A reader writes:
My boss is big-B burned out. He’s one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever worked for, and normally an excellent manager; but lately, he’s visibly tired (and will tell you so, when you ask him how he’s doing), and “off” — he’s abrasive, argumentative, impatient, disinterested, unfocused, and not the guy I’ve been working for for a lot of years before now.
He’s also a straight shooter – not the kind of boss who will use his staff as his therapist, but definitely the kind of boss who will give you a straight answer when you ask him what’s going on. I’ve said to him “I’m worried about you. I notice that you seem like you’re in a slump. You’re smiling less. You seem tired. When I give you an update on a project that I think you’ll be really excited about, you seem uninterested, or bored. Or, if I bring you a question I need some help with answering, where you would previously take interest in that and give me great advice, now it seems like more of a nuisance to you, something you’d rather not be dealing with. Is something going on?” And he answered yeah, he is tired, and he’s been doing this job for a long time now, and maybe he’s ready to be doing something else, something that would let him have more time at home with his kids.
He’s also the big boss, in charge of the whole shop. And while the idea of him moving on stresses me out, I understand that change isn’t bad, and sometimes people need to do what they need to do. I get it. I want him to be happy, wherever that is. But in the meantime, until he decides to make a move, I still look to him to do his job – manage the rest of us, you know? I need him to do his job and stay engaged with the work and with his staff. And lately, I’m not always so sure how to ask for what I need. I try not to bring him problems without solutions in mind, but we never seem to be able to move those solutions forward. I try not to bother him with the insignificant stuff, but there’s a major personnel issue I need his advice on how to manage, and he doesn’t have any to give, saying “yeah, that’s hard, you’re right, I don’t know what you should do.” I know he’s going through stuff, and I’ve got sympathy – real sympathy – for that. I don’t want to add more stress to his life, I want to relieve his stress by continuing to do a good job and take things off his plate and manage my own work successfully. But there are some things I’m responsible for where I need his buy in and support, and it’s not there. It’s making me feel stuck, and sad. And it’s also making me pull back – things where I could normally use his help I’m just handling on my own, and I’m not sure I’m always handling them the right way. I miss his leadership. And I don’t know how to ask for it in the middle of everything he’s working out – but I feel myself starting to get resentful that he’s not leading us the way he used to. I want my boss back.
What should I do?
It doesn’t sound like there’s anything you really can do.
You’ve spoken to your boss about the issue and he acknowledged that it’s a problem, but he hasn’t changed his behavior.
You’ve asked him directly for the type of advice you need for your work, and he’s not giving you any.
You can’t make someone give what they can’t or won’t give, and right now he’s not giving it.
So your options are to accept that this is now the way your job works, at least for the foreseeable future, and either stay under those changed conditions or decide to look elsewhere.
I suppose that you could have one more conversation with your boss about the issue, but I doubt it’s going to change anything and might only succeed in irritating him (since you’ve already brought it up and received a “yes, I know” in response). If you wanted to try that, though, I’d change the focus a bit from what you said the first time. The first time, you made it about your concern for him. This time, you could be more explicit that it’s making it harder for you to do your job as well as you used to.
It’s possible that would nudge him into realizing that he has to change something and can’t just continue on with the status quo. But it’s also possible that you’ll get a response that says, essentially, “deal with it.”
And if that happens, then you’ve got to adapt your thinking and realize that this is how the job works now. Do you still want it?