I was really inspired by Dr. Marshal Goldsmith’s “One Thing Great Leaders Never Do!” It introduced me to the term “knowledge workers,” or those that “knows more about what they are doing than their boss does.” The article addresses what great leaders can do to calm their knowledge workers down and help them achieve their goals. It did not speak to me as I’m not a manager (yet), but it made me reflect that managers should not always carry the burden of granting the needs of their subordinates. As with all kinds of conflict, this subtle kind is a give-and-take responsibility.
Some piece of a disclaimer:
I am not a human resources expert, not a management coaching executive, nor a psychology graduate. I am a young professional who seeks ways on how to better her career development even by just doing careful observation from the wise and experienced.
The fact can be really insulting. But instead of ranting or creating a silent group of haters to the management or so, knowledge workers can stay composed and professional by taking advantage of the situation. In all things that we do not like happening, look on the bright side. Take advantage!
Take advantage to innovate and present ideas
You know the process, so you got the better knack to think of ways on how to streamline or automate certain process points. Use this opportunity to put your idea into something tangible. Perhaps there have been deadlines constantly being missed because of dependencies to other teams. Why not establish and facilitate a more structured escalation system? Perhaps there have been recurring accuracy hits because of tasks being too manual. Why not assess and explore on to creating even a simple macro to automate it? Present it to the team and to your manager. By presenting your creation, you are then able to show what the current process is, and subtly ‘teach’ your manager what the work is all about. Win extra points by showing measures of success.
Take advantage to step up
While managers busy themselves away from operations, knowledge workers can take this opportunity to lead the team, ignite teamwork, and provide direction. Modern-day employees are free-willed, can decide on critical situations, especially so that they know well enough how the process operates, and can work even with minimal supervision.
There’s a thin line though on taking over the whole job of managing the team and on taking responsibility for the team. Stepping up your career to cover for the lack of visibility of the manager is not a ticket to assume authority. You cover the gap to develop your maturity to handle different types of persons in the workplace. You cover the gap to keep the team going and motivated, and hopefully influence peers to mind their own professional growth.
Take advantage to introduce yourself and build network
Along the way, you assume responsibilities and would need to connect to other colleagues, bosses or not. Communication about the actual job is so much easier when both parties know what they’re talking about. They can solve issues more quickly, come up to better strategies, and manage expectations clearly. At times when issues are out of hand, communication is better off between two managers. However, when you are a knowledge worker, chances are your boss comes to you first before speaking with his fellow manager to walk him through what happened, what are the limitations why a turnaround can’t be done, what other suggestions can we throw in, etc. It can be very frustrating and doesn’t really prove efficient.
If you are at a company that widely promotes equality across roles, this is a good opportunity to close out that inefficiency. Not only you represent and build rapport for the team, but you also give the impression that you are a reliable person, that they can get better insight about what’s going on from you firsthand next time.
Take advantage to create a professionally personal performance discussion with your manager
By saying professionally personal, I try to mean casual, but in a much more formal manner than what it is.
In a controlled setting such as one-to-one catch-up sessions with your manager, express your own honest sentiments on what the team faces as a result of his lack of involvement. Then pitch in what you think he can improve on.
I stress on ‘own’ because the tendency on this kind of conversation is we voice out the collective sentiment of all the team members. While the intention there is good, it is more appropriate to speak about this only when asked. One-to-one discussions are meant to support your own performance goals. Managers listen. They should listen. Maybe they lack knowledge on what your work is really all about, but that doesn’t mean they don’t listen.
Creating and living up to one’s professional image is a bit of a struggle when you meet this kind of bosses that tend to lessen your motivation to be at your best self at work. You’re lucky if the boss recognizes this management gap, but in worse cases that this gets up to insult and frustrate you, the challenge is now in your hands to act on it.