Managing Up With Unavailable Bosses

So your boss, typical of high-level leaders, is extremely busy and hard to get a hold of. He may even have little patience for engaging in small talk or hearing the details of a particular situation.  Yet your success absolutely depends on cultivating a relationship with this person whose presence is fleeting at best. You must get his approval on that budget item, make sure she understands what it is you specifically take care of or clarify why the latest executive decision is not a good idea for your team.  You have tried several times to get her attention, to no avail.

What to do?

Here are six suggestions.

  1. Get clear on your intention.  Get everything you want to say on paper.  Write it or type it out.  You chances of getting what you want will increase by knowing exactly what you are going to say and how you will say it.
  2. Focus on what is most important to your boss.  Center your discussion around what matters to him.  If high revenues are his thing, then show how your recruiting more staff will maximize revenues for him.   Maybe what she is most concerned with staying on budget. In that case, make sure to back up your request for more funds by proving that the bottom line will not adversely change.
  3. Be concise.  On-the-go leaders have no time for verbosity.  Scale down what you would normally say into as few words as possible.  Rather than the long story behind your proposal and your feelings about it, be matter of fact. Simply state your position and how this will benefit your boss.
  4. Make sure your emotions serve your goal. Before instigating any conversation, ask yourself what mood or emotion is going to best serve you in this conversation.  Knowing what’s going on for you internally is a key step toward understanding whether or not you are ready to effectively engage in a challenging discussion. If you happen to be in blame or resentment, it’s likely not the right time to launch into an arduous negotiation.  If, however, you have taken the time to cultivate a mood of curiosity or support, you are probably ready.
  5. Embody self-confidence.  Take a deep breath. Stand with your legs shoulder’s width apart. Hold your shoulders back and down.  Look him in the eye.  Keep your voice steady and matter-of-fact. Nonverbal cues make up 93% of our communication to others.  Make yours count.
  6. Practice.  Putting all of the above together, stand in front of a mirror and spill it out or role-play with a trusted friend or adviser.  While practice may not necessarily make perfect, what it will do is appease any lingering doubts you may have about your own ability to successfully carry out this conversation.

While managing up with an unavailable supervisor can be tricky, it also offers the opportunity to expand your leadership skills. You deserve it!

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