Allison, a young acquaintance of mine, works for a university in the Midwest. This past September, Lori, her highly-organized and somewhat demanding supervisor moved on. Lori was replaced by Tasha, someone so laid back that it’s driving Allison nuts. Allison is a hardworking soul who feels responsible for making sure things go well, even when those around her fail to do their part. This has created all kinds of heartburn. First, Tasha’s lack of decisiveness violates Allison’s sense of order and closure. Second, Allison knows that when things go wrong it reflects poorly on her, even when her boss was the cause of the problem. Third, Allison has grown physically weary of navigating between Tasha’s lack of action and making sure the events they are both responsible for go well.
Have you been in this, or a similar, situation? It can be maddening to find the balance between saving the day and exhausting yourself trying to do so. On top of this, you might be dealing with the resentment you feel in having to save your boss’s butt. So, what do you do? Here’s what I suggested to Allison.
First, compartmentalize your emotions. Granted, this can be hard to do at first, especially when you have this strong desire to “save the day.” But if you don’t do something to mitigate this stress, it will impact both your physical health and performance on the job. As much as devoted souls become invested in their work, this sense of duty has to be put in perspective. If those around you aren’t doing their parts, it is important to detach yourself before you become consumed. In this case, allowing a project or two to fail may be the wake-up call Sasha needs.
Second, decide where your threshold of responsibility lies. Since Allison and Sasha’s work is primarily project- and event-focused, I suggested that Allison put together a timeline for each one. She should include budgets, approval deadlines, and even financial penalties for low attendance, late catering orders and such. This will accomplish two objectives: 1) It will provide Sasha of the specific details requiring her attention along with the consequences for not making timely decisions; 2) It will provide Allison with cover when Sasha or Sasha’s boss wants to know why an event or project went awry.
Third, learn from the experience. In this particular case, Allison knows that she will be moving on from her position in a few months. I have encouraged her to take a few minutes before she leaves to reflect how she can better manage situations like these in the future. But even if she wasn’t leaving, it is still important to consider the take-aways since, sadly, challenges of this nature are all too common. Just check the Internet. Managing your boss and his or her decision-making is a big topic.
Your assignment? Interestingly, these three strategies can be applied to a number of challenges we face in the workplace. Consider your present situation. Chances are you’re dealing with at least issue that can be resolved using these tactics. Take a few minutes in the coming day or two to reflect how you might overcome this issue and turn it into an opportunity for growth.