More than a year ago, I posted about problems with a supervisor. Clearly others thought so, cause when our company got bought, when they made the upper level changes, my non-upper level boss was moved to a different department. So I was boss-less for 5 months.

I got a new boss whom at first I was concerned about because of overaggressiveness. I since learned that's how she treats outsiders, but she's very good to her own. Unlike my previous boss, she has a lot of confidence in me. And while her other two directs says she always wants details, with me, she tells me to deal with them because I think she's confident in me. She's also good about giving credit to people, and letting people present their own work.

I've been on the same project for 4 years, with now three different bosses. So I'm the expert. Finally we might get to take it up to get approved for the next level. I'm very good at presentations (Toastmasters, public speaking for years, etc), have presented at internal symposiums about this project, and prepared all the slides with er buy-in to go take our project to the next level. I would presumably give the presentation.

We've been having all these conference calls to prepare recently and there's one big problem - my boss cuts me off, cuts others off too, and doesn't present the project very well, especially because she's only been on it for 6 months. She's even told me she has to go around in circles with ideas, and does this in church every Sunday. The problem is we come out of two hour meetings with others, and the going around in circles has everyone but me confused. Before the holidays we had an important conf call, me, my female boss, and two other ladies. They were going at each other, I couldn't get a word in, so I just muted my phone and listened.. Yesterday we had another conf call with sales and marketing, most of whom had not even looked at my slides, and they had a ton of questions. In my opinion, she did not present the ideas in a convincing way, sales and marketing were real negative, and again folks were going at each other. I did not even try to get a word in, but just listened in horror. Afterward she came in my office frustrated that the people we prepped with on that two hour meeting still don't understand - no surprise to me.

I spoke to a former boss, who is now retired. My current boss worked for him for 18 years and he said he's known she's not the best communicator, and everyone knows this is my skill. So how do I ask my boss if she can let me talk about this stuff at these conf calls, instead of her. Otherwise, this project is going to be dead.

RichRuh's picture
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Don't try to change your boss.  Not only will you not succeed, but you'll damage your relationship with her.

You're going to have to adapt to her way of working.  From the sounds of it, she's a High-C, and she needs time to "go around in circles," which is really just her way of trying to understand the material.

I'd recommend that you pre-wire with her- sit down with her beforehand and go over your slides with her before they are shown to others.  She'll ask questions and do that "going around in circles" with you rather than the group.  This will take longer than you want it to, and you're probably going to find it frustrating, but it's the only way.

It probably won't prevent the problem entirely, but it will increase your boss's understanding prior to the conference calls.  That should make the calls go easier. 

TNoxtort's picture

Thanks for the tip, except, I thought I was C. Actually, I think I am more balanced. But I guess this example from today will explain.

Her boss sent an E-mail to both of asking for a status on a project, due to a meeting with marketing, emphasizing highlights only. I talked to her and she felt like we had to draw all these conclusions from data I had not even analyzed yet, insisting we had to say something, and comment on a second project. I said, I'm just going to say, 1, 2, 3, nice, short, and simple, nothing about the second project because his E-mail indicated a different geographical area.  She reluctantly agreed.

My boss's boss did ask one more question. She then thought we had to now, analyze all my data (which we did not), so she came to my advice and spent 45 minutes of her trying to draw conclusions from this data, without having any of the other tools I had plannd to use to do it. We didn't get anywhere and just pulled that one number I already had. Then we went to his office. He said he didn't know what his meeting was about, and he didn't even need the answer to the one question he asked. After his meeting we talked to him and he said the people were mistaken, and he was not asked to tell anything.

Meanwhile she came back to my office about my primary project, which this post was about. She said we need to get data to show a benefit for our presentation on Jan 18. I have been looking for this data for THREE years - there is none, aside from us FINALLY planning to run a study this spring I've been asking for two years (during which we had two mergers). She said that now it was urgent, so we really had to find data to support our case (data doesn't just show up when it is urgent). She then asked about some questionable data someone else had produced two years ago and asked we not present. She wanted to look at it, and then call that guy. So we did call that guy, and he said all the same things he said two years ago, including the please don't present. She asked him for other names, and he gave the same names of people we met with two years ago who also could not create data that would support us. All in all, this took a total of 2 hours.

I should add, I was always against giving this presentation on Jan 18 until we ran this study this spring, because then we'd have data when we approached nay-sayers.

Finally, as I'm about to leave, she calls, acknowledges I'm probably sick of her and asked me to schedule regular meetings on the project I listed in this post so everyone could be on the same page and we could talk strategy. I reminded her we developed a strategy two months ago, nothing had changed, and some people worked really hard to create data before the holidays that I am trying to analyze. At her insistence, i said I'd call the meeting.

What frustrates me is that this week, which was a 4 day week for us, I got nothing done. I think of myself as the C because I try to anticipate needs beforehand, and spend a lot of time doing things low key: experiments, reading, calculations, resources, long range planning of studies, so when it is time to deliver, we can delivery. She's all about plans, yet she's getting in my way.

MOST likely all of this was caused because of upcoming presentations that perhaps make her nervous.. She seems to be quite reactionary. Ever since I started working for her she said she was always likes to be in control, and so I've tried to make her feel secure, more so than her reports. But maybe something with the New Year and she's acting funny. It was still frustrating.



acao162's picture

While I understand you are the expert on the project - based on your time spent - your boss is the one who the organization will ask questions.  Your boss is the one who has to take ultimate responsibility.  Your boss.  Not you.  Keep this in mind as you try to help her feel in control.  Based on your descriptions, I'd say you are not helping her but instead subtley blocking her attempts at understanding.

You describe a situation where she had to convince you to call a meeting.  Why is she convincing You? 

You describe her as "getting in your way".  Who is in charge of this department? 

You describe being against giving the presentation, when clearly your boss has said it will be done.

I suggest you take a long look at your post and consider whether or not you are also responsible for the situation you are in.  When push comes to shove, who's going to get the shove out the door?

jhack's picture

I read your posts twice, and a few things struck me.  

First, the posts suggest that you are perhaps not as clear a communicator as you might think.  You did not pose a specific question to the forum.  You did not indicate a decision that you need to make.  What is the outcome you are seeking?   

Second, your characterizations of your boss are not helpful ("presentations ... make her nervous.. She seems to be quite reactionary. ... she's acting funny.")   Be specific about behaviors, and don't infer intent. 

Third, I'd guess your project is in trouble.  You've been on this project for four years, under three bosses.  Most concerning:  you've been working to find data to justify the project for three years and it doesn't exist?   And you are asking for three months to come up with that data?  Maybe executive management has figured out that your project isn't worth the investment, and your new boss is figuring it out too.  

You obviously have a lot riding on this project.  And your ability to "sell" it has worked in the past. 

Final thought:  the only thing you have control over is your own actions.  What should you do?   Here's my advice:

1.  Take a cold, hard, gimlet-eyed look at your project.  Is it really worth saving?  What value will it return?  Is there something else that could be done with the same resources?  

2.  Admit that there is no data to justify the project's existence.  Put that in the presentation.  Be upfront.  If you believe it's strategic or innovative or whatever, then say that.  But don't oversell. 

3.  Do everything you can to help your boss understand the project and it's contribution to your organization.  Support her unequivocally, even when you disagree with her conclusions. 

Buckle your seat belt; it's going to be a bumpy ride. 

John Hack

TNoxtort's picture

So update, my boss seemed less panicky this week.

About data not existing, it is because we need to run studies (pharmaceutical), which costs money. I did get approval, finally, to contract out a study that will take 3 months and will generate the data that will justify the project (or rightfully kill it). Our company has also been through two mergers/acquisitions during these past three years, which prevented having a structure in place to approve these kinds of projects. Until I have that data, I cannot say whether the project is in trouble or not.

The fact is, if the project fails without the right data, we all fail. And I've watched things get stalled on this project a lot already. So with the depth of science involved, it is important to speak up because the consequences might not be felt for months later. Also, my name, not hers, is on the patent that will protect this project in the future.

About her trying to convince me to call a meeting, yes. she's convincing me because we have not had a chance to analyze the data or talk to the vendor, so having a meeting is just a waste of everyone's time. As Mike and Mark say, the cost of a meeting, per hour, is a lot, when you consider all the people involved.

She's not actually in charge of the department, just three of us, one of whom has a last day on Friday, and the other of whom goes on maternity leave in a few weeks. I'm the one that understands all the complications on this project to bring it forward; each boss comes up with the same issues, has the same ideas for a faster way out, and for those who tried it, the same negative result. Again, it is in the interests of the company to move this forward, so it is important for me to speak up if I think it is going the wrong way.

Regarding the presentation, we discussed it a while back, with the coordinator whether we wanted to give the presentation or not. This was a discussion, not a you will or won't do this. I was against it because I anticipated certain risks -- namely that others in the organization would not understand it, and with lack of data, would be against it. I wanted to wait until we contracted that study and then we'd have data. That risk has now become a reality.

So this week has been much better. First off, I re-read about her Meyers Briggs profile, ENTP, and how they tend ot be good at starting things, change ideas all the time, beat and beat and beat dead horses, but generally have good ideas, which she has. etc. I don't see her as an "I" though on DISC. Then I stopped picking up the phone everytime she calls with a new thing. That really helped a lot. Then, on the conference calls this week, she came over to my office and with her there, it's been much easier for me to speak and get my word in. There was even one call where she wasn't there, and I was able to convince the others in the organization to back this. She was real happy with that. I also realized a quick way to summarize our presentation: Threat is certainly coming (100% change), solution could help but we're not sure, so let's investigate, committing more and more dollars as it shows more and more signs of working. Once I said it like that, some of the others in the organization who were against it realized that their issue would come much later in the project, when things might have changed (that was a conf call I had that my boss didn't make, but she was real happy to hear that).

Then when we talk, she keeps saying the wrong body part involved, and finally did say. "This is why you, not me, are presenting this next week." And I noticed that this week, she'll have an idea, talk to me about it, but then leave it to me instead of trying to keep beating a dead horse. She really liked the visuals I did on the presentation to make the point of the "threat." I sent out a draft yesterday, and then sent out another draft today, and she told me to make sure to CC our dept head so he knows how hard I'm working, she said. So things are better.

jhack's picture

 Thanks for the update.  Knowing it's pharma helps contextualize the project timeline. 

Good luck, and keep us posted.

John Hack

TNoxtort's picture

I wanted to give you all an update on what happened.

So we went to that committee and I presented. My boss let me present. The other folks that there were there came from the company that aquired us, different division. They asked tough questions and it was not easy - many times my boss answered and it is good she did, because I couldn't have. They didn't get it because they don't understand how our specific pharmaceutical area works. Eventually, my senior management, who was on the phone but having phone problems, spoke up in support of my project and totally understanding it. The management in the room then sort of changed their tone and said they were just asking and did not mean to be difficult. We got our approval for the project!

Meanwhile, I'm having better luck pushing back to my boss when she suggests things that will waste time. The next day she suggested we make a plan with timing. I told her we presented a plan, and there were too many factors involved. Instead, we needed to get on the phone and start getting other people and organizations rolling, to move things forward. So she agreed. Other times, she's wanted to hold conference calls with outside folks to discuss totally exploratory technology that isn't full developed - I point out there's no point since we can't use it, and she agrees. She is asking my opinion more and more whenever she sends out big E-mails on this project, just to make sure everything is worded right.

For one of my many projects, I had to deal with one of the other bosses, who comes from the company that acquired us (my boss, boss's boss, and even his boss are from my company).  He has worked in this specific field for 20+ years and been part of products you'd recognize. I actually met him 5 years ago as a grad student at a conference and he offered career advice. I had called him a few weeks later (5 years ago) and got his advice. Through the years, I see him at conferences and say hello. Now he's sitting in the guest chair in my office. So I tell him what I just told you and asked how I am doing? He didn't hesitate and told he I was doing a great job with X1, X2, and X3. However, he was concerned I was not working on Y or Z which current management likes, nor A, B, or C (products that will be commercial soon). He was concerned I was not getting the learning or visibility of being on an A, B, or C project, and getting piegon holed into being an X person. He felt there were more Y and Z projects coming down, and said we did not have enough people to run them. So he suggested I try to get a hand in one of them. If not, he recommended areas worth rotating to, and areas NOT worth rotating to. He said he gets lonely at the site he works at, and encouraged me to call anytime.

We also had an internal conference at that site with opportunities for networking. I met this one VP from a completely different division whom I talked to about teamwork 7 months before. I reintroduced myself and we talked about leadership. He listens to Manager Tools! He was impressed my with leadership knowledge, but expressed a concern that many bosses and boss's bosses don't have good leadership skills and are not passing it on well. I met another person who worked in the area where my wife has health issues - actually, no one could figure out her issues, and after 21 months, I did (new, never reported form of an already rare disease). So I talked to him. The next morning I ran into him and he told me would send me an article he saw. When I got back and saw his E-mail, I looked up him. He's a VP too.

But here is where I did bad. I mentioned my boss wanted to call a meeting and I felt there was no need. She said she liked regular meetings, which I think are kind of a waste of meeting time. She had invited my coworker and added a new backup section of it which my coworker would lead. Fine, because my coworker has experience in it, she has nothing to do right now, there would be a learning curve for me, and I'm swamped. We've had a couple little updates on this project and I've kept everyone informed. But for today, my coworker called a meeting of the 4 of us about this project. She had a full matrix that included my section, kind of led it, issued minutes, and said she'd schedule these meetings every 2 weeks. That burned me up, because I was supposed to do that. But then again, on all my other project with my previous boss, I called meetings and issued minutes, but it didn't really mean much in the end. Anyhows though, I am swamped, and she has not much to do. So I went ahead and called my meetings for my other projects. And I'll remember for next time. That coworker goes on maternity leave soon anyways.

Speaking of coworkers, a lot are leaving. Our specialty area has people with "A" sub-specialty and "B" sub-specialty. Half of "A" have PhDs, all of "B" have PhDs (in engineering, chemistry, or pharmaceuticals). I am a "B" specialty. Last year, our group did not have layoffs because several "B" took the package and left; some to retire, some are in their early/mid 30s like me to go on to do other things. With that, all of us in "B" are early/mid 30s. Today, the third "B" in 2011 resigned. Only a small number (low single digits) of "B" are left. For all of us, this was our first job out of grad school, and we learned the specialty here (not part of our grad school, though we apply it). The reason people are leaving is the same (1) promotions have been frozen for years, (2) good to branch out, (3) they have nothing to do, which is not the case for me. I've heard a rumor that emergency promotions were given to a few folks, but I don't know. I feel bad if they did not choose me, but I got hired at a higher level (so those folks would be promoted to my level), and I would hate if it were an "emergency" promotion just to keep the department from disintegrating.