Memo to the Obama staffers sticking around: How to deal with a new boss during an awkward transition of power

The office.
The office.
Image: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
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Adjusting to a new boss is never easy. It’s a lot harder when the new guy has spent years vilifying your last boss, and smear the work of you and your colleagues.

Yet that’s the predicament facing about 50 holdovers from the Obama administration who will be working for Donald Trump starting today after he becomes the 45th president of the United States. Most of them are in essential State Department and national security positions (paywall).

Most of them expect to be replaced in the coming weeks and months. But if they want a healthy working relationship with Trump, they would be wise to follow some basic principles that all employees can use when adjusting to a new manager.

  • Get off on the right foot. First impressions matter, and you want to make a good one. Be welcoming and look for common ground that might help break the ice
  • Be empathetic. You new boss will have lots to learn, and will need help getting up speed. Try to anticipate what will make their job easier. Karen Dillon, the former editor of the Harvard Business Review, recalled that when she was a new boss, one of the new employees introduced herself by giving Dillon a copy of her resume and offered to chat with Dillon about her background. “It was just a few minutes,” Dillon said. “But it was so sensitive to me, so emotionally intelligent to me as the new manager.”
  • Seek advice from new co-workers, especially if—like Obama’s holdovers who will be surrounded by Trump appointees—they were hired by the new boss. “Invite a colleague or two out for a beer and ask people about their work and office morale” is one suggestion. “If that isn’t your style, pay attention to how your colleagues approach their jobs.”
  • Ask them about their preferred communication methods and how they want to receive information. For example, a Congressional staffer suggested that, even though many young people used social media to make a point, the best way to get a political representative to listen is to pick up the phone. Adjust your style to theirs. Trump likes to keep things brief. “I like bullets or I like as little as possible,” he told Axios. “I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page.”
  • Remember, this is a fresh start. The score is now 0-0. “Your old wins and your team’s old wins are history,” writes George Bradt in Forbes.