vader with clipboard

Photo by Flickr user JD Hansen. CC-BY license 2.0.

The most important thing in boss to employee relationships is clear communications and expectations from the boss—for you, the employee, that means knowing what they want you to do.  Second, you need to have the proper resources and timelines to accomplish the task.  In short, the boss must tell you concisely what is expected on tasks and overall job duties, and supply the resources (including time) to accomplish the desired tasks.  This means you both have to communicate effectively.  Here are some things you can do to accomplish this goal and enhance the success of the relationship.

These can be done as a group of actions or done one element at a time.  You will have to access what works best with your new boss.  Suffice it to say that if you want a good relationship with any new boss you have a responsibility—mostly to yourself—to set up appropriate expectations and communications.  Don’t wait for them to do it.  Many bosses have never been trained to be effective leaders/managers.  Some are naturally great and if you implement the following ideas with them they will learn you are a good employee.  If your boss is not so savvy or well-trained, you will be helping them be a better boss for you.

Get your boss to communicate


  1. Ask the boss how they’d like to communicate to you, the employee, and be specific. For example, ask them to tell you the best way to get clear work assignments from them.  In person or email? Phone, maybe?  How do they prefer you ask questions? Do they want you to consider the task and then email requests for clarification or would they be fine with you repeating back to them orally what you think you are supposed to do?
  1. Once you have established how they want you to communicate with them and how they want you to take down/accept assignments, consider your next steps. If they said to just takes notes
communication manhole

Photo by Flickr user Chris Garcia. CC-BY license 2.0.

and make sure you know what they want you to do, you should take notes while in their presence, then either go back to your boss for clarification once you reviewed your notes, or send them an email summary of what you are planning to do—i.e., what you understood that you are supposed to do and when you are to have it done. If the assignment is more than a couple of days long, set up a check in time to go over what you have accomplished so far.  If they do not want to do that in person, you can send them a note outlining your progress and asking any questions you might have at that point.  For long, complex projects I’d pretty much insist on checking in several times on the project.

  • When you check in, tell them specifically what you are doing, confirm the goals or deliverables have not changed, and ask for any course corrections they might have for you at that time.  If things change, confirm them and acknowledge the changed direction without suggesting they are inconsistent.  If it is a major change it’s okay to ask why the change is being suggested or demanded so you have a frame of reference.  In short, you make sure you are actually doing what they wanted you to do.  Don’t do the whole project and hope you did it right.  Check, adjust, confirm/verify, and continue.  It is a bit tedious at first, but they will be very happy that you are taking responsibility to get it right.
  • In the first three to six months, check in to see how they think you are doing. Ask specific questions like, “Am I understanding what you want from me correctly?  Am I following up in the way you prefer?  What could I do differently to be a more effective employee for you?”  Don’t make assumptions about how you are doing.  Ask and ask specifics about the process you are using and the satisfaction rating they have.  Don’t be offended if they offer course corrections.  Thank them, and make the adjustments if it is feasible.
  • And finally, if you get negative feedback at the first stages of your job, assume that is good. Your boss is paying attention and wants to help! If you get negative feedback make sure you know how they want you to behave or work differently—don’t guess!  If you make adjustments, check in within a month to see if they noticed the adjustment, and make sure that adjustment has corrected the perceived deficiency.
  • Getting into these habits early can ease struggles in the future. Set yourself—and your boss—up for success!