It may pay to be direct with the boss

Dear Joan:
Frequently I am asked to attend meetings with my superior, who is a vice president of our corporation. These meetings may also be attended by a variety of other people, including employees from other departments, sales people, outside consultants, etc. Ninety-nine percent of the time I am the only female present.

Usually about five minutes into the meeting, my superior will say to me, "Why don't you take some notes so we can document our meeting and I can stay on track?" This request makes me feel quite uncomfortable, as taking good notes makes it more difficult to be an actual participant in the meeting. I also feel that it puts me at a disadvantage in the group because I am put in a subservient position.

Occasionally, a few hours or a few days prior to a scheduled meeting, I have asked my superior to have his secretary sit in on the meeting to take notes, and his response has been that she doesn't know enough about the subject to take good notes.

Do you have any suggestions?

I suggest you stop making requests by subtle nuance and mental telepathy. Your boss has either missed your hint or has chosen to ignore your request for some reason. It's time you were more direct.

It's clear from your title and your letterhead (excluded from the above letter), that you are a management person with sizable responsibility in a financial institution. I will assume you have experience and are not a novice in your position. I am also assuming that you have no serious problems with your boss, since you probably would have mentioned them in your letter.

Because of this, I'm wondering why you haven't been more assertive about what you want and how you feel. In fact, if you are typically this unassertive, I'm not surprised your boss is treating you more like a secretary than a member of management.

Consider that he may be totally unaware of the negative effects of his simple request. Obviously, you know your field and he values your ability to apply your knowledge when you're taking meeting notes. Perhaps your notes are too good, however. There is no need to take down every word. If so, he should either be using a stenographer or you should bring in a tape recorder.

If you feel you can't confront him yet, take fewer notes and start chiming in during the meeting. Make sure you are well prepared and have statistics at your fingertips, so it is clear to all that you are close to the topic at hand and an authority on the specifics.

On the other hand, if you choose to talk to him about it, try this: Without making a big deal out of this, approach him a few days before a meeting and say, "I'd like to take an active role during our meeting with X. He's likely to want statistics and background on our recommendation, and since I've done so much research on this, I'll be ready to answer his questions." Although this is subtle, it will give him fair warning prior to the meeting that you want to be an active participant.

If you're ready to try a more direct approach, try this: Explain that you would like to be a more active participant in meetings. Tell him that extensive note taking is getting in the way of contributing your ideas and knowledge to the process. Suggest that you would like to develop meeting skills such as persuasion, constructive confrontation and soliciting input from others. Ask him to act as your coach and give you feedback before and after meetings.

Listen very carefully to what he says after you make your request. If he seems reluctant, say, "You seem reluctant. Is there something you are concerned about?" If he says something about the subject being complex or the audience being tough counter with, "I understand that. That's why I'd like to learn to handle it. I'm prepared to research thoroughly and solicit your advice on the personalities involved. I'm concerned that I'll never learn and grown unless I begin to do it."

If he still seems hesitant, there may be a deeper issue. Perhaps there is some unpleasant criticism he is reluctant to give you. It is vital that you hear it, however. If you suspect this, say, "I'd really appreciate your honesty since I can't improve unless I know what to work on. Please don't worry about offending me. It's important to know what's getting in my way."

If, despite repeated attempts to shake the secretary role, he continues to expect you to keep your mouth shut and your pencil sharp, consider shopping for a boss who is willing to let you grow and advance. Your current boss may be the kind who has trouble accepting the advancement of women, hogs attention and credit, or is insecure. A boss like this surrounds himself with good soldiers who don't complain. You'll never change him, so cut your losses and run.

In any event, I'd suggest you work on speaking honestly and assertively. Your boss can't read your mind and know what you want. In addition, you will be treated with more respect by all who work with 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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