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What can you do if the boss is a no-show?

Coach's Corner--June 22, 2009

The Client
Name: Anne
Age: 45
Title: Vice president
Industry: Health care services
Issue: Getting boss' attention
Q. What do you suggest to a newly hired vice president whose boss is too busy and distracted to meet with her? My boss doesn’t respond to e-mails or voicemails, and after six months, he finally set up our first one-hour meeting to discuss expectations and obtain feedback at the request of his coach.

A. Your boss’ role for you should be twofold: to help you be effective in your new position and to help you develop for your next one. Since you can’t rely on him, create ways to get the support you need from others.

The inner game
While your situation is undoubtedly difficult, it’s important to keep your emotions under control. Showing anger or frustration could make the situation even worse. Practice self-management techniques, such as deep breathing and visualization, and cultivate a positive attitude. Remember that this probably isn’t personal; his coach’s request suggests that his lack of communication may be a broader issue.

Now, take an objective look at the past six months. What’s been going well? Evaluate your performance, using direct feedback you’ve received, environmental cues, and your own observations. Document your efforts to communicate with him, too, just in case. 

Finally, define the outcome you’d like to achieve. Do you hope to build a successful working relationship with this boss? Would you prefer a new reporting relationship? Whatever your vision, test the feasibility of achieving it. Articulate a range of acceptable outcomes, and define what isn’t tolerable. It’s valuable to know what lines can’t be crossed for you as you navigate this situation.

The outer game
Working in a large organization opens many channels for feedback and support. Start by searching for mentors. Think of it as creating your own board of advisors, reaching out to people with a variety of skills and perspectives. Keith Ferrazzi’s new book, “Who’s Got Your Back,” goes in-depth on this approach. Invite people who can take a dispassionate look at your situation and who will be candid with you, and avoid those who may be too focused on their own agenda.

Don’t give up on your boss, either. He may be making a sincere effort to change, and it’s in your interest to support that. That includes being honest in your feedback. When you have the opportunity, let him know the negative impact of his hands-off style. He’s human, too, so mix in some encouragement for any improvements you’ve noticed.

Above all, step up and be an effective leader. Continue to provide a compelling vision to your team, participate in strategic direction for the company and drive action to get results. Poor leadership can be contagious; likewise, you may be able to set the bar higher by rising above your boss’ example. At the same time, be ready to position yourself favorably if your boss is on his way out due to poor performance, and watch for signs that your performance is becoming threatening to him.

The last word
When your boss falls short on providing direction, look elsewhere, including inward, to get the help you need. This will build success for both you and your company.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted June 21, 2009
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