How quickly they forget: peer becomes boss and power clouds his memory

Dear Joan:
My boss is relatively new to his job. He used to be part of the work unit we all work in and was my former peer. The problem is that when I have meetings with him other people (his new peers) barge in and interrupt us and he acts as if I don't exist. They carry on their conversations about weekend activities or work-related projects. I'm trying to get instructions and end up half finished.

He doesn't seem to listen to our concerns or ideas. He's too busy running off to talk to his boss or name dropping about who was at an "important meeting." The group is getting pretty disgusted with his lack of courtesy and interest. He used to be a decent guy and pulled his weight with the rest of us but now all he seems to care about is getting ahead. He knows the kinds of problems we wrestle with on a daily basis but seems to have forgotten what it was like when he was one of the team.

He is always asking us for reports and doesn't seem to be willing to give us any trust or to value our opinion. We are all good performers and he should know that from years of working with us. He double checks what we do and tells us exactly what he wants us to do instead of letting us have some freedom. Is there anything we can do?

Your boss's amnesia is a condition that some managers get the day they're promoted. They get infected with power and the disease spreads and clouds their memories about what it's like to be on the other side of the desk. The problem is all too common, especially among managers who think that their power and authority makes them better than the "little people." Managers like these are part of the reason American productivity is falling behind our healthier Pacific competitors.

Too many managers think they are more important than their employees. Only New Age managers realize their employees are the important ones, because it's the workers that affect the bottom line. Managers are only there to run interference and support them. Employees are closest to the work and only they truly know what the problems are, where the opportunities are for quality improvement and how to be more effective. Any manager who doesn't believe that is living in a bygone era.

What will it take before managers like this wake up and realize that control is not the way to manage the American worker? We're disgusted by this behavior in foreign governments but accept it as normal operating procedure in the American workplace.

Your boss appears to have lost touch with his real purpose as the unit's manager. His ambition may be contributing to his amnesia since he appears to be more upwardly focused. He is missing an opportunity to capitalize on his inside knowledge of the problems and the people to lead his team to greater achievement. Ironically, this would do more for his career than all the hours he apparently spends socializing and politicking.

Perhaps, because he is inexperienced, he is still adjusting to his new status. He may be dealing with a demanding boss or jockeying for position with some competitive peers. In any event, here are a few ideas to try:

Talk to your boss about the interruptions. You might say, "Remember last week when we met about the Peters Project and we were interrupted by Jack? I found when I got back to my desk I didn't have all the details I needed to get started and we ended up having to set up another meeting. I mention this because I'm finding that this has happened a few times in the past and I'm concerned that things will fall between the cracks. You probably don't like those interruptions any more than I do because you can't get anything done. Next time, could we put a note on your door that says there is a meeting in progress and we shouldn't be disturbed?"

At another point, you may want to suggest weekly group meetings. In fact, if you know some of his peers have regularly scheduled staff meetings with their employees, you might use this information to your advantage (if he's influenced by what his peers do). Mention how much people in the other work group like these meetings and explain how they could help him and the rest of the group. Give him some examples of important, timely issues that could be included on the agenda and suggest that these meetings would be good for team problem solving. Add that it would be a great opportunity for him to stay close to what's going on and that the group would like his input.

These meetings might keep him informed enough so that some trust can build. He may begin to see how talented and effective his team really is. If he persists in his over-control, you might feel comfortable enough to say, "I get the feeling you aren't confident with my ability on this project. Is there something I've done in the past that concerns you? If not, could I structure the project the way I'd like to approach it and then show you my plan before I begin?" Give him examples so he can understand why his behavior is causing you to feel this way.

Because your new boss has been a former peer, you may have a sound foundation on which to build some honest, open dialogue about his relationship with the group. Don't expect him to be "one of the gang" again, since that wouldn't be appropriate. But perhaps you can help him find a new role that will be more satisfying for all of you.

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,, or 
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