Almost all of us who have managed others over the years, have had to deal with a boss whose own management style and set of management skills left something to be desired. Managing up — as it is called — is relatively easy when one’s boss has a skill set, style, and personality similar to our own. But how to manage up when our boss has a style, set of habits, or chronic lack of sound management judgment that inhibits and complicates our ability to do our jobs?
In this series of articles under the category “MANAGING POOR MANAGEMENT”, I will share what hard-won experience has taught me about coping with the less than ideal boss with whom we are sometimes required to cope.
But bear in mind, that managing poor management in all of its manifestations is always a challenge, because it means attempting to manage your boss or bosses. Thus, as I have written elsewhere in these articles, it is critical that one asks — and honestly answers — the critical question “does it really matter”? Does this act of bad management seriously affect my ability to do my job, or hinder the performance of the organization for which I am responsible? If it does, then you must act to confront the issue as best you can, knowing you will not always succeed but that you at least went down on the right side of things. If it does not really matter in any significant way, then save your powder for the engagements that really do.
THE BOSS WHO CAN’T DECIDE
The boss who can’t decide is a particularly irritating obstacle when you believe you need permission to act in some way. Responses like “I’ll think about it”, “I’ll get Back to you”, or “let’s hold off on this for a while” can often mean nothing will actually ever happen. So if you find yourself confronted with this sort of boss, here are some simple suggestions on how to proceed.
First, bearing in mind that you can never avoid ultimate responsibility for your actions and decisions, steel your courage and take some chances by acting on your own initiative. This is hard for many risk-averse managers, but if you believe some action must be taken, that your judgment is sound, that the decision is probably within your scope of authority, and that your boss may sit on the idea, then act on your own best judgment. You are in charge after all. You may get your knuckles rapped a few times but nobody can criticize you for lack of initiative.
Second, on those occasions when you conclude that the boss’ approval is absolutely necessary, build the strongest possible case for what you wish to do and whenever possible, emphasize how your action may benefit your boss in some way. In my experience, this last little point of emphasis works especially well with a boss keen on looking good.
Moreover, if several of your managerial colleagues sharing the same boss also share your desire for the same action, present your case as a group. There is always additional strength in numbers.
Finally, cast your presentation of the action you wish to take as “this is what I intend to do and when, unless you object”. In other words, do not directly ask for permission. Put your boss in the position of having to say NO. Although this may seem like a small point, it is actually harder for many of us to say NO — it has such a sense of finality — than to simply say “let me think about it”.
In the end, with certain bosses, none of the above suggestions may work. But better to give it your best try, rather than simply letting this challenge frustrate you, or opt for the all to frequent option of endlessly complaining about the challenge with your managerial colleagues.