Busy boss is ignoring potential

Dear Joan:
My boss is a very busy man. His day is always filled with meetings, appointments and a few crises. I can see that he is frustrated by not being able to effectively complete all his work.

Despite this, he does not delegate enough work to me, though part of my role is to act as a management assistant to him. He does give me small (one-day) projects or errands, but I have both the time and the ability to do much more.

I believe there are three factors I need to deal with in order to overcome this problem. First, he is detail-oriented: a "hands-on" type. He likes to know what is happening in his work area and he'll get caught up in doing an assignment himself, even after he's delegated it. Second, he finds it hard to accept that someone else knows enough to do the job right. Finally, his time does not permit a chance to discuss this with him and analyze solutions.

What do you suggest?

Raymond Loen, of the business Management Council, believes that ineffective delegation is one of the chief causes of sluggish productivity in this country. He thinks most managers are former technical specialists who derived great satisfaction from their work and are reluctant to give it up. In fact, unless managers learn to relinquish some control, responsibility and authority, experts believe we may never unleash the power of the American work force.

Your situation sounds like a classic case. Your boss is so busy trying to keep the puppies in the box; he hasn't noticed the resources available to help him.

Compounding the problem is your boss' apparent lack of trust in your ability. "But," you wail, "how can he trust me if he hasn't tested me?" You're right. Here are some ideas to help you build trust and win bigger assignments:

Tell your boss you're ready for more responsibility. If you haven't done this up front, he may not even be aware of your dissatisfaction.

If you draft an annual performance plan, which includes goals for the coming year, identify one or two projects with which you feel qualified to help your boss. Spell out the details of your involvement so he can fully understand what you can contribute.

Anticipate a problem in the day-to-day tasks you both perform. Take action on anything you can before it gets to your boss. If it's something you'll need his decision on, go to him with recommendations, not problems.

In addition to your recommendations, anticipate his questions on each item and think through potential ramification of each course of action. Your boss will begin to see you as thorough, detailed and responsible (which, of course, you will be!).

Read everything you can get your hands on - his trade journals, memos, reports - anything that will provide golden opportunities for you to contribute your ideas and offer your assistance. When he does give you an assignment, no matter how small, make sure you are clear on what he wants. If he says, "look into this," probe for more details. You will only confirm his lack of trust if your end product isn't at all what he had in mind.

If the assignment is short and relatively simple, follow through and anticipate every detail.

If the assignment is longer, update him periodically on your progress. Because he's detail oriented, try to anticipate every question and concern he may have. He will be less likely to get caught up in doing the assignment himself if he feels you have left no stone unturned.

Don't wait to be reminded and always strive to meet his deadlines. Keep his anxiety level low. If a problem seems imminent, over which you have little control, warn him well in advance. If you can be relied on to do this, he may begin to relax and trust your judgment.

If he attempts to take back an assignment, be assertive and request that he let you follow through. Thomas Quick, in his book, "Managing People at Work Desk Guide," suggests: "Choose a task that is not an assigned responsibility of the reluctant delegator. She will find it easier to give you the free hand you need because if you fail, her neck will not be on the block. If you succeed, the two of you can share the kudos."

Quick also suggests choosing a task your boss doesn't do well or like to do. "You will be relieving your boss of a burden rather than seeming to invade turf."

Your boss may always feel the need to keep his fingers in the pie. Hopefully, you'll slowly earn his trust in your competence and judgment so all he needs to do is taste the frosting.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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