Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues-everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I work in an 8-person field office of a major national nonprofit. Our office is currently in the midst of a major collaborative initiative which has placed increasing demands on our Executive Director's (my boss) time. My boss is so busy cultivating relationships with volunteers and funders that he spends less time on the day-to-day management of the organization. Morale is low, as people are feeling spread too thin.
Over the past few months, my boss has increasingly leaned on one of my colleagues to handle the day-to-day management responsibilities. In many ways, my colleague has become a de facto deputy director. I respect my colleague, but I was angered to learn that my boss gave her a draft of my annual work plan for feedback without telling me first. I was particularly upset that my boss gave me additional responsibilities based on my colleague's feedback with involving me in the discussion. Work plan development has always been an employee-manager activity in the past. Am I out of line for feeling upset that he shared my work plan with her without first telling me? I don't mind her input, but I'm upset at the lack of communication and now have questions about about how my performance will be monitored and by whom.
It sounds like your boss needs someone in a deputy director type position, at least for right now,. It's not good for anyone if the executive director doesn't have enough time for day-to-day management. And it sounds like this colleague is someone whose skills he respects, so it's not unnatural for him to be leaning on her in this situation.
However, clearly he could have done a better job of communicating that. In fact, there's a good chance that your colleague is thinking that herself; after all, she's been put in a potentially awkward position, by being asked to share pieces of the managerial burden without the boss explaining that to anyone.
My advice to you is to approach your boss and say that you hadn't realized that he would be bringing your colleague in on your work plan and ask for his guidance about how you should view her role. You must be non-defensive when you say this, both in tone and wording. Do not sound like you're objecting to it; you're just seeking information. (You don't want to give your boss the impression that your ego is getting in the way of your ability to appreciate that this may be a smart way to help him manage his time. Plus, if he's actually about to announce that she's becoming the deputy director, sounding defensive will set a tone that may make your relationship with both of them harder than it needs to be.)
Frankly, if you respect this colleague and think she could do a good job as a manager, would it be such a bad thing if she did formally become his deputy? You mentioned that morale is suffering because your boss doesn't have enough time to manage. This might be a solution to that, depending on your coworker's skills as a manager.
In fact, I once got promoted into a job that way. My boss had far too much work on his plate and desperately needed someone else to handle the day-to-day management of the organization, so I become the second-in-command to free up his time. It turned out that I loved all the work that he had hated and paid attention to the things he had avoided, so it was a win-win for everyone ... except the people who didn't adjust well to having a peer become their manager. Don't be in that group, if that ends up being the direction this goes in.
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