June 25, 2019

The “Just Keep Doing What You’re Doing” Boss

A vanilla boss is the worst! Here’s how I’m coaching Jake to deal with his not-so-amazing manager.

Jake* wants an awesome manager.

He wants a manager who communicates effectively, sets realistic expectations, gives constructive feedback, is genuine in approach, and a career partner.

The problem:  Jake has an average manager.  A vanilla boss.  A “he’s ok” kind-of-guy.  Nothing to write home about, and certainly not a person who’s going to set the world on fire.

Unfortunately, in my experience, this is the norm.  Fine bosses, doing fine things, giving fine feedback, having fine weekends.

Jake knows the statistics – managers have a huge role in the professional experience (I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “people leave bosses, not organizations” before).  That’s why he reached out to me looking for help.  He’s teetering on disengagement and nervous about his short/long term future under this dude.  We’ve been talking every other week, using my “on-demand” offering for those needing some outside perspective.

Jake’s in his mid-30s, been in tech for most of his career, and is a Senior Program Manager leading an enterprise-wide initiative.  He knows a good boss when he sees one, and in this case he’s not sure what’s happening (he was recently part of a re-org and is new to this team).

Every time Jake comes to his boss asking for feedback/perspective/help/whatever he gets the same response (or a version of it):  “Just keep doing what you’re doing…” or “You’re on the right track…” or “Stay the course!”

Sound familiar? 

Jake and I have created some strategies to work with this vanilla manager. Here’s some of the questions/highlights from our brainstorming session that you might find valuable if you’re dealing with a similar situation (and on the cusp of disengagement):

  • Does your boss need more information/details around your Program? Is there an opportunity for a deep-dive on the initiative? Does he get what you’re doing?
  • Can you bring specific area(s) of feedback for your boss to react to next time? Maybe the communication plan? Or how you’re thinking of stakeholders?
  • Do you even need your boss for feedback? Can you get that from someone else?
  • What happens if you literally just stay on track / keep doing what you’re doing? Is that bad?
  • Are you comfortable calling your manager on his vanilla-ness? “I need more from you?” (more on this below)
  • Is there a way to bring your boss into the Program in another way? Can they take-on a piece of the work and/or tackle a part of the initiative?
  • What’s your expectation around his feedback? What sort(s) of feedback do you expect, and can you communicate this clearly?
  • Are there physical challenges to him giving you feedback (not the right time of day/week, not in-person, etc)?
  • When do you need to see a change from your manager to think about next step(s)?
  • Is this the right manager for you?

That last question is probably the hardest (in my experience).  Unfortunately, the answer is probably “no” but there’s still a bit of work for Jake to do before he’s ready to make that call. Most managers are fixed in their (vanilla) approach, forcing the disengaged employee to make some tough decisions.

My advice: We need to be super-clear around our expectations as a Sr. Program Manager, give the manager a chance to change behavior and then make the call as to whether this person is the right fit.

Have a challenging situation you’d like to discuss?  Sign-up for a quick sync with me.  Who knows – maybe your situation will be highlighted next (and help tons of professionals too)!

* Jake’s not his real name, but he is a Sr. Program Manager.  Nowhere near his mid-30s.

Here’s to your Engaged Pursuit!

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