Bad Boss BS: “I’ve put in 10 minutes for us at the end of the month.”
How do you get the time you need with a boss to get their input?
Bosses sometimes don’t control their own calendar. So, when we ask for a meeting, it’s best to be specific. “Could we find 30 minutes within the next week to discuss this, otherwise I’m afraid we might miss our deadline” is much better than, “Could we find time to talk about this?”.
There are times when we need to escalate a situation to make our boss aware of something, to get their support for a recommendation or to ask advice. We can sometimes fall into the trap of assuming that the boss will have a good sense of the urgency, importance and complexity of the what we’re working on and that they’ll be able to respond appropriately — arranging a meeting or unlocking progress some other way. But that’s not always true. Sometimes, you’ll desperately need a conversation to unlock progress, so when an invitation to a 10-minute slot in three weeks appears in our calendars, it can be dispiriting. It’s not what we need or want. But is the boss to blame?
Bosses are often time poor and their attention is split across multiple contexts. Often, they don’t even manage their own calendars. Their response to our request might be to ask their PA to arrange a meeting, but not give any clearer instructions than that. We can help them, and ourselves by being clear on when we’d like to meet and how long we think we need. We might not always get the necessary time, but we’ve given more information so that the boss (or the person who runs their calendar) can make a more informed decision.
Ask for what you need
If you need a meeting with your boss to unlock progress, tell them. If it’s a complex challenge that will require 10-minutes just to explain the challenge, before you even get to a discussion of solutions, tell them that too. Never be afraid to ask for the time you think is needed to unlock progress.
In some scenarios we make an assumption that the Boss knows exactly what we need. Assuming is often the cause when a relationship is misfiring. How can you be clear in every interaction about what you need and why it’s important to you? Usually, being clear to others requires us to be clear ourselves. What do we actually need from the boss?
As well as clarity, we need confidence to ask for what we need. Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking a bosses time is too precious — and that we should be able to make progress on our own. This is sometimes true. But there will inevitably be times when it’s our job to check in with the boss. Spotting these times is a skill — and it’s a skill that the boss can hep you develop. Just as you can be clear in your communications about what you need, ask the boss to tell you the sort of situations when they want to be involved. You can use this as a form of “contracting” that you can refer to in future interactions.
Bad bosses can often be a blocker. But we can increase our chances of making progress by pointing out this possibility to them. They usually want progress just as much as you. If you need your boss to contribute something before you can make progress, take the time to think about what you need, why it’s important and when you think the important timing is — once you’re clear on this, communicate it clearly to the boss. Make your request and highlight the what, why and when in three clear sentences. And then try to make sure these sentences follow along with the request, so that even if the resulting meeting is scheduled by someone else, the diary manager knows the context and what you’re asking for. They can then include this in the invite, meaning the boss will likely be better prepared when the arrive at the meeting.
If you’ve had an experience of a bad boss, have a story to share or want advice, you can participate in this series by sending a message to @danramsden or completing this contributor form. I’m hoping to build a community around the experience of bad bosses — and share advice and practical adaptations so that we remain effective. There’ll be at least one post every week. If you have something to share, please get in touch.