Leadership styles are like chip flavours. There is no right or wrong; they all satisfy a hunger craving, but each appeals to a different palate. So, what do you do when you’re stuck with BBQ but you really want salt & vinegar?
In an ideal world, a work team functions through compromises from both the employee and manager, each learning how the other operates and altering the way they do things in order to complement skills and styles. But how often are we living in such a paradise, where balance and unity permeate our offices? (If you know of somewhere, please share instead of petting the unicorns all by yourself.)
A lot of clashes at work come from not only a lack of understanding about a manager’s perspective or intentions (and vice versa), but also from not using any understanding you do have to modify your work processes and get the most from what you’ve got.
So here are four different types of managers you might encounter and some chips – I mean, tips – on how to make the most of the leadership style that is, for the moment, steering the flavour of your career.
1. The absentee manager
What it looks like: Your manager is rarely in the office, either working from home or travelling. When he or she does appear, you’re so shocked and unprepared for their presence, it’s hard to hold back from bombarding them with a litany of questions, knowing the support drought you will undoubtedly face when they leave again.
What you can do
Communicate: Embrace virtual interactions in their absence. Learn their preferred mode of communication and focus on sending short messages with this route (rather than a large list of demands all at once). Request regular, perhaps weekly, Skype meetings. Keep them updated on your progress through email.
Be proactive: With being away so much, your manager knows decisions will be made in their absence. Start getting comfortable calling the shots on some things, even if it isn’t on your list of direct responsibilities. Keep a running outline of the reasons behind your choices, in case you have to explain those decisions later on.
Find support nearby: For any day-to-day decisions you are unsure about, find someone more senior or an individual who has been with the company longer than you have, so you have someone to consult for those times you need advice or just a listening ear.
2. The hands-off manager
What it looks like: This type of boss is in the office, but usually stays in his or her office, either on calls or working independently. When you are assigned a task, this manager won’t give a lot of direction, happier instead for you to work out the details yourself.
What you can do
Request regular check-ins: If you need more support, you can bring up any issues in these brief meetings.
Stay organized: Come prepared to any meetings with proposed plans for your work. They will either reinforce that you’re on the right track or suggest a change. Ask questions at this point, in order to redirect your work without needing another check-in right away.
Voice your expectations: Let your manager know what you expect in terms of coaching and feedback. When you do get it, show appreciation and try to give specifics about how it helped you, to encourage that same dialogue in the future.
3. The hands-on manager
What it looks like: From yin to yang. This boss is right there, in the trenches with you, acting like a peer. He or she doesn’t provide a lot of room for independent actions or problem-solving, leading some employees to feel over-supervised, like the training wheels are still on.
What you can do
Learn by example: Make the most of the opportunity to learn directly from someone who has more experience.
Make connections: Find out what you have in common, both professionally and personally. This strengthens your connections and builds the trust you need to gain more freedom in your job.
Show your plans: If you want more responsibility, start creating detailed plans for how you would solve a problem or tackle a new project. If he or she trusts you and can follow your thinking through to the end, your manager will feel more involved even though you’re talking about taking the reins.
4. The micromanager
What it looks like: You might feel like this person is breathing down your blazer. The manager assigns work and then hovers over you until it’s finished. He or she has every detail organized, leaving no room for new ideas or freedom in how to approach each task.
What you can do
Show you understand: When a task is assigned to you, show you understand exactly what’s required and how you’ll fulfill it. Micromanagers are often afraid of error, so if you walk them through everything prior to starting, they’re more likely to give you some room.
Create boundaries: Outline your expectations for when you will need to check in with them and when you need the space to power through and get your work done. This creates boundaries through clear communication, so you can have some freedom to work within them.
Look outside: You still want to stretch your skill set with more challenging work that engages your ability to problem-solve and come up with new ideas. Look outside your department for opportunities to help out other teams. But let your manager know what you’re doing, so they feel involved and unthreatened.
Senior Coordinator of Program Development by day, freelance writer/editor/researcher by night, Dana Marie Krook is a firm believer in “having it all” — which, of course, means chasing your dreams, your bucket list, and your cupcake craving as far as necessary. She loves word games, yoga, running, and superhero movies, but would trade it all for the chance to see her first YA novel on the shelves of a bookstore.