This is the next installment in the weekly series on questions and issues you send my way. Today’s question is one I’m thankful to say, I’ve never personally experienced. However, I know the situation well. Today’s Challenge: What do I do when my boss is disengaged?
I want to begin with a distinction. I’ve written previously about how to respond if you don’t have senior leadership support for your ideas. Based on the email I received, this is a different issue. What I'm responding to is a situation in which the leader may physically show up, but he or she does not show up intellectually or emotionally - he or she is disengaged.
First, disengagement is an outcome not a cause. If appropriate, try to determine WHY your leader is not engaged. Perhaps you can help. I’ve seen numerous circumstances affect the engagement of leaders, including family, finances and health issues. Sometimes you can help – sometimes you can’t.
Regardless of the reason “why,” your challenge is to respond appropriately. Here are four recommendations to consider:
Be clear on the outcomes your leader expects from you and your team. Even if he or she is totally disengaged, there are probably goals, objectives or outcomes they would like to see from you and your team. You need to know this. These will become your marching orders.
Be clear on the boundaries you’re working within. Is there a budget for the work you’ve been asked to do? Is there a deadline for the work? Are there certain checkpoints at which your boss wants to be in the loop? Does legal need to be involved? Does your boss want you to socialize the work before it’s presented? Boundaries matter, and if your boss has some in mind, you’d rather know now than later.
Lead with all diligence. As I said in the opening paragraph, I’ve never had a disengaged boss. But I have had leaders who’ve given me tremendous freedom to get the work done without their close supervision – what a gift! For me, it would be far more frustrating to have someone overseeing every move I made. If your boss has chosen, for whatever reason, to give you space. Celebrate that by leading!
Always represent your boss well – publically and privately. If someone else says, “Hey, your boss seems disengaged.” You might say, “She’s given me clear expectations and boundaries. She’s not micromanaging the work. I’m excited about the opportunity to lead!” Or, you can say anything you want that doesn’t throw the boss under the bus.
At the end of the day, we’re all a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses. Our engagement ebbs and flows across the months and years. However, with the right attitude, we can learn from anyone – even a disengaged boss. Pay close attention to what you’re feeling. If you don’t like your experience with your current boss, purpose in your heart to do it differently when it’s your turn to lead.[GLS_Shield]