Unsure of where you stand with your boss? Quit hiding and ask!

Dear Joan:

I know you answer questions regarding work relationships and I had a situation occur that really concerns me.


I have had three directors in four years.  My current director, for one year, has taken over many of my former responsibilities and has placed me on staff two days each week, requiring that I become competent in one of the most difficult modalities in my field.  I'm in a technical medical field. Our relationship is new and I am not always sure I know where I stand with him. 


I have co-operated with him and been supportive during a department consolidation but Friday, I learned that when a service contract lapsed he told another supervisor that I "couldn't find the contract".  This is completely untrue.  I handed him the paperwork and could even tell you where he put it in his office. 


I do trust the individual who came to me, but I am still unsure of how to handle this.  If I sound "unassertive" it may be because I am.  Fear of losing my job is real.  If you can refer me to a piece of advice, I would be very grateful.



The good news is that you are going to become competent in a difficult skill, which will make you more marketable. The bad news is that you might need to be more marketable.


From the description of your situation, it looks as if you are a supervisor who reports to a director in a health care organization. The fact that you have had three directors in four years is not a healthy sign.


Any time there is that much turnover at the director level (or any leadership position, for that matter) there is a significant problem. Some of the possible causes could be poor selection practices, political infighting at and above the director level, uncertainty about the vision or goals of the department, or even an incompetent vice president above the director.


Another possible cause of the turnover could be the lack of performance in the department itself. The fact that the new director has begun to consolidate the department suggests that he saw inefficiencies or gaps in performance.


Several conclusions might be drawn from his decision to ask you to step back into a technical role several days a week. Is the technical modality a critical competency for which the department has had a tough time finding a qualified candidate? Or, is this his way of telling you that you are better at doing the technical job than supervising people?


If the department consolidation is over, and you still have a job, I can only assume that he values your contribution. The question is: does he value your technical work or your leadership work (or both?)


It’s time for a conversation with your manager. Assertive or not, you need to do it. Hiding in the weeds and hoping for the best is not a good strategy. You need to know where you stand.


Approach your manager and ask for a meeting to get some feedback. During the meeting, tell him that you would like to know how you are doing, and how you think the redesigned department is doing. Ask him for some feedback on both your leadership and technical performance. If he isn’t very forthcoming, try to draw him out with some leading questions:


  • Is there anything I should be doing, that I’m not doing now?
  • What else can I do to help you lead the changes in the department?
  • Are there any other changes coming that I can assist with?
  • Are you planning on letting me resume my supervisory duties on a full-time basis, any time in the future?


During the conversation, you will likely get an opportunity to bring up the “lost contract” situation. Without throwing your colleague under the bus, let him know that you gave it to him and ask him what outcome he would like you to pursue about that vendor. When he suggests that you “lost it” refresh his memory about when you gave it to him and where he put it.


If you get any negative responses to your questions, tell him that you don’t want to lose your job and that you are committed to doing whatever it takes. Ask him for some coaching and advice about what you could do to contribute more to the department.


If the outcome is that your strengths are in the technical aspects of the department, you may be better off doing more technical work and transitioning out of your supervisory position. On the other hand, if you like leading others, put a plan in place to work on the leader expectations he spells out…starting with ‘being more assertive.’

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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