We always say a project can’t be completed until the goal is clear. Part of being a good employee, coworker, and teammate is knowing your role and what direction to go in. But it doesn’t always work out that way. If you have two supervisors—or a boss at odds with their boss—there’s a good chance your role and priorities will become unclear.
You can only walk one path at a time. Having multiple leaders can be maddening and dangerous to your career. The only road to success is having clear priorities, an agreed-on process, recognized particularities, and a universal objective in mind. If two people are leading in different directions, one will get upset at the lack of progress.
We can get as dramatic as we like with our examples: two team coaches calling different plays, two sets of hands on the steering wheel, two professors giving competing lectures at once and both saying, “Yes, this will be on the test.” Chances are, however, the two bosses at play in your case don’t see themselves as having competing interests. In fact, they may not even realize they’re pulling you in different directions.
Recognize the problem
The first step is internal. Recognize there is a problem. Two or more bosses is not always an issue. But if it is hindering your work, something has to be done. It may not be as easy as you think. The obvious signs—double-scheduling your time, competing agendas, conflicting instructions—may not be present. Look for a dramatic uptick in stress, difficulty sleeping, and a calendar with more than one thing scheduled at a time.
The best thing to do is get specific about your situation.
- Are your amount of work and deadlines out of control?
- Is the end goal shifting from boss to boss?
- Where specifically are you falling short?
Once you see the problem, do a self-assessment.
- Are you doing the best you can under the circumstances?
- Are you making the best use of your time?
- What specific areas are giving you trouble?
Then look into some possible solutions.
- Can both bosses’ agendas be realistically met?
- Do you need more resources, like a bigger team?
- Are your bosses getting the feedback they need—do they even know about the conflict?
Meeting of the Minds
The best way, as always, may be to get everything out in the open. There is a problem, so let’s face it.
Detail the competing things you’ve been asked to do and the differing agendas, then get everyone in the same room to talk about them. Everyone needs to come to some meeting of the minds with your input. Make it very transparent. Be sure everyone is truly present and listening.
It does take a sense of empowerment to call that meeting. You have to feel secure scheduling such a meeting. There may be pushback because they may not see the need for such a meeting.
You need to be prepared. You need to be able to detail the problems you are facing and have a few solutions ready. Express how you manage your work, stress your successes, and then point out the competing priorities you’ve been presented with.
Remember, your responsibility is to yourself—not in a selfish way, but to make yourself successful. You aren’t there to be unsuccessful. You can stay home for that.
If they can’t come to an agreement about what their priorities are for your work, you may need to start looking for another job.
It might be a good idea to chat with other women facing similar situations. Find a network and build your skills with the other professional women at IAW.