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.

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