I am a mid-level manager with a large team in a low-profile but significant government agency. I say significant because substantial numbers of citizens depend on us for critical services.
The chaos here has been profound over the last year or so. Senior leaders keep quitting or getting fired, mandates turn on a dime, and my boss is so demoralized that most days she just comes to work and shuts her office door. She could be playing solitaire on her computer all day, for all anyone can tell.
The mission and goals for my team are straightforward, though, so we keep plugging along and serving our constituents. I have lost some of my best people who have gone to the private sector—and because of the leadership vacuum and the budget freezes I have not been able to replace them. Of course, this has put more pressure on my remaining people.
I don’t know how much longer we can go on this way. I am very close to retirement so I know I can hang on, but I feel terrible for my people. I would need to hire at least five people in order to do the job we are supposed to be doing.
I am running out of steam here and I’m tired of fighting with no support.
Dear Feeling Paralyzed,
Wow. This sounds like an exhausting and tricky situation. But you are not ready to walk away, so you might as well create a plan to keep going.
It sounds like you don’t have much to lose—which in a messed-up way could afford you an opportunity here. This would really depend on your relationship with your boss, but I wonder if you could knock on her door, interrupt her game of solitaire, and request her assistance. Tell her you need her and you need guidance, direction, and support to solve the problems you are grappling with. Maybe she’ll buck up and get her head back in the game.
If you can’t do that, I guess you are truly on your own. I mean, seriously, it sounds like there isn’t anyone paying enough attention to fire you! Go ahead and submit requests for hires to HR and see if you can get that ball rolling. If that won’t work, you will just have to do your best with the hand you’ve been given.
Look at the numbers and figure out what you can do with your limited work force. Explain your thinking to your team and inspire them to do their best with a lousy situation. You probably won’t be able to do everything you want to do, or feel you should do, but you can do something. The people you serve will really appreciate it.
What else can you do but your very best? Who is going to stop you?
About the author
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.
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