Have you ever had a scary manager? I wrote about this topic a few years ago. There was the ghost, the witch or warlock, the monster, and the vampire. The one scary leader that really resonated with readers: the zombie.
I got quite a few notes from folks who read the post after it published, but one in particular stands out:
"Great post on monster managers! I found it tongue-in-cheek, while still hitting on the general profiles that we see in every job. Unfortunately, I couldn't help but read zombie manager twice.
An unfortunate part of the job is being stuck in meetings and politicking to get the results needed that will empower/assist my team. I would love your feedback on how to spend less time and energy in meetings and politics, and more time and energy on the true focus of a manager's job: the team!"
Most of us have to deal with a challenging boss at some point in our career. We know them when we see them. What can be tougher is recognizing when you yourself have become one of those scary managers.
Now, the zombie boss is not a scary individual by nature. This is usually a good person stuck in a bad situation -- ensnared in pointless meetings and caught up in dead-end politicking. Before long, so much life has been sapped from the manager that there is no energy left for their real first priority -- the team.
This scenario may sound familiar, even if you are not a manager in title. And you are probably wondering what to do. How do you spend less time in mind-numbing and soul-sucking activities so you can focus instead on being great at work?
It can seem like there is too much beyond your control. After all, endless meetings and workplace politics are not all on you. But there are concrete steps you can take to relieve some of the pain.
Here are four things leaders can do to bring life back into work (and they also work if you have a lifeless boss):
Get clear on goals
When your team's goals are aligned with the objective of the business, everybody will understand what they are working on and why. A goal-first approach gives meaning and purpose to the work -- everybody on the team can move forward with confidence when you know you are serving a greater purpose together.
Start saying "no"
Start with unnecessary meetings. You can take measures to lighten your load, such as blocking off meeting-free time on your calendar. Set parameters for the meetings you do attend -- stay on topic and make the best use of everybody's time. And if you are truly not needed, do not be afraid to say "no" to an invite.
Focus on the work
When you see other people politicking at work, it can be tempting to go along with the horde. But good leaders are driven by results, not empty rhetoric or idle gossip. Focusing on the work will keep conversations objective and on target -- so you can avoid energy-sapping office politics.
Redirect your energy
Without a meeting-heavy schedule or days filled with gossip and lobbying, you can redirect your energy towards more meaningful work. Use that newfound time to talk with everybody and get a deeper, fuller understanding of what is going well and what is not. You can then prioritize improvements to workflow, collaboration, and anything else that could help you and your team do your jobs better.
It can be tough to admit when you are falling short of your potential. But if you feel the zombie boss rising up, or worse, rising up within you, act fast. Once you do, you can take control of your time and energy. That takes confidence and courage ... and braiinnnnsss.
How do you survive the zombie-effect?