The boss who won’t delegate work — we’ve all had one of those. But how can you grow your own skills when working with this person? When I got this question from Reader E a while ago, I knew just the woman to ask: Jodi Glickman, the author of Great on the Job: What to Say, How to Say It. The Secrets of Getting Ahead. (both book and blog), and a fellow Northwestern alumna. I hope you all enjoy her guest post today! – Kat
Can you do a feature on how to deal with a boss that is not good at delegating work, does not “have the time to teach” and believes it is easier to handle the matter herself, has issues letting go of important matters or bringing in the associates to work on such matters and etc. when one has been at the firm already for a good amount of time? Would love to hear the feedback you and the readers have other than the obvious answer of switching firms.
The reason your boss won’t (or can’t delegate) is that she’s too busy to think about putting you to work and she’s convinced it will take more time to get you up to speed than to do the work herself. So, you’ve got to prove her wrong by showing that you can indeed add value and that you bring real skills to the table. (Multiple Choice, originally uploaded to Flickr by CoreForce.)
Before you think about walking out the door, consider using the multiple-choice strategy when you offer to help. Instead of simply asking: “how can I help?” try offering to help out with two (or more) specific tasks:
Jane—I know we’ve got a lot to prepare for next week’s meeting- I’d be happy to draft an agenda or prepare a briefing memo in advance—which would you like me to start on?
The multiple choice strategy makes it harder for her to say no—if it’s clear that there’s a lot to be done and you demonstrate that you’re ready and willing to take on specific tasks, she’ll be more likely to give you the go-ahead. This approach also shows that you’re in the loop—you have a sense of what’s going on around you and you’re aware of the challenges that lie ahead.
If this strategy still doesn’t work—then think in advance about how you’d actually help with those two or three specific tasks and go to your boss with your plan of action. For example, when you offer to put the agenda together, have a sketch in hand of what you think the agenda should look like. Or, give her your preliminary thoughts on what the briefing memo should include. By doing some initial work, you’ll give her a sense of your thought process and demonstrate that you’re smart and you’ve got good judgment—both of which should go a long way in helping her to start offloading more meaningful and challenging for you.
Finally, once you do start getting some meaningful work, be sure to show her the continued benefits. Let her know that you’re working hard to make her life easier (or better) and continue to challenge yourself. Also, be sure to acknowledge that you appreciate her guidance and support. If and when you need additional help or guidance with new tasks, state clearly that you expect the benefits to far outweigh the costs. For example, you can say,
“I’d appreciate sitting down and taking up ten minutes of your time to review the memo—I know once we make sure I’m moving in the right direction it will save us both considerable time and energy on the backend. I want to be as efficient and effective as possible.”
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