Ask the grumpies: Not as good as ask a manager

Rented life asks:

Tips on “managing” bosses who need to be reigned in when they are over excited about projects you’re in charge of–especially since the excitement means he’s worrying about things 15 steps ahead of where we really are. I need the info for step 1! (He means well, just not good at focusing.)

Obligatory reference to Ask A Manager.

Maybe Wandering Scientist would be a better person to ask this question?

Man, if I figure this out I won’t be stressed at work anymore.  My boss is a great, great guy.  And kinda like this.  :)

#2 says… maybe checklists?  Yeah, I got nuthin’.

Does anybody in the greater grumpy nation have better advice for Rented Life?

10 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Not as good as ask a manager”

  1. Mrs PoP Says:

    This is my boss. Totally. Not sure if this will help…

    I indulge the boss a bit with this tendency, sometimes staying late since he tends to get in this mood around 4:45pm (though I’m firmer with my personal time than some others in the office are who he does this to) talking through the possible step 15 that he is so super excited about even though it will take months of work before step 15 would even be on the horizon. But at the end, I wrap it up and try and remind him that there’s a lot of work between now and then and I need to take some time and make some concrete plans for the path to get there. Then I do that stuff largely without my boss since he doesn’t want to be involved in every step along the way. I figure indulging the leap-frogging mind my boss has is largely offset by the day-to-day autonomy I have most of the time. =/

  2. Susan Says:

    “Here’s what I’m working on now (step 1), and here’s what next up on my desk (step 2). Currently this is where all of my time and efforts go. Would you like me to reallocate my efforts (to step 15), or is this appropriate?”

    This acknowledgement will allow him to be excited about step 15 while allowing you to not be stressed about working on step 1 and step 2.

  3. J Liedl Says:

    “These are really helpful ideas and insights! Can you give me notes on that for when we get closer to that part of the project?”

    I’m an academic so rarely do I have anyone actually manage me but when I do and they go ranging ahead, I ask for notes in an email. Then they can be virtually filed away for when they’re needed or when the next set of changes come along.

  4. SP Says:

    It depends on what the issue is. Is he worrying about them, as in asking you to take action on them now or just wants to talk about them? I guess I’ve never had a boss like this, so I can’t figure out the specific problem. Is he just wasting your time talking about it, or does it seem like he thinks it is an issue you aren’t also worrying about step 15?

    I’m also someone who likes to jump ahead and think about how challenging step 15 minute be even when we are on step 1, because sometimes there is something you can do up front to mitigate. Sometimes not. Since he’s the boss, I’d try to figure out where this is coming from, and do your best to accommodate his real need.

    • Rented life Says:

      I honestly think he’s just overly worked up about things (excited or just opinionated on how things should go and telling me about politics of the office) but he’s not good at giving me the info I need to finish step 1. For example we are building a website but I can’t get access to anyone at the company who can tell me the specific info I need for writing up what goes on the website (mission, history, etc.). Meanwhile he’s consumed with what the logo will look and who will end up doing the coding. We don’t even know what we want to hire a developer or designer!

  5. First Gen American Says:

    Knowing the job function would help put the question in context.

    I have learned that there is a general need to adjust your communication style to fit your managers. Usually they have to manage a lot of people, and you only have one manager, so it’s usually easier for one person to adapt than it is for a manager to adapt to 20 different styles of work practices.

    I have had A LOT of managers (about 1/year for 20 years…one year, I had 5….in a single year). I’d also say that 80% of them were remotely located from me. I always start every new manager relationship with: How often do you want to be communicated with, what’s important for you to know, which communication style is the one you like the best? (talking, email, text, etc). How often do you want project updates? There is never an issue with asking these questions and all managers openly will tell you these things. Once you understand how they tick and what their hot buttons are, it becomes fairly easy to meet their expectations. Managers don’t always communicate clearly their expectations about these things and it’s totally okay to ask. It’s funny, but often something that most would seem as insignificant, like highlights or submitting expenses on time can be a big deal for someone. Not doing something small that is a hot button often can color one’s perception of how good a job you are doing on the important stuff. It’s like that analogy with planes. If your tray table is dirty, does that mean the engine isn’t being serviced?

    So one time I had a manager, that only managed me and he was a HUGE time sucker, always walking into my office asking for dumb stuff and partial updates, etc. Anyway, for people like that, it’s good to have a regular meeting time to go through all their random thoughts. For some people, you need this meeting to happen daily…otherwise, they’ll talk to you 12 times a day and you won’t get anything done and then it’s your fault when you don’t perform. When I was very young, I wasn’t so subtle about the fact that they were bugging me. I’d say “this data analysis takes concentration, and I need at least 2 solid hours of uninterrupted time before I can give you answers.” I guess that was a form of setting boundaries, but once you get good at it, you set those expectations as soon as you get the work, (not when you’re being interrupted), and setup a follow up time to meet so they don’t bug you in between.

    More details on job function and if you are co-located with your boss and how many people report to him/her.

  6. xykademiqz Says:

    The manager sounds like me! I am an academic with a research group, so I consider it parts of my job is to look 15 steps ahead and be excited so I can reinvigorate my students when they feel down because they struggle with technical issues. The students have a lot of freedom in how they tackle the problems they are assigned, but it is assumed that if they don’t understand what they need to do, they have to speak up. If they don’t know what they are supposed to do, that’s usually clear from a deer-in-the-headlights look, mixed with dread, that emerges on their faces while I exuberantly prance around, talking up a storm, thinking far ahead. Even though I am excited, I am not blind to how they look, so we do sit down and specify exactly what they need to do right away and roughly how, then I send them off. When they are stuck, it is expected that they will try for a little while to get unstuck (may not be an option in industry, strict deadlines plus not teaching-focused), but that they need to come ask for help if they have tried their best and still don’t have a solution.
    I bet Rented Life’s manager would be amenable to her simply saying “I am very excited, too, this seems like a wonderful project/opportunity. But can we please talk specifically about Thing 1 so I can get started? I am not sure what/how needs to be done.” If he’s anything like me, he won’t mind at all being asked to focus on and troubleshoot a specific problem.

  7. Cloud Says:

    I can take a hint! Here’s what I think:

    I have had a manager like this, and I think I have BEEN a manager like this at times.

    If the problem is that he’s thinking too far ahead and suggesting NEW projects, then by far, the most successful thing I’ve ever done to reign in this tendency in myself and in managing up is to have a kanban board. In my case, I was able to use the kanban board with my manager, but I think it would help even if my manager wasn’t interested in using it, because it would make it crystal clear in my head what would get bumped if I dropped everything and worked on my manager’s latest really cool idea. This allows me to say things like “yes, I’d love to do that! Should I put project X or project Y on the back-burner so that I can focus on this new project Z?” Sometimes, my boss would choose X or Y to delay. Other times, this would snap him out of his excitement enough to remember that X and Y should really get done first.

    If the problem is that he’s worrying too far ahead on the SAME project, then you might be able to make this calm down a bit by having a way for him to see the overall plan and see where you are at on it, and to then hopefully see that it doesn’t make sense to worry too much about step 18 when you’re still working on step 3. I am a huge fan of making work processes and plans visual, and I think the visualization can help people focus on the immediate concerns because it makes the fact that the longer term concerns have been thought about and included in the plan more concrete. There are lots of ways to visualize the work: a kanban board, a flow chart, a Gantt chart… you have to pick the one that matches your project and how you and your boss think. You don’t have to make a big deal about the visualization. Just have it up or at least handy, and then next time he jumps ahead on you, point to it and say something like “yes, that will be something we need to keep an eye on later in the project. As you can see here at step 18, we’ll do XYZ to address it. Right now, we’re working on step 3, and I could really use more info from you on ABC.”

    I have written more on all of this stuff, but under my real name. I’ll try to come back in a bit and post some links.

    • Rented life Says:

      This helps. It’s is the same project not new ones. He’s one of 3 bosses I have (I’m on 3 different contracts). The one boss is easier to understand her needs but completely unforgiving of any mistakes. (So much fun.) the other ignores all questions and info seeking because she had to figure out things herself and so I should too and then when things blow up she’s upset and emotional and accuses me of acting like a woman. (Um?) I’m still working on figuring out how to deal with her and get the project management stuff done. The last is the super excited guy. His enthusiasm is great but his focus is off. (We can contract out what we need until we have a plan, but he’s concerned about contracting out and the end product appearance.) everyone’s input gives me something to think about as I’ll be meeting with him this week on this specific project!

      • First Gen American Says:

        I had a manager once that was like #2. I thought by soliciting other’s expertise, it was a more efficient way to get stuff completed instead of stumbling my way through a project. What he taught me (and I’m so glad) is that sometimes other people don’t have the answers you seek. He was trying to give me time to learn critical thinking skills.

        Also, instead of going to her with questions, go to her with suggestions and have her choose between them. Do you want this to look like a or b? and do you have anything to add to this concept? Most good managers don’t want to tell you how to do your job but will help steer you in a direction. They want to coach and not direct.

        From an outsider looking in, It sounds like your job requires you to take a lot more initiative on making decisions than you are comfortable taking right now. (Because of #2 bosses unprofessional attitude).

        Looking back, I now see a trend that the quality of my managers has gotten better over time. As You become known as a performer, You should inevitably get picked for better teams, with better managers. Perhaps it is a rite of passage. If you can perform with these guys/gals, then you can get picked to do the harder stuff later. Hopefully the harder stuff also comes with more competent Managment.


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