What to Do When Your Boss Is Always MIA

Dana Brownlee

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The boss doles out work but then is nowhere to be found when someone has a question or a problem. Or worse yet, they start dumping their meetings on employees (with no notice) because they're always traveling. The boss's schedule can't be controlled, so what should be done?

Before the resume is dusted off and an abrupt exit is planned, consider using a few managing up techniques. Admittedly, dealing with a boss who's MIA is tricky, but there are strategies that can be used to be successful in spite of frequent absences.

Figure out What the Boss Cares About Most

When trying to address the issue, reference the boss's priorities to create a more natural motivation and sense of urgency. Are they focused on reducing costs, decreasing turnover, looking good to their boss, delivering a higher quality product, or satisfying the customer? Identify the primary issue, and use that language when making a plea.

What might be thought: "How in the world are we going to get the business case completed on time when you're traveling all the time and never around to provide approvals or answer questions?"

What should be said: "Jim is expecting this completed business case by the end of the month, and missing that date would be a huge black mark for our team. I definitely want to be sure we always represent you well and our team is highly regarded. Since you're traveling frequently, we should probably take some time to review the project schedule and devise a plan to ensure that we have what we need when you may not be immediately available. I've brainstormed some specific ideas; could we possibly discuss those sometime this week?"

Get to Know the Assistant and Leverage That Person's Access If Possible

If the boss has an assistant, that person likely knows much more about their schedule than you and may also communicate with them multiple times a day. Admins are gatekeepers with lots of power, so it never hurts to befriend them. They also might be able to give valuable advice about how to best manage the boss, since they likely have the same challenge.

Inquire About the Possibility of Using a Group Calendar for Scheduling Purposes

Once this additional schedule visibility is enabled, take steps to proactively plan around absences or consider building buffer time into project schedules as needed to minimize the negative impact of the boss's likely absences.

Remind the Boss That Their Input Is Key

This is an opportunity to lather it on a bit. Sometimes managers have demands pulling them in many different directions, and they forget what a difference their presence makes. Don't pile on the compliments, but remind them of the huge impact their presence can make to the work results.

Something like this could be said: "I certainly don't envy your schedule. I know you're being pulled in a million directions at once. I did want to check in with you regarding the upcoming project. I know how important it is that we get this one right, and you're such an important part of our quality assurance process, that I want to be sure we develop a timeline that's realistic given your travel schedule (and other crises that might pull you away)."

Ask for Alternate Support Options While They're out

The practical reality is that senior-level leaders will sometimes need to be away quite often, and the team must continue to function in their absence. Proactively identifying alternative sources for support in a leader's absence can be a key component for success. Just make sure that the boss recommends those alternate options, so that it doesn't appear that anyone is attempting to "replace" their counsel.

Ask What Help Is Needed

Senior leaders are sometimes MIA because they're swamped with demands. As such, an MIA boss may respond well to an offer to take something off their plate. Sitting in on a few meetings on their behalf or taking over a labor-intensive task not only frees them up a bit but also creates critical goodwill—which is never a bad idea.

This article was originally published on Quartz at Work.

Dana Brownlee is an acclaimed keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and team development consultant. She is president of Professionalism Matters, Inc. a boutique professional development corporate training firm based in Atlanta, GA.

Reach Dana at [email protected]. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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