Monthly Archives: February 2015

Dealing with a Difficult Boss: The Too-Distant Manager

While at first it may seem wonderful to have a boss who doesn’t keep close tabs on you, be careful not to be lulled into the trap of thinking that no news is good news. A boss who is too distant will not be able to give you the proper attention to guide your professional development. Additionally, they will not be close enough to accurately assess your job performance. This can have serious consequences at review time.  These three strategies will help you stay connected with your manager without requiring a large time commitment from either you or your boss.

1) Set Up a Regular Structure

Meeting with direct reports at regular intervals is a best practice, but despite this I know all too many people who do not have such meetings in place with their managers. Rather than waiting for your manager to request a meeting with you, take the initiative and ask to have a check-in meeting regularly. Even meeting once a month will do wonders for staying connected and ensuring you can update them on your work. Requesting this meeting will also show your boss that you are being proactive about your development. While they may not be of the mind to set this up themselves, most managers will appreciate the initiative and will gladly take the time to meet with their employees.

 

2) Be specific About What You Need

Once you have a regular cadence of meetings on the calendar, the next step is to make sure that you use your limited time with your boss wisely. While it may be helpful to just get “Face time” and build a relationship with your boss in these meetings, you can gain much more if you approach them with a solid agenda and strategy. Not only will this ensure that you get the guidance you need from them, but it will make it easier on your boss if you are very clear about where you need them to get involved. An example of what you could present to them is this:  “Here’s what I’m dealing with, here’s my plan to approach it, here are the risks, this is what I want your guidance/perspective on.”  This approach is preferable because you are giving them transparency into challenges you are facing, but you are coming with a plan and not asking them to solve your problems for you. Giving your boss insight into your plan will help them get to know you and your abilities. Be specific about where you want them to engage (or that you don’t need their help at this juncture). Once you have set up this background information in an organized way, a collaborative problem-solving conversation will flow naturally. Your boss will know what you are working on (and where you are adding value) and they will be very clear on what you need from them.

3) Get in Sync on Goals and Expectations

One of the biggest risks of having a boss who doesn’t manage closely is that you will be operating under different ideas about what success means in your role. It is in your best interest to talk to your boss directly about what his/her expectations are for your performance.  In this meeting, get as specific as possible. What are the metrics or benchmarks that will be used to evaluate your performance? What milestones would you need to hit in order to be considered for a raise or promotion? What are the key development areas that you need to focus on in order to move forward in your career? Don’t assume that your boss has a clear picture of these, be prepared to bring your view and have an open discussion. After the meeting, it is best to send a follow up email re-stating the expectations you have both agreed to. While this may seem like overkill, it is never a bad idea to have confirmation that you are on the same page. If you follow these steps, you should know exactly where you stand come review time.

Dealing with a Difficult Boss: The Micromanager

The term “managing up” gets used frequently in discussions of what it takes to be successful in the corporate world. One of the most important aspects of managing up is an ability to deal with less than perfect management. Learning how to navigate and improve these situations can alleviate a lot of stress and frustration. Today I am going to focus on strategies for dealing with a boss who is micromanaging.

Micromanaging is one of the most common complaints people have about managers. Why is it so prevalent? In my experience, it is because the behavior that is rewarded in junior roles (e.g. attention to detail) are often not as important once you reach a leadership role. For example, being detail oriented is critical to being a good analyst. As a manager with ten direct reports, however, this attention to details will cause a manager to miss the big picture and make decisions too slowly. Whether you are managing and you are afraid you might be falling into this trap, or you are an employee who is frustrated that your boss seems to be all over you, read on for strategies to overcome micromanagement.

1) Take the Emotions out of the Equation

I am not advocating that you ignore your (or your manager’s) emotions. In fact, I think that ignoring emotions at work is usually a recipe for disaster because they tend to boil over eventually.  What I mean by taking emotions out of the equation is this: don’t assume you know why they are managing you this way, and don’t take it personally. Most people who feel they are being micromanaged think, “my boss must think I am really incompetent.” While this is an understandable reaction, it is based on an assumption. Interpreting your boss’s actions as a personal insult or judgment escalates an annoying behavior into a personal attack on competence and character. Most micromanagers don’t realize they are doing it and don’t know how to stop; it is rarely a direct result of something an employee is doing wrong. So, if you find yourself  frustrated with your manager, take a step back from your emotions and assumptions and focus on how you can change the dynamic.

2) Schedule a Two-Way Feedback Session

This might sound scary, and your level of comfort with this will depend on your relationship with your boss and your company’s culture. That said, it pays to force yourself to do the difficult things, so focus on your goal and push yourself to take this step.  If you request a feedback session with your boss to discuss your relationship, make sure that you make it clear you also want them to give you feedback. Creating an open conversation will take the pressure off and make your boss feel less attacked. In this conversation, be direct with your boss that you feel they are managing you very closely. Rather than exploring your feedback at length, focus on problem solving with them. For example, ask, “What can I do to give you comfort about how I’m approaching this project?” By shifting quickly into strategizing with them as your partner, you take the emphasis off the criticism and focus on improving your relationship in the future.

3) Be Proactive and Transparent

The most common reaction to being micromanaged is to retreat further and try to avoid contact with your manager at all costs.  Although this is an understandable reaction given how frustrating it can be to be micromanaged, this behavior will only make your boss more likely to  stay too close to what you are doing. Instead of waiting for them to request updates, be proactive about keeping them informed. This will help ease their anxiety about not knowing how you are handling something. It also allows you to direct their attention to the level of conversation you should be having with your boss. For example, rather than copying your boss on every email you send out, ask them to spend an hour strategizing with you about a difficult customer or project. Once you’ve given them transparency into how you are handling  it, give them regular updates on how it is progressing. By keeping them informed you are alleviating their concerns and directing their attention to your overall approach, thereby keeping their focus off unimportant details.

 

 

 

How to: Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

I have previously written about a few of the toughest interview questions. Today I’m going to take a step back and talk about a general approach to answering behavioral interview questions.  Behavioral questions are those such as, “Tell me about a time when you dealt with conflict.”  These questions, which are based on past experiences, are one of the most common tools recruiters and hiring managers use to get to know candidates. These questions provide a great opportunity to highlight your strengths and skills by sharing stories of past successes. However, because the questions are so vague, they also leave a lot of room for error if you don’t go into the interview with a good game plan.

With that in mind,  here are my guidelines for the basic 3-part structure of a good answer to a behavioral interview question.

1) Be concise in explaining the context of the situation

One of the most common mistakes candidates make when answering behavioral interview questions is that they spend too much time describing the situation.  You have a limited amount of time to answer before the interviewer will start to lose focus, so you don’t want to spend all your time explaining every detail, history, and character involved in your story. It is best to give a quick overview featuring key points: the challenge at hand, your role, and any other key players who are relevant to your story.  Although it is tempting to think you need to give the interviewer lots of background, try to think hard about what they really need to know in order to understand the main point of the story. You want the focus of your answer to be YOU and something great that you did.

2) Talk about WHAT you accomplished and HOW you did it

Once you have set the scene, focus the bulk of your answer on what you did. The key here is not just to list the steps or actions you took, but to explain how you were able to achieve success. For example, if you are telling a story about getting other people motivated to take on a tough project, you would want to explain what you did in order to motivate people, not just state that you did it. To understand why this is such a powerful shift, think about this from the interviewers perspective: they are probably talking to dozens of candidates, and everyone will claim to have done great things. Who would you be more compelled to hire? Someone who just stated that they accomplished amazing things? Maybe.  What about someone who explained how they thought about motivating people by getting to know them, understanding their priorities, and having open conversations about what had motivated them in the past? I would be much more likely to believe the candidate who told their story that way, as I suspect you would too. With that in mind, think about using the majority of your time not just to explain WHAT you did, but also to illustrate HOW you did it.

3) Conclude with the results and lessons learned

Just like any good story, your interview answer should have a clear and compelling ending. Do not just trail off when you are done describing what happened. You want to end with a confident tone to really impress your interviewer. As a way to wrap up your story, explain what the outcome was. For example, share that you managed to deliver the project under budget and on time after working through the challenges and getting your team motivated to work together. Whenever possible, try to quantify your outcome (e.g. reduced the budget by 10%).  Illustrating your success in terms of facts and figures makes it easier to understand what the positive impact was for your company.  In addition to the outcome, or if there isn’t a clearly quantifiable outcome, conclude with a short sentence about your takeaway from this experience. The best candidates are confident but also self-aware, so showing that you are able to learn from successes as well as failures will help you stand out.