In leadership vacuum, workers can fill the role

Published Dec. 12, 2012

Q: My supervisor is an extremely poor manager. Despite 20 years of military experience, he appears to be incapable of coordinating activities or giving clear directions. In meetings, he will say "This needs to get done today" or "That needs to be fixed" without assigning specific tasks to anyone. He gets angry if we ask questions because he thinks we should know what he wants.

Although our boss' confusing communication is driving everyone crazy, we don't see any way to fix the problem. Talking with his manager would be pointless, because the two of them are good buddies. Our human resources department is in another state, so they have no clue about what goes on here. What can we do?

A: To summarize your predicament, your boss won't tolerate questions, upper management isn't open to feedback, and human resources seems disengaged. This would appear to leave you with limited alternatives, one of which is to take matters into your own hands.

When faced with a leadership vacuum, employees frequently have to compensate by working together collaboratively. Otherwise, they risk being blamed for disappointing results. This unfortunately requires extra time and effort, but is often the only remedy for a manager who fails to manage.

Since you seem eager to take some action, perhaps you could demonstrate personal leadership by encouraging your colleagues to pull together. For example, the next time your boss fails to assign work to specific people, consider initiating a post-meeting discussion in which everyone can agree on a reasonable distribution of tasks.

Along with the frustrations, your supervisor's shortcomings may have actually created an unexpected opportunity to sharpen your own leadership skills. Should you ever become a manager yourself, you might find that you learned a lot from his poor example.

Asking for interview feedback is okay

Q: I recently completed a lengthy interview process for a general manager position. The first two interviews were with the owners of the company, followed by individual meetings with several mid-level managers. Next, I had a group interview with nine front-line supervisors.

Unfortunately, I just learned that I will not be getting the job. I am extremely disappointed and would like to know how I might have improved my interview performance. Since I established good rapport with some of the interviewers, would it be appropriate to email them and request some feedback?

A: Qualified applicants can be eliminated for many reasons unrelated to their interview skills. Nevertheless, assessing your own performance is always a good idea. Asking interviewers for feedback should be fine, as long as you make your request positive, professional, and brief.

For example: "I enjoyed meeting you during my interviews for the general manager position. Although I was not selected, I hope that I might be considered for other openings in the future. For that reason, I am interested in any feedback you might have on how I could be a stronger candidate."

If you receive a reply, be sure to express your appreciation. But if not, just let it go, because a second email might make you seem pushy.

Stop being jealous of friend's work success

Q: After I helped a friend get a job in my office, she immediately began trying to exclude me from any project which involved our manager. Now that she seems to have his undivided attention, he has started giving her assignments which should not be part of her job.

This situation has hurt me so much that I have trouble focusing on my work and have even considered resigning. When I talked to the manager about it, he accused me of having a personal problem with this woman. How should I handle this?

A: If you are honest with yourself, I believe you will realize that your boss is correct. Your vision is so clouded by jealousy and resentment that you can't see things clearly. In reality, your manager has every right to assign work to whomever he chooses, and your colleague has every right to take on additional responsibilities.

If you are wise, you will get your emotions under control, find a way to get along with your co-worker, and look for ways to shine in your own job. The only way to change this situation is to first change yourself.