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Do You Seek Contrast or Compatibility with Your Boss?

When you are making a decision about your next move, assessing the dynamics of the relationship with your future boss is right up there in your priorities.

There are of course many nuances to such relationships, but I would like to focus on a more work-related consideration. Should you seek to join a boss who is passionate (and experienced) in your specialist area, or should you join someone who is less strong, and therefore add a different dimension to them?

Let’s take the example of a Learning & Development Director. They have two options of which job to take. Everything else is equal, and it comes down to two variables:

The first HR Director is utterly passionate about L&D – they have made huge progress in this area, but they want to take you on to do even more.

The second HR Director is an L&D novice. They have made very little progress in the area, and they want to take you on to usher in a new era.

At first glance, my personal preference would immediately be clear. If I were an expert in L&D, I would probably want the role where there was the scope for the biggest change. I would be able to make my mark in my own way and create something wonderful.

That is, if I get the suggested support from my boss….

This is where things get tricky. When someone does not have an affinity for a certain area, there is usually a reason for it. Any HR Director will have been working in the industry for 10-25 years, and if they don’t have much L&D experience, it probably means that their interests lie elsewhere. If they don’t understand it, there is a reasonable argument to say that they won’t be such big supporters after all. You will only be able to make your mark if your boss is behind you.

On the other hand, if your boss is passionate about your specialty, there may be a chance to go deeper than any of your competition and create a market-leading service for your colleagues. They may also, of course, have their own ideas and your input might not be as impactful as if your boss didn’t know what they were talking about.

It’s a pretty tricky decision, and will very much depend on your assessment of their personality. If the HR Director is a fan of your area, you have to be sure that they will be ready to delegate and let go of the reins when the time comes. If they know nothing about your area, you have to be sure that they are curious enough to explore something that is foreign to them.

Human instinct is to go with what we know, so bosses often hire people who have similar interests. My feeling is that there is probably more value in hiring someone who has a different skillset, but you have to be ready to take an active interest, even if the area bores you to tears. Do this, and your expert new hire will do the rest.

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