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Hands-Off Style Doesn’t Work for This Boss

Hands-Off Style Doesn’t Work for This Boss
by Kathleen Driscoll  (This article originally appeared in the Rochester Business Journal)

“I’m a hands-off type of manager. I like to give people the tools they need to do their jobs and help them solve problems themselves. I have found that when I trust them, I get better results and higher productivity.
“Unfortunately, though, my boss is very hands-on, wants the details on everything. He thinks that I’m out of touch with my people. I have tried to talk to him about this, but he doesn’t seem open to discussion about it. I don’t think I can be the kind of manager he wants me to be. What should I do?”

You’re obviously worried that your management style isn’t acceptable to your boss and thinking about how that will affect your career over the long run. If it’s not addressed, this could become a serious issue between you and your boss. Differences in approach like this can cause big problems inside organizations.

You need to think about two possibilities here, says Frank Staropoli, president of Staropoli Consulting Inc., who works on leadership issues. One is that your boss is onto something that you’re not recognizing about your own approach to management. And the other, of course, is that he’s off-base in his assessment.

So it is time to open up yet another conversation with your boss about this problem. But this time, it’s important to do away with all the preconceived ideas you might have about how he will respond.

“In what situations has the boss perceived that you were out of touch with your people?” Staropoli says. “You’re asking the boss to do more thinking about this and respectfully challenging him to give evidence.”

Were there times that your boss perceived that things fell through the cracks in your department? Are there certain people in your staff he’s concerned about? Does he see other things that you haven’t thought about?

By being specific in your questions – and approaching him in an open, thoughtful and respectful way – you can learn something about yourself as a manager that you didn’t know before or help him see that there is no real evidence of a problem.

In effect, you’re asking him to be as clear and specific in his feedback as possible amid also asking him to consider the validity of his perceptions,” Staropoli says.

But the key to this exchange is in your attitude. There’s a temptation to assume that the boss will continue to be closed to discussion on this topic or that he doesn’t trust you.

“If you go in with that attitude, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he says. “You need to resist the automatic impulse to take it personally and recognize that the boss may have all kinds of reasons for thinking that you’re out of touch and some of them might be valid.”

That’s tough to do. But changing your attitude is vital if you want to get to the root of the problem.

This is where simple curiosity – and the ability to ask good questions – will carry you a long way, he says. “Think of it as exploring perceptions, checking out expectations, and comparing operating styles. You need to be open and, at the same time, clear on your own values and preferences.”

Staropoli suggests opening the conversation by saying, “I just want to review with you how you’re perceiving me as a manager. I want to get better at what I’m doing and make sure we’re on the same wavelength.”

This is an invitation to a dialogue. And it’s really important to resist the urge to become defensive or turn the conversation into an “I’m right, you’re wrong” argument, he says. “Ask questions, clarify, help him think and continue to be curious yourself.”

“In effect, it’s taking the lead to ensure a vibrant, honest and respectful exchange,” he says.

If, in the course of conversation about this issue, your boss makes some observations that require more investigation on your part, ask for time to look into it. “Check it out as well as you can, then get back to him,” Staropoli says.

When all is said and done, your hunch might be right: You might not be the manager that he wants you to be. But you’ll be in a much better position to decide your next career move if you and your boss have had an opportunity to talk over some specifics.

Managers at Work is a bimonthly column exploring the issues and changes facing managers. This article appeared in the Rochester Business Journal on January 19, 2001, and is reprinted with permission.

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