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 vital 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.
NOT RESPECTING OTHERS’ TIME
If we could describe the ideal boss, it would probably be someone who provided us with: (1) clear expectations regarding our job tasks and performance requirements; (2) a general sense of the desired outcomes from our efforts; and (3) any necessary information or suggestions that might assist our efforts. Following that, the ideal boss would simply get out-of-the-way and let us do our job.
Sometimes this happens. But on occasion we encounter the boss who simply does not seem to grasp the time we need to do the job required of us. This type of time eating boss comes in several varieties. There is the extrovert who simply loves talking to people and you are one of his favorite targets. There is the “think-out-loud, idea a minute boss”, who loves bouncing her or his ideas off others, especially you because you usually have something of value to offer in response. And there is the boss who has taken the “management by walking around” concept way too seriously and that eats up the time of everybody in his or her path.
I distinguish this boss from the micromanager because he or she isn’t into telling you how to do your job. Rather their intrusive behavior simply eats up far to much of your precious time.
I wish I could make dealing with this type of boss easy. I can not. The problem you face is binary. Your choice is between the frustration that comes with the regular intrusions on your time or the conversation you will need to have with the boss if you wish for some behavior modification on his or her part. This is not an ideal choice — of course you could always get another job and avoid having to choose — but it is reality.
I once chose the frustration route early in my management career and experienced the most miserable six months in my management life. The trouble with this route is that frustration grows over time, easily morphs into real anger, and can eventually manifest itself in irrational behavior on your part. I never repeated this mistake.
That leaves the conversation; a most difficult one you should think out carefully, including your best judgment regarding the eventual openness of your boss to your point of view. Make the tone and content of your presentation calm, rational, and non-accusatory. Emphasize the simple fact of how much time these frequent interruptions take up during a busy work day. Choose your words carefully and be prepared to adjust on the fly. You may even wish to suggest an alternative approach to your conversations that is scheduled, and thus less random.
Might your boss be defensive? Most definitely. Might his or her feelings be hurt, or might he or she feel a bit embarrassed at not having seen this for themselves? You bet. But if you have judged their openness to constructive and legitimate feedback correctly, they will process your input and hopefully make the behavior adjustments you desire.
Like all forms of managing up, there are no guarantees of success. But the best managers learn early that avoiding difficult conversations because they are uncomfortable, or might have negative consequences born of the boss’s lack of openness to constructive criticism, is a losing game plan. It is an open invitation to the sort of frustration and anger that eventually undermines their ability to effectively manage the employees and business requirements entrusted to them.