Feeling Lost at Work? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am a relatively new manager at a not-for-profit organization. During my first two years working here, my boss told me exactly what to do all the time. A classic micromanager, he constantly breathed down my neck.

He left the organization and I now I report to the woman who was his boss. She is the polar opposite of my old boss and gives me zero direction.

This, it turns out, is even worse.

All she does is pile on more work, saying things like, “Oh, could you just take care of this? You are so smart and you always get things done.” Nice to hear, but how can I do it all?

To make matters worse, because of her constant piling on of work, I have no real idea what I am supposed to be focused on at any given time. She keeps claiming an open door policy, but in real life her door is never open—and I can’t get on her calendar to get the clarification I need. I feel lost. This situation is affecting both my own work and my ability to set goals for my new hire. Help! —Overburdened and Feeling Lost

Dear Lost,

Don’t you just hate that—one manager drives you crazy breathing down your neck and the next one drives you crazier by paying no attention to you at all. If nothing else, you have two excellent models for how not to manage your own direct report.

I am thrilled to hear that you are working on goals with your new hire—this is an excellent first step. Ken Blanchard, in his book The New One Minute Manager, says the first step to success is to write down crystal clear goals and post them someplace extremely visible. Ask your new person to double check all of their activities against those goals on a regular basis to make sure everything they are doing is moving them toward accomplishing the right things. If you are familiar with Situational Leadership® II, be very clear about what leadership style your employee needs for each task and goal. This is so that you can provide extra direction when needed, but you also can leave them alone when appropriate. When used correctly, extra direction when your employee is new to a task won’t be perceived as micromanagement—and extra autonomy when they are competent at a task won’t be perceived as abandonment, which is how it probably felt when each of your bosses used only one style with you in all instances.

Now this is specifically for you: Anyone who has a clueless boss must take the reins and bring the boss up to speed by any means possible. This will mean you, alone, need to clarify the goals and tasks you are currently working on. Take your best guess to start. Write them in the briefest, simplest way possible and put them in front of your boss. Get creative and use several types of communication to find one that gets her attention—a hard copy left on her desk, an email, or even a text if that makes sense. If she listens to voice mail, leave your goals and tasks in a message. Then write them big and bold and put them over your desk so your boss sees them when she passes by. If you are on the wrong track, she will notice and tell you.

Once you’ve clarified your goals, communicate with your boss often and without fail. I recommend weekly, but bi-weekly will do—or, worst case, monthly. This communication should list your goals and all actions taken in relation to those goals. As a side note, list in a Miscellaneous bucket any tasks you are working on at your boss’s request that aren’t connected to your goals. That should be instructive.

If your boss won’t provide clear goals, direction, and support in the proper amounts, you’ll have to take the bull by the horns and provide them for yourself. Hopefully, your boss will get the message—and in the meantime, this exercise will remind you of how important it is to provide the same for your direct report. Let me know how it goes.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

2 thoughts on “Feeling Lost at Work? Ask Madeleine

  1. I love the idea of posting goals! I have fallen out of the habit of doing so. As a small business owner, I find I do the same thing these managers did — to MYSELF! I never really thought about it, but I can use SLII to lead myself and stay on track with goals.

  2. You raise good points and I agree you’ll never be able to dtisill social’s return to a few neat and clean numbers, but business today suffers from a lack of quantitative analysis not a surplus. Not all social media analysts who are trying to find new ways to quantify the impact of Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. are not just charlatans trying to dupe the system. Many are pioneering new ground that is still largely unexplored, just as commodities trading was in the 1960s. Metrics get better all the time (consider Facebook’s new dashboard). This is a worthy investigation.

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