Q: I prefer being proactive with project planning and processes, and I now work for someone who is very reactive and “goes with his gut.” How do I learn to work in that environment?
A: Rank has its privileges; however, you can still keep your preferred approach in place.
The inner game
There is a lot to think about in this situation, including looking at whether your differences are respected and understanding the effect on your ability to do your job. Recognizing that this can be stressful, take time to get centered, using your breath to help you become calm and able to reflect clearly.
Now, use specific incidents to consider your differences. In particular, address whether this is a consistent pattern or if it shows up more under certain conditions. Also consider the outcomes; does the combination of styles lead to better results or is it counterproductive?
How would your boss describe this situation? Often “gut” people find the planner’s pace to be too deliberative. Yet they often recognize the value that your style brings even if they do not know how to incorporate it into the work. It’s likely part of the reason he brought you onto the team in the first place.
Wrap up your reflection by envisioning a solution that uses the best of both styles and minimizes frustration for both. What would that look like and feel like day to day?
The outer game
Obviously, you’re going to want to make plans; focus them on your projects and your daily schedule.
For project plans, build in added flexibility so that the more spontaneous direction can be accommodated. That will include padding the time a bit and having some extra budget available, because project changes generally mean added cost. It also will mean setting expectations with the team so that changes do not come as a surprise. Keep a respectful tone about this with the team — any snarkiness will come back to haunt you.
Bring your boss in early, obtaining his ideas so they’re reflected in the plans, checking in with him at key points, and communicating clearly the ways you’ve incorporated his concepts — or the reasons you haven’t.
For managing the disruptions that sudden inspirations can also bring, try to avoid overfilling your days so that you can be responsive when needed. If you know he’s going to be in meetings that are likely to get him thinking about new ideas, be extra sure to have some space on your calendar to address them.
Open communication about the value of your different styles may help, if he is open to the conversation. A tool such as Myers-Briggs could help make this a neutral dialogue rather than one that is more confrontational. It may also give you additional skills for managing up.
Admittedly, this will not be easy. Continue to reflect on your interactions, looking for ways that you could have achieved a better outcome and then try that the next time. Find an outlet to vent, too. You’re only human, so having a safe place to blow off steam will be helpful.
The last word
Use your planning skills to find ways to manage your spontaneous new boss.