Every now and then, I hear from clients and friends who experience a bad case of managers missing in action.
This AWOL type is seldom there when needed, arrives late, disappears in moments of crisis (certainly when everyone else is under the pump), they don’t say that they’re going off somewhere, their underlings often cover for them and work back late, and to crown it all, they have the nerve to suddenly arrive back and screech at everyone about getting things done on time.
Some reappear and jump in and displaying an intense burst of micro-management after no interest for days or weeks?! And sometimes having missed so much time they don’t even understand what you are doing so YOU have to go back to basics to bring them up to speed and coach them on what/why the team has leapt forward and done the work they have?
Or they rush to present your work to their bosses when it is all half-baked, or they can’t answer questions, and then get angry because they were not fully up to speed with all the intricacies.
Their biggest problem is often not being there for solid project planning, task clarification and no clarity around their own role!
Maybe the manager is working hard, somewhere, virtually – but it’s clearly not something the rest of the team are aware of, nor do they understand HOW this work fits with the team.
What’s to be done with these prima donnas?
So you’re working for one and are in no position to give them the boot or screech back? If there are important things that only this person can approve/sign-off, then it’s time to wheel in the artillery.
Self-managing team: Given this person is likely the opposite of the micro-managing planner, it’s a valuable opportunity for you and your team to self-manage, to plan and co-ordinate. You don’t necessarily need this person around all the time, do you?
Stop complaining: Instead of wasting time complaining and building intense dislike and disrespect, calmly work out with the others what’s needed to avoid or reduce these moments of panic and stress. Can you anticipate the likely glitches and speed-bumps ahead in a job, should the manager pull one of his/her disappearing acts? Can you map all the contingencies and plan accordingly? Can you work out a list of things to say to the manager when s/he returns, explaining how this approach is piling the pressure on others to little avail?
Tactful suggestions: Can you tactfully suggest to the manager a range of ways to improve – making it clear that what they currently do is compounding people’s stress levels?
What if you are an AWOL-ian manager?
If you’re one of these managers (admit it) – you need to align with team members and nourish the spirit of a good team that gets on with the job and when necessary ‘manages itself’.
There will sometimes be legitimate reasons why a manager is not there, but this does not need to have a negative impact, and it needs to be understood by others.
Avoid being an AWOL-ian!
Take time to explain to staff and colleagues why you cannot/will not be there.
Show appreciation: If it is a critical time and your team are on deadline, make it clear that you appreciate that the team works on responsibly even in your absence. You appreciate their professionalism and capacity to self-manage when necessary. You are grateful you can have complete confidence in them and the work they will do.
Check in with emails to let the team know you are ‘with them’ even though you cannot be physically there.
Be proactive in advising of your schedule. Don’t just disappear and have everyone wondering where you are, and why!! It is true that they report to you, but in a sense, you actually report to them, by keeping them informed and the office machinery running smoothly. As a manager, your clients are also your staff. You are the manager, aren’t you?
Create a positive culture. Live up to the role and create an atmosphere of good will – a positive feedback loop that builds itself.
The late department store magnate Gordon Selfridge once remarked, “The boss depends upon authority, the leader on goodwill.” Goodwill is never generated by AWOL-ian-managers. In the end, these managers rack up a large (work and emotional) debt with their team that they cannot repay. Staff burnout is never a good look.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.