double whammy. Like Grace experienced.
Here’s how you can cope with the departure of a supportive boss:
Let yourself have your feelings. After all, this is a loss. And when we experience loss of any kind, it is only human to go through a grieving process. As you grieve, all kinds of feelings will come up. Anger. Sadness. Fear. Don’t deny your feelings. Go off by yourself if you need to and let the feelings bubble up. They’re just feelings.
Get support. Just like Grace did. Get in touch with a friend or family member who can listen while you talk, who doesn’t try to tell you what to do or judge you for the way you feel. Tell your story over and over if you need to. Each time you do, it clicks into place that much more. Vent. Express your feelings. Talking things out is an important part of going through the process of coping after a loss.
Caution: venting with coworkers is not recommended. Keep things positive at work. You don’t want to be viewed as having a negative attitude toward the upcoming changes. This is the time to be a team player.
Losing your boss can seem devastating. But it’s an opportunity for growth.
Debrief. Set up a time to sit down with your boss. Express gratitude for what he or she has done for you during your time working together. I know this may not be easy if you have strong emotions. Ask for your boss’s perspective on how your communication evolved—what you did well in disclosing your chronic condition and what you did well in performing your job. And ask what could have gone better. You may learn something that your boss was not able to discuss with you openly until now, nor was comfortable including in your performance review. This could be a great learning experience for you, and invaluable as you navigate your job in the future.
Get some advice. While you’re there, ask your boss for any advice he or she might have regarding the best way to connect with the new boss. While chances are your current boss will not have any insights into what to expect from the next person, your boss can talk about the demands of your role and the dynamics of the department, and how you might be able to best make an impression as well as begin the process of communication regarding your chronic condition.
Stay optimistic. Sure, nobody likes uncertainty. But while things could at least temporarily change for the worse, they could also change in positive ways. Avoid creating a story in your mind that is all about the worst possible scenario. Instead, infuse your self-talk with words of optimism. Try to shift the focus toward new adventures ahead with new possibilities. After all, you won’t know until you know, so why make yourself unhappy in the meantime?
Review your strengths. You have been at your job for a while, so you know the ins and outs of your job, and you know the culture of your company. So you’re not without your own inner resources. When those feelings of helplessness creep in, remind yourself that you are prepared to cope with the changes ahead. Who knows, the support you received from your boss may have helped you to be more self-confident and self-reliant. That much better prepared to navigate change.
Prepare to begin the get-acquainted process again. This may seem daunting. You can help yourself by mentally preparing for change. Again, your self-talk can help. Remind yourself that your current job responsibilities, and the way in which you currently carry out your responsibilities, may change. Maybe even drastically. But change can be for the better! And change always means growth. The benefits can far outweigh the inconvenience.
Be welcoming to the new boss. Your new boss may rank among the people you are most not wanting to meet. But being unwelcoming is not the image you want to portray. Resolve that since the new boss is coming whether you want it to happen or not, you may as well do what you can to start off the relationship on the right foot. Reach out. Say hi. Offer your help in learning the ropes of your department. Who knows? You might have another great boss relationship ahead of you.
You, your chronic condition, and your departing boss. It’s hard to let go of someone who has been a key source of support, and even harder to face uncertainty. Use this as an opportunity to fine-tune your coping skills. And welcome the opportunity for growth. You can handle it!
What has helped you cope with getting a new boss? Share your advice by adding a comment below.