How to Get Your Boss Off Your Back

Many years ago, I had a boss that drove me crazy. He insisted on micro-managing me. He wanted to know every move I made. I had to furnish daily status reports with every call, every conversation, every project, etc. It really got to me. I tried to be patient, but I eventually quit. I just couldn’t succeed in that environment.

a boss micromanaging an employee

In this situation, I don’t think I gave him any reason to distrust me. This was just his management style. Everyone complained about it. He was simply a bad boss. Unfortunately, some are like that.But even the best bosses exercise supervision. That’s their job. Frankly, I don’t mind accountability. You probably don’t either. I just don’t want it to turn into meddling. I don’t want to spend more time managing my boss than managing my work.

Here’s what you can do to keep your boss off your back, so you can get the results than will make you both happy. (To make this less cumbersome, I will use the masculine pronoun when referring to your boss.)

  1. Tell him what you plan to do. If you tell your boss what you plan to do, then he has the opportunity for input before you have invested a lot of time and energy. As much as possible, keep this part of your conversation focused on results rather than activity. With my own direct reports, I have them prepare 90-day objectives for each quarter.

    If your boss insists on knowing how you plan to tackle the job, you can also provide your basic approach or strategy. If you get a sign-off at this point, then you can proceed without constantly looking over your shoulder. You know what you’re doing. Your boss knows what you are doing. All is well with the world.

  2. Do what you said you would do. Planning is one thing. Execution is another. Bosses tend to micromanage when they lose confidence. If you want your boss out of your hair, it’s easy. Just perform. Do what you said you would do—on time and on budget.

    This is where things can get off track. If you don’t execute, trust is broken. If trust is broken, you’re going to get more supervision than you wanted. The only way to fix it is to make more “deposits” to “the execution bank.” You must make follow-through—especially when it comes to your boss—your top priority.

  3. If anything changes, be the first one to tell him. Reality is that “do-do occurs.” Things are not going to go according to plan. Sometimes, for reasons you can’t control, you are going to be late or miss your budget. It’s inevitable. Your only salvation is to beat a path to your boss’s office and tell him first.

    In my experience, I have never been chewed out for bringing bad news to my boss—provided he heard it from me first. That’s the key. Bad news does not get better with age. (If you have a tendency to avoid conflict, re-read that sentence again.)

    Someone has to tell the boss what happened, and it should be you. If your boss is any good at all, he will respect you for having the guts to come to him directly and immediately. In this sense, bad news can actually build trust rather than destroy it.

Getting your boss off your back and keeping him off boils down to one word: pro-activity. You have to take the initiative. Don’t make him come to you.

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