In the last few months, I’ve spoken with several people who are having a difficult time working with their boss. In each case, the boss isn’t a bad person, but they are so unorganized that it is difficult to get much done under their leadership. Obviously, the fault lies with the boss. However, for people who are used to being highly productive, knowing where to place the blame offers little consolation.
This is the first in a series of posts listing common problems you’ll face with an unorganized supervisor and some suggestions on how to best deal with them.
The boss who doesn’t know what needs to be done.
This happens in two different forms. Some bosses know exactly what
they need to do, but aren’t really sure what they should have you work
on. Other bosses aren’t really clear on what they should be doing
(which of course means they have even less of a clue as to what you
should be working on).
If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll need to direct most of
your work yourself. However, you still need to keep your boss informed
and make sure that they approve what you are doing. Otherwise, you run
the risk of having them change your goals once you get started.
One way to do this is to make a list of everything you know needs to
be done and ask them to tell you what they would like you to work on.
This puts them in the position of feeling like they are managing you,
which means they are more likely to defend what you are working on if
it ever comes into question. Also, since you have their buy-in, they are
less likely to come in later and change what you are working on.
It is very important to make sure that any direction they give you
is documented. Most unorganized bosses will never put anything in
writing, so if you have a face to face meeting with them where say you
should be working on X and Y, don’t assume that they will remember that
conversation later. Be proactive by following up your conversation with
a short email summarizing your conversation. This gives you a record of
what you’ve been told to do and gives them a chance to clarify anything
that you may have misunderstood. If your boss later asks you why you
are doing something, you can refer back to your email that summarized
Other posts on dealing with an unorganized boss:
Originally published on December 13 2005.
My boss admits he is unorganized. Every time we have a meeting I define next actions for both of us. We review at the end of the meeting and I email him the next actions. It has worked for both of us so far.
Great article! It really hits home. The Part 3 link is a 404 Error.
Great article. I think this cuts across cultures!
Years ago I had a boss whose office was so messy he never knew where anything was, always assumed it was not in his office, and blamed everyone else. The only solution was to go in his office at the beginning of the day and scope out all of the piles on his desk and credenza. When he would buzz me to ask for something, I would tell him which pile it was on, or go in his office, pull it out, and hand it to him. It gat easier as time went on because some of the piles never changed and I would just need to check out what was new. It kept me somewhat sane.