Q: My boss needs to delegate more. She holds onto work, and doesn’t involve staff (not just me) in meetings and outcomes. Most of the time I’m not certain what is going on and what I should engage in … until she brings me in at the last minute.
Dean, 50, senior financial analyst
A: Use your track record of last-minute saves to make a case for earlier engagement.
Figuring out the best way to approach it will depend partly on the reasons for her failure to delegate. The good news for you is that it doesn’t appear to be trust-related, since she turns to you in the end.
For many busy managers, time is the culprit. It may seem to take longer to explain a task than to just do it. While this may sometimes be true, it’s a vicious cycle that limits team development and turns managers into workaholics.
This is especially a problem on larger-scale tasks. If preliminary work is needed, such as data gathering, or if multiple review cycles are scheduled, delaying the work can easily threaten timelines.
So what do you do if you don’t know what you don’t know?
If you don’t have regular staff meetings or one-on-ones, request them. In the spirit of bringing solutions, offer to arrange them, including a general agenda that covers the all-important topics of “what’s happening now,” and “what’s coming up next?”
Then use these meetings to ask for ways the team can take portions of the work to ease her burden.
Talk to her about ways you can be more effective. She may be trying to cover meetings herself in a misguided effort to protect your time. Try making the case for the value of being in the start of a project. The benefits are myriad — you understand the needs, can ask questions, and others will be able to contact you if needed.
There’s also the possibility that she’s a control freak. She may be trying to hold onto everything simply because she’s uncomfortable with the possibility that someone else may have a different way of doing something.
In that case, offer to follow her guidance and introduce ideas for different ways in advance to build her comfort.
Have you and your co-workers talked about this? If not, consider bringing it up in a neutral way just to get a sense of how others are feeling. Don’t vent, there could be a risk that it’d get back to her in an unfavorable way.
Also consider the possibility that you work for an “information is power” type. This is not a win in the boss lottery, but it certainly happens.
You can choose to play that game, offering information to her in order to get some in return. You can also cultivate other information sources around the organization so that you’re not as dependent on her. This is a smart step, in any case.
Regardless of the root cause, plan your schedule in a way that allows for her lack of communication. Build in some cushions so that you can continue to pitch in while covering your other essential tasks.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and owner of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.