Self-directed employee?

Q. I have a boss who is super disorganized and has a really hard time prioritizing her time and tasks. This affects me in that I don’t have any direction. Time and time again she tells me we are going to ‘discuss’ or get to projects and it never happens. I try to be proactive in that I come to her office to see if she has things for me, give her updates on other work I essentially create for myself and CC her on all my communications but at the same time I find my self getting increasingly frustrated in my job. I would like more direction, guidance, and goals and I cannot seem to find it from her. I have tried to tactfully introduce the topic at reviews and she is aware of it but never seems to make a huge effort to improve her behavior. I’m not sure what else to do other than look to transfer as I feel like I am not maximizing my skills at my job. Please help me find a way to manage this situation.

A. Many employees would love to be in your place. Lots of freedom to choose the direction and tasks to work on, getting little management from anyone, and essentially being self-directed and self-managed. But extremes in management are difficult to deal with, and being under-managed and supported can be as frustrating as being micromanaged.

Your situation may have a few root causes. You have not said how long you have worked for this manager. If you have only worked with her for a short while, you need to find out if this is new behavior and perhaps caused by something situational that has recently impacted her. It could be a personal or professional situation she is finding challenging. One of your colleagues can help you with this information. If it is new and it is based on external influences, you can be supportive, and perhaps a colleague with a strong relationship can approach her and offer help.
If other people don’t experience her as disorganized and unwilling to offer direction, she may be signaling that your role or job is not secure. She may not have confidence in your ability to do the job, and isn’t willing to invest time and energy into helping you become a valued part of the team.
If her behavior isn’t new, and others do experience her as you do, she may in fact be disorganized and work best with people who are almost entirely self driven, needing little direction, and minimal feedback. In both these situations you want to have a conversation with her about maximizing the contributions you can make. Arrange a formal meeting to review your responsibilities and the deliverables she would like to see. Ask how she finds herself most effectively managing employees so that they are successful and so that she is successful, and how frequently she likes to be updated. After this meeting you have the opportunity to decide if you can be successful working for her. If you still think you want to transfer, find a manager whose style matches your own. Remember, you will be the “last in”, which right now puts you at greater risk for position elimination.
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