First-Class Coach: Interfering bosses

My new boss is driving me mad. What can I do about it?

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 23 Dec 2011

I am fairly senior in the organisation and used to running projects on my own, but she insists on interfering, making me attend pointless meetings and fill in endless reports. What can I do to get her off my back?

A: In common with many of my clients, it appears you have what is described as a 'high autonomy need'. This term covers everyone from a creative, independent-thinking perfectionist to an obstinate, wayward person with a dislike of authority. On the assumption you fall somewhere between the two and are somebody who can be trusted to do a good job, then the issue lies with your boss, rather than with you.

Solving the problem requires you to put yourself in her shoes before you can hope to modify how she interacts with you. In preference to dismissing your boss as a small-minded control freak, it's worth considering what pressures she may be under in taking over her new role. Is she insecure, feeling not yet accepted, undervalued and therefore keen to make her mark? Has she been appointed with a brief to shake things up and improve performance? Or has she simply come from an organisation whose culture demanded a far greater degree of formal reporting than you are used to? For while her behaviour may be down to her personal preferences, it could be she's just implementing company policy. The more astute you can be at reading her motivations, the more successful you are likely to be in modifying her behaviour.

There would seem to be two separate but related areas that require attention. The first is excess meetings and formal reporting, which involves not just you but the rest of the management team, who may also be frustrated by these time-consuming activities and could be your allies in suggesting a different system. Try talking to them about devising a more streamlined and effective way of information-sharing.

A team that I coach recently completely revamped what they felt were time-wasting management meetings, which never generated much action. They decided to use brief bulletins to share information before meetings, thereby saving their precious time together to focus on bigger issues, such as the strategic direction of the organisation and tackling upcoming threats. Their meetings have been transformed into high-energy events, where everyone contributes and feels a part of the team effort to drive company success. Perhaps you and your peers, with your boss, could do something similar.

The second area is about you and your relationship with your manager. You are feeling irritated with her and I expect she senses your resentment. This will get in the way of her appreciating you and of mutual trust between you. To get yourself in a more productive place for a conversation with her about the way to get the best performance from you, I suggest you spend a little time working out what your boss does well and what her value and contribution to the team and the organisation could be. Then book half an hour with her to review progress so far.

Start by asking how she finds working in this new role compared with her previous jobs. If she's feeling rather isolated, she may welcome the chance to talk about the differences she has noticed. If you can comment positively about something she has done since she arrived, so much the better. Then tell her how you most like to work: taking a brief and working it through to completion, then reviewing it with your boss. Ask her if she'd be prepared to work with you in this way. If she seems amenable, suggest a project you'd like to tackle as an example of this style of working and gain agreement on expectations, scope and timescale. Set a date when you will review progress together. But if she seems unwilling to work in this way, explain that oversupervision makes you feel as if you are not trusted to deliver, when your track record says otherwise, and you find that very demotivating.

My guess is that if you create the circumstances where your new boss can see you fully delivering on expectations, then you will have established the basis for a positive working relationship. It will be up to you to show how well you operate with a much lighter touch on the controls.

- Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have a problem you'd like her to tackle, email: miranda@firstclasscoach.co.uk.

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