Your area of responsibility seems clear to you, but your supervisor tends to want to interfere. He questions you all the time about your progress, and wants to control everything you do.
First of all, it is good to consider how the attitude of your hierarchical superior can be motivated by a real problem. Indeed, if his management of the situation can undoubtedly be improved, the reasons why your boss is interfering may themselves be quite legitimate.
Your boss is under pressure
We often forget it, but your boss often has a superior himself. Even the CEO is not completely independent. The success of his business depends on his cash flow, and sometimes on compliance with certain legal constraints, which require specific results to be obtained within a specific timeframe. These results may just be the ones delegated to you, or maybe they are dependent on a goal that is within your area of responsibility. Your boss may therefore very well find himself dependent on you for his own success, or even for the success of the company.
Your boss does not see you as autonomous
You think that you are autonomous on the subject entrusted to you, but your supervisor has doubts. While he feels like you won’t be able to do it, you don’t ask for help because you think you have the situation in hand. Your manager’s anxiety increases, while so does your annoyance. The former begins to perceive a questioning of his authority, while your motivation drops and you feel more inclined to disengage or even quit the service.
Before classifying your boss in the “pathological micro-management” category, you can make sure that you are on the same page on these three points:
- Priorities: the order in which things will be done is the right one
- Visibility: the progress of the realization is known
- Reliability: actions are carried out
Although these subjects are naturally taken care of by your manager, nothing prevents you from taking initiatives on the matter, especially if your relationship suffers from a lack of clarity on these subjects.
Three steps to reduce the need for interference
I call this approach “inversion of control”, a term borrowed from computer science. Indeed, it is you who will establish a framework in which your manager will fit in at times, and for specific subjects
1. A conversation about priorities
The first step is to get clarity on the priorities. To do this, you need to prepare a list of what you have to do. Then schedule a working session with your manager during which you will go through this list to:
- Identify what is urgent
- Identify what is important
Your manager may see this as an opportunity to help you focus, by giving you just one or two priority tasks. Acknowledge receipt of his request (“I understood that I have to concentrate on the topics x and y”), and try, if possible, to get some perspective (“but if these topics advance faster than expected, what should my next tasks be? “).
Don’t overlook your differences of point of view.
You may feel that a task is more important to you than to your manager. Try, as much as possible, not to pass them over in silence. Indicate why the action seems important to you and ask your manager’s point of view. Keep in mind that in case of disagreement, the decision is up to him.
2. Efficient management
Steering consists of giving visibility to the work in progress on a regular basis. One way to do this effectively is to make it visual. For example, you can set up a Kanban board, and plan to review it with your manager once a week. To start, I suggest a table with, from left to right, the columns:
- Backlog: Things You Have Thought Of But Not To Start Right Now
- To do: priority things to do
- Doing: the things you are working on right now
- Waiting: Things You Depend On Someone Else For (Which You May Need To Raise)
- Done: what is finished
In each column indicate one item per action.
The “Backlog” and “To do” columns are handwritten by your manager. He can order them as he wishes.
In principle, in a kanban, the list of things in progress is limited (3 to 5 actions), so that you avoid wasting your energy on too many tasks in parallel.
Indicate on each item in the “Waiting” column, the date from which you are waiting and the number of reminders. The hierarchical weight of your manager can be helpful in the event that your recovery efforts have not been successful.
3. An emergency and management protocol
The board being reviewed once a week, you have the opportunity with your manager to specify new priorities, add new tasks or remove what is no longer necessary. However, there may be emergencies or critical situations that cannot wait a week. So you have to agree on a way to alert each other, and discuss the necessary countermeasures to engage.