my boss is unavailable and it’s driving us all mad

A reader writes:

I report to a C-suite level executive, “Bob” (where Bob’s boss is the CEO). I manage Bob’s schedule and generally coordinate our department’s projects under his direction. However, Bob is one of the most unavailable, unreachable bosses I have ever seen. He is very clearly a verbal processor (likes thinking out loud to an audience) and hates writing his thoughts or instructions via email … which would be fine, except his business travel can put him out of the office for weeks on end. When he does communicate via email, it’s only after A DOZEN OR MORE emails have been sent to him asking for answers on the subject. Even then, Bob’s replies often consist of “Thanks for the prod … will get that to you by end of day,” and then he doesn’t provide the answer he just promised. Because of this, projects can be delayed by days or weeks.

Since I manage his schedule, I know full well how many hours per day he’s truly unavailable (i.e., in meetings or on a plane) and I can promise you he does have plenty of down time, during which he could presumably be working on these answers to emails. What’s more, I have access to his emails and can see just how much comes in and goes out (hint: my own inbox/outbox is astronomically busier than his is, yet I keep up with mine just fine).

I’ve tried scheduling phone check-ins with him, but he is notoriously bad at keeping appointments with his staff. I’ve tried flagging emails in his inbox, but they just pile up into a backlog. I’ve tried responding to emails myself on his behalf (with his permission), but much of it is over my head and really needs his input. I’ve tried sending just one email a day, listing priorities from the team in short bullet points, but these go ignored. I’ve mentioned to Bob that his lack of communication is stalling projects and causing unease among the staff, but his behavior remains the same.

What’s the deal? Why is Bob so unresponsive to the needs of our team (and other internal and external contacts, for that matter)? He really is a genuinely kind boss (not cold and aloof) and seems to want to keep his thumb on the pulse of the office — on those rare occasions he makes it to our meetings, he shows genuine interest in everyone’s work and provides great insight into projects. So it’s not likely that he’s checked out and searching for another job or something. He’s just not getting it.

What can my team and I do? We are all increasingly bitter over this situation.

I wrote back and asked, “When you’ve told him that his lack of communication is stalling projects and causing unease among the staff, what has he said in response?”

He’ll acknowledge what I say and nod understandingly but without seeming to really grasp the seriousness of it. He’ll say things like, “The team might need some help from you and I in relaxing their frenzy on this project” or “Maybe I need to be a bit more present so the team doesn’t get so worked up over this stuff” … but then he won’t follow through, so the pressure just keeps building and the discontent keeps rising.

I tell myself if Bob isn’t concerned about these projects, maybe there’s nothing to worry about. But the staff bitterness is what concerns me most, and I feel like I’m failing to get across to him the gravity of the situation (one all-star employee in particular has spoken of looking for work elsewhere if Bob doesn’t change his ways).

Consider this an excellent lesson in focusing on what’s within your control and letting go of the rest.

You have done everything here that a good assistant should do: You’ve flagged important emails for him, gotten his permission to respond on his behalf to keep things moving, sent him a daily list of priorities, used bullet points so he can quickly see what’s important, and talked to him about the situation it’s causing on the staff. If you hadn’t done each of those things, I’d tell you to.

But you’ve done everything within your control to do, and he’s not changing. That means that at this point, the only practical step for you is to emotionally disconnect. It’s up to him now. You can’t force him to do things differently. If that means that he ends up with a bitter, disengaged staff, that is a problem he has created and will need to deal with. If he loses good employees because of it, again that’s a problem that he created and will need to deal with. (And while that will suck for your team, it might be what needs to happen in the long run.)

This is not a situation where morally you must find a way to solve it no matter what, like “Bob is keeping people locked in their offices and not feeding them, and they are malnourished and slowly starving.” That’s not to say there won’t be ramifications for the people on your team — at a minimum, working for a manager like this sucks, and at its worst could end up affecting them professionally, like if they have fewer accomplishments on this job than they’d otherwise have. But at this point, it’s not yours to solve. (Which is good, since you can’t!)

As for why Bob is like this, I’d guess a combination of incompetence, severe disorganization, and inability to understand his impact on others and/or lack of understanding of what his role as a manager requires of him (which itself is a form of incompetence).

There is a chance that Bob is right that people think there’s more urgency around these things than there really is … but if that’s the case, it’s on him to clarify that with people, not leave them in a perpetual state of stress and worry. So either way, he’s not doing his job.

Really, the only thing you could try that you haven’t already tried would be one final, more serious conversation with him (especially if you sugarcoated the message when you talked to him previously). You could say something like, “I know we’ve talked about this before and I won’t keep pushing it, but I do want to tell you one final time that I think this is causing serious problems on the team. People are frustrated to the point that they’re becoming bitter, and I worry we’re going to have a real culture problem here soon and may start losing good people over it. I’m happy to help any way I can, and I want you to be aware of what I’m seeing.”

From there, though, this is on him and the best thing you can do for yourself is to get really, really clear in your own head that it’s out of your control and that you’ve done what you can and can’t do more.

You might decide that you don’t particularly want a job where this is how things operate (and you’re more likely to figure that out if you let yourself stop banging your head against the wall and see more clearly what you can and can’t change). Or you might decide that it’s not ideal but you can deal with it once you don’t feel pressure to solve it. Either one of those will be a better path than trying to solve something you have no control over.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 223 comments… read them below }

  1. Granny K*

    “The team might need some help from you and I in relaxing their frenzy on this project…” Wow. Usually I have the opposite problem.

    1. Been there and done that.*

      It also could be that Bob has a substance abuse problem, when he is out of contact/ out of the office. The emotional remoteness, sort of grandiose responses, etc.
      In any case Alison’s advice is sound: this isn’t your fight and it could seriously impact your professional future. Get some good references form others in the company and move on

      1. serenity*

        This is pretty wild speculation. Bob is a manager who has lost touch with the needs and priorities of his staff (and is clearly out of office a big chunk of time which has compounded the issue). Can we not leap to substance abuse theorizing when that’s not warranted at all?

        1. Snark*

          Yeah, seconded. We don’t need to know, care, or speculate upon the reasons for Bob’s incompetence and remoteness.

        2. Anon druggie*

          Meh. If you have heard this literally hundreds of times, it makes sense. It may be a bit of armchair diagnosis, but it is definitely one of the first signs (if not the first) in addictions and alcoholism.

          1. RVA Cat*

            Or Bob is playing golf all that time, or he’s sleeping around, or…whatever, but the one and only thing we know is that he’s NOT doing his job.

      2. min*

        While I agree that this is wild speculation, I think the answer is straight out of the substance abuse handbook – Let go and let Bob.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Very true. It sounds like OP has literally tried everything, and I think the only non-crazy-making way forward is to detach emotionally. Bob does not want to change, and he won’t change until he has to deal directly with the consequences of his non-responsiveness/unavailability. Right now that’s falling on his staff; it sounds like it’s the right moment for that burden and frustration to shift back to him.

      1. miyeritari*

        I think the “best” thing that could happen to Bob is that some of his staff leaves. Maybe he’d say to OP “Why did Best Staff leave?” and, when presented with this Everest of evidence, maybe would be more responsive. I’m doubtful, but it’s possible.

        1. Granny K*

          I thought of this as well but a lot of folks leave and don’t give the ‘real’ reason as to why, to avoid burning a bridge, as it were. Personally, I’d leave because I’d be afraid the lack of urgency in the office would reflect badly on me during review time.

          1. miyeritari*

            The staff might not say that upfront, but if LW’s boss asked, I think LW would be safe in saying this issue was probably a contributing factor.

      2. Anonymoose*

        I worked with a Bob before and it nearly drove me to drink myself (a comment from the above thread, ahem). We went back and forth so many times about making decisions that he finally said to me ‘you care too much’. This blew my mind. However, looking back, he was absolutely right. He was never going to change and the only way to keep my sanity in that job was to stop caring so much (eg emotionally detach).

        He is still in that role, BTW. I eventually left for something not as frustrating.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Great comment, Anonymoose. It’s a good idea to look at the level of concern/diligence that cohorts put into a job. This is a classic example of one person who is concerned and another person who has less concern. Much less concern.
          I have worked with this type of person and I know first hand you can stop emailing them and they will NOT notice or become worried that you have stopped.
          All you can do is change you. It’s a good practice for personal life, too, to not try to prevent people from having their “learning experiences”. Probably you have been effective enough to keep your grandboss from stepping in here. Your boss needs to have some learning experiences.
          You know which parts of the job are yours and you can do those parts to the best of your ability. Always do your work well. But don’t cover for anyone who is not doing their job. (We are not talking about people who made a mistake and just need to be told how to fix it. This is not covering for people because the person freely admits they made a mistake and they are willing to clean it up. Your boss is the opposite of this.)

    2. AndersonDarling*

      Yeah, sometimes when managers climb to the top, they forget that they still have a team to manage. They are thinking about their own big projects and expect their direct reports to take care of themselves.

      1. Jessica*

        I had a director like this. She had very little interaction with her direct reports and spent the bulk of her time with her superiors, even though we focus on customer-facing projects with a ton of visibility (and therefore require a decent amount of directing). Basically the kind of person who focused a lot on “being seen to do work” and on massaging numbers to look good, rather than on actually achieving goals and having good employee engagement. For example, she once reprimanded an employee with 15 years of tenure, whose daughter had the flu and whose wife was traveling for business, so he worked from home for 3 days. Note: he had an excellent reputation and kept up with his workload with no issues, and wasn’t behind at all–but she thought it “looked bad” that he wasn’t in the office during that time.

        But we’re not really the kind of company to care more about butts in seats than about doing good work and empowering employees to manage their lives. She was let go during our last re-org. Guess all that brown-nosing didn’t pay off.

    3. Hc600*

      Reminds me a lot of the recent post about the skimmer boss. Super frustrating when the problem boils down to “you need to do your job right and actually read and respond to emails” but the people most effected can’t say that.

    4. Fiennes*

      It’s a shame, though, since unlike the large majority of bosses who fall into that category, it sounds like Bob has the potential to be a good boss. If he didn’t have business travel, his disorganization on this point would probably be no worse than an annoyance. But if he can’t understand the bottleneck he’s created, all his better qualities don’t count for much.

      1. NoHose*

        I had a boss that would leave requests and questions hanging for weeks despite reminders and weekly touch points and “Why don’t you call instead of emailing” (and that didn’t help either) and he rarely traveled. It’s not the travelling: it’s the boss.

        For my ex-boss, I thought at first he acted nice: the reality was he was condescending, hoarded his work, relied too much on the same three people to help him and never thought outside his box. For real, when I was laid off my first thought was “OMG, I don’t ever have to work with him again. YAY!”

        1. Fiennes*

          In this case, though, the OP indicates that the boss is very helpful when present. But he’s generally *not* present, and unable to see/accept the problems he’s creating.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Whether or not he has potential, he’s choosing not to exercise it… which makes him a bad boss.

        I’ve worked for a Bob like this. It wasn’t a matter of time management or organization issues. “Bob” just figured he was getting a paycheck no matter how much his slacking off affected others, and didn’t care to change his behavior despite the long-term consequences.

        1. Fiennes*

          I’ve had a boss like this too. However, OP suggests that’s not the specific problem with Bob. To me this sounds like someone who hasn’t grasped that his higher status makes him more answerable than before, not less.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Respectfully disagree. Bob is fine with the occasional Bungee Boss appearance to share his insight and show everybody how brilliant he is right before he peaces out. When the OP points out his behavior is crappy, he tries to make her part of his “team” to get everyone to…. cool their jets about his non-managing.

    5. feels like friday*

      +1 That was my read, too. I had a boss like this once. Hilariously, his name actually was Bob.

  2. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    This sounds like a great majority of people in my department. I support 15 project managers. We just hired a new support staff member (different responsibilities, but similar role). She was beating her head against the wall trying to get responses from some of them. I told her that I care when they care. If they don’t, I don’t. My work is still the same quality because that I can control, but my level of engagement varies. It may not be the best attitude, but it has severely reduced my stress levels.

    1. Here we go again*

      This may be a silly question, but do you have any advice on how not to care? It seems like you have trained yourself to feel this way and it didn’t come naturally. I seriously cannot get myself to disengage emotionally sometimes (ahem, most of the time) and it drives me nuts…

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

        It is very much a learned skill. One I still sometimes struggle with because I’m not a robot. When I feel myself getting worked up, I just ask myself “Was this my responsibility?” and “Did I do what I could?” if I’m satisfied with the answers then I move on. (Obviously, if I’m the one who bungled it up that’s a whole different scenario…)

        1. Sssnake*

          I tend to get stressed out over stuff at work easily and I’ve tried asking myself these questions, but the answers always have a “but”. “Was this my responsibility?” “No, but I am a team player and everyone here has to do many different things at some point in their week…” “Did I do what I could?” “Yes, but if I had made myself sick or stayed til 11 p.m., I could have done more…” How do you get over that? In dealing with projects that require multiple people, it always just goes back to feeling like a group project in school. I’d get so angry when the other kids weren’t pulling their weight and bringing my grade down, because in the end, we all share responsibility for a project and even if I did what I could and others didn’t, it still makes me look bad.

          1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

            You have to make yourself learn there is no “but”. When you find yourself starting to make excuses for other people, stop yourself. It isn’t easy to do. But you can learn how. You just have to make yourself.

            And team player doesn’t mean doing everyone else’s work for them. It means you do your part and you do it well. Help out when you are able. It does not mean sacrificing yourself for the sake of the team. That’s how burnout happens.

            I don’t know what type of projects you work on, but when it happens to me I back it up with a paper trail. Accuse me of not getting a teapot ordered? Here’s the email trail(s) where I asked you for the correct information. I cannot force you to get it to me. Boss wants to know why I didn’t do X,Y, or Z? Bam. Here’s my notes and emails showing that I tried (and, in some cases, notified said boss who still did nothing).

            1. miss_chevious*

              This is my strategy as well. It does take practice, especially if you’re an overachiever, but the only prize for doing everyone else’s job for them is more work, and if you’re like me, you already have more than enough.

            2. Amber T*

              Bless you, Wannabe Disney Princess.

              I’ve struggled with the idea of “if something goes wrong, it’s obviously my fault because I could have done X, Y, and Z” (where X, Y, and Z are either things outside my realm of responsibility or over kill help, like sending 10+ reminders). I’m getting better at communicating back as to why something wasn’t complete – I used to be terrified of doing that because I’d feel like I’d be throwing someone under the bus. But it’s not my (or your) responsibility to make sure everyone does everything all of the time.

              I just did this the other day – something didn’t go through, coworker asked me why I didn’t follow up. I went back to my email trail, showed her where I asked for her assistance and her first round of emails trying to get it to work, and her reply to me saying she’s got it covered. I just got an “oh.”

          2. Kira*

            I somewhat agree with Princess – you need to have a (very specific) mental picture of what the minimum for good performance looks like and do that. It might be things like prompt turnaround, accuracy, covered this checklist for each project, etc. In my role, one example looks like this:

            – I never let a week go by without trying to make contact on my active projects.
            – After 1 week of no contact, I escalate by calling my contact person.
            – Week 2, I reach out multiple times (typically 2 voicemails) and have a senior person reach out, and so on…

            Now, I can go above and beyond and look up my contact person’s boss, or fly to their front door, or send them snail mail. But none of that is part of the picture of what is expected of me – which is key. Is your boss holding you to a “stay up until 11pm” standard, or is she happy with your performance and you’re stressing yourself?

            I’ve worked places where I could never defend myself to my boss because she’d always “Yes, but as a team player you should have taken responsibility for …”. I did kind of stop caring after a while, cuz I could never do anything 100% right and that stuff was honestly way outside my job description – but I always made sure to achieve my internal standards for what my role required.

            1. Kira*

              By “somewhat” I mean largely argree.

              My caveat would be that in my role the “ball’s in your court, it’s only urgent to me if it’s urgent to you” approach isn’t the right one to take. In a behavioral science-y way we’re working trying to improve our own ability to get clients to follow up – what language works best, how much/what kind of contact and nudging and handholding is needed, etc.

      2. anon24*

        I like to think big picture. Maybe I’ve gotten too disengaged but I used to stress out about work stuff in general all the time. Now I have an attitude where I remind myself that I’m still going home at the end of the day, this is my job not my life, and there are other jobs in the world (and hey, at the end of the day, it’s not my problem it’s the business’s problem and it’s not the end of MY world). I also told myself during one really bad job “someday this will be nothing but a bad memory and it won’t matter”. And I got out of that job and it’s true. I think of that company from time to time and I shudder and am thankful I got out and then I get back to my life.

        I just don’t stress out about work stuff. I have enough in my personal life to spend time and energy stressing about my job.

      3. SM*

        One thing that helps me sometimes is to picture myself throwing my hands in the air dramatically and saying, “oh, whatever!”

        1. Koko*

          An old friend of mine in college used to pantomime waving his fists in the air like an ape, furrow his brow, and cry out, “Angry monkey!!” whenever he felt himself getting irrationally/disproportionately angry about something like a traffic jam. It always cracked us up and helped break the tension when people were feeling annoyed.

          1. Amber T*

            Maybe I should do this in the car. I’m a level headed person who doesn’t get angry easily… except when I’m driving and there are idiots on the road (and there are always idiots on the road).

      4. Future Homesteader*

        That’s a great question, not silly! And WDP has a great answer. It’s definitely a skill I’ve been working on learning (it’s going, albeit slowly). My favorite day-to-day way of handling the stress is repeating “not my monkeys, not my circus” when people are not handling things in the best way. While breathing slowly, and walking away from my desk if necessary.

        1. Not My Circus*

          I use that tag line too. It’s on my phone’s wallpaper.

          I also think it gets easier with age. When I was younger I would be so worked up on getting everything done. Now I just make sure I’ve done everything I can and it’s documented. Experience teaches that it rarely will be the end of the world. But I will throw you (theoretical you, not you you) under the bus if you try to move the blame for your incompetence on me. I will hand you back that monkey so it can figuratively smack you upside the head with all my documentation.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yep, time can be very kind on this one. OP, make sure your work is done and make little notes to yourself if need be so you remember specific details. (Sometimes I write down the date I sent something out. This is redundant because I have copy of The Thing, also. I cannot tell you how many times this has saved my butt. “Are you sure you sent it?” Yes, I am. I put the sent date right here because I knew there would be concern.

      5. Damn it, Hardison!*

        I do 2 things – 1) give it 24 hours. For some things I can get worked up but then put it in perspective with a little time to breathe and think it through. If I’m still worked up about it 24 hours later, then it’s probably something I need to address. 2) Ask what’s the worst outcome, how it will affect me, and what the likelihood of that happening actually is. Left to my own devices I skew negative but that’s my emotional response. My rational response is usually more, well, rational. Usually that’s enough to put it in to perspective and help me to let it go.

      6. Rat in the Sugar*

        What helps me is knowing that I’ve done everything that could reasonably be expected of me–done my due diligence, as we say in Accounting. By that I mean not just “I’ve followed the letter of the law/policy” but also “I’ve explored all the reasonable solutions I can think of, I’ve confirmed with others that my interpretation is correct, I’ve notified the people of concern, etc.”. That way I feel confident that I can look my boss in the eye and say “I’ve done everything I can. I cannot solve this problem.” and know that I should already have an answer for any question or suggestion she has and can tell her why it won’t work. When I don’t feel worried about how I’m going to explain myself, it’s a lot easier to let things go and stop thinking about them so much.

      7. TootsNYC*

        some of it is respecting that person, and acknowledging their right to be who they are.

        And thinking of yourself as less important, in a way.

      8. Koko*

        It’s just one of those practice makes perfect things. If you’re curious, you could do some googling around “cognitive-behavioral therapy” which is essentially training yourself to think in new ways. You can see a CBT therapist but the basic principles are also pretty easy to learn without seeing anyone, especially with a minor issue that isn’t severely affecting quality of life.

        The basic principles of CBT are to notice when you find yourself becoming upset or having an unpleasant reaction to something, and then mentally talk yourself down with rational statements, and also possibly employ things like posture adjustments and breathing techniques if you’re anxious or upset to the point of physical malaise. It can be as simple as realizing you’re becoming annoyed, and saying to yourself, “Not my circus, not my monkey,” or, “Well, I’ve voiced my opinion, but now my only option is to execute this massively stupid idea. I can either execute it angrily, or I can accept that I can’t change it and try to make the best of a bad situation by not letting it spoil my mood. This is just One of Those Unavoidable Things that we all have to do as adults even though we don’t want to. In a few hours I can go home and drink a glass of wine and pet my dog and everything will be fine again.” Or whatever works for you.

        The more practiced you become, the easier you will find it to retrain your emotional/thought processes. You’ll get more and more adept at noticing the “early warning signs” before you’re in a full-blown awful mood, and more and more adept at soothing yourself back into a state of calm and letting it roll off your back.

        1. Koko*

          Also, a big aspect of CBT is just coming to understand that you do have a degree of control over your emotions. I used to have a sort of learned helplessness when it came to my anxiety attacks, I viewed them as a thing that happened to me and there wasn’t anything I could do about it except ride it out. I always wished I could stop them and yet my body would just take my mind hostage despite it. Just learning that there were things I could do helped me to believe in my ability to stop or slow down or lessen the intensity of a panic attack, and once I believed I could do it and understood what I needed to do, it gave me this sense of confidence that helped me be able to do it.

      9. Dr. Scudworth*

        Just wanted to chime because I have a similar tendency to step in, if only because I get super uncomfortable seeing things become a mess. To break this habit, I try to do small things where I witness someone struggling and purposely don’t step in. It sounds horrible but people like me generally have a very low bar for what’s looks like “struggling.” Like, if someone drops their change at the Starbucks, I won’t get up from my table to help them pick it up. They’ll have to pick it up themselves. If someone is nervous during a presentation, I will smile politely but I won’t start going over the top to make sure they feel like it went well. They may have to shake that one off or seek out Toastmasters.

        At first, it can feel almost excruciating to watch a disaster occurring and not step in. Like I’ll be prosecuting for failing to brighten someone’s day or smooth over a rough situation. But over time doing this, you realize that people are generally resilient and can deal with some discomfort.

        It can be more difficult when you are working on a project with someone and your fate is kinda tied to theirs. But once you get more comfortable around discomfort, you can push the stress back towards the people causing it and gently say, “This part is your problem. Please deal with it.”

      10. Sarah*

        Personally, I find it’s useful to stop, take a deep breath, and ask myself if my stress over a situation is actually helping things. Sometimes, the answer could be yes — the book the Upside of Stress is very helpful for sorting out productive vs. destructive stress. But often — and especially when the problem lies completely out of my control, like with someone else failing to do their job — my stress is not benefiting me, or the other person, or the project. It’s just making me feel crappy. Acknowledging that makes it a lot easier to let it go.

    2. Turquoise Cow*

      That’s a good mentality. Boss is undoubtedly going to suffer some sort of consequences if his team doesn’t get a project done in a certain amount of time. He’s paid more than the people under him. If the project isn’t important to him, and he’s actually telling his employees to calm down and reduced their frenzy or whatever, then what can you do but care less than he does? Boss says it’s not an important task? Ok. It’s not an important task.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Oh, how I want to needlepoint this on a sampler. I learned a long time ago not to care so much and it saved my sanity AND made my work product so much better. I try to share this philosophy (“He’ll respond when he can, but in the meantime, don’t sweat it, this is not something you can control”) and, perhaps unfortunately, I get really frustrated when I get emotionally charged pushback. This isn’t just in work, it’s with volunteering and even when my friends tell me their dating stories. Now, I’m not perfect and I’m certainly not completely removed or totally “go with the flow”, but at work, stepping back creates so much more creative and productive space.

        1. DDJ*

          I keep saying (in my head) that I’m going to print this out and frame it and hang it in my office but I DO share a floor with the HR group so that might not be the best idea…

    4. Jaguar*

      I’ve had to adopt this mentality as well because, with the exception of my direct manager (who reports to or is on the same level as the five or so people who assign me work), they’re all scattershot and bad at following through (for instance, I have as a central part of my quarterly performance review a given responsibility – six weeks ago, at our owner’s request, I put together a draft of it and sent it to him, heard nothing, followed up three weeks later and was assured he was going to look at it, and then yesterday received an e-mail saying that I should work with someone else to come up with the thing I had already sent him six weeks ago with no reply). If the people above you don’t care, why should you?

      But, there’s obvious poison in the thinking, since it’s so cynical. You need to keep in mind that it’s your coping mechanism for this place and avoid internalizing the crappy work habits. Like, I’m someone who tracks every task I’ve been given (I have a huge backlog of things that are probably totally unimportant by this point) – I continue to do it, even though it’s unimportant, because I don’t want to lose my work ethic just because it’s unvalued here. My output is here is inconsistent just because people assign work and then do nothing with it (i.e., the above mentioned task I completed, they did nothing with, and I’ve just been assigned to do again). It’s often the case that people take the idea of “why do I have to do this extra thing (like managing up) just because my manager sucks?”, but I think it’s better to look at it as “You have to do this extra thing so that you don’t adopt the crappy work ethic of the place you’re at when you disengage from the work you’re doing.”

      1. Lars the Real Girl*

        “But, there’s obvious poison in the thinking, since it’s so cynical.”

        That’s what makes it so hard sometimes! I think people also get black and white about this. Like: I’m all in! or I’m so done! And it’s hard to balance “I’m working my butt off” with “my boss doesn’t give a crap” and still be productive, sane, and positive.

      2. Jaguar*

        This wasn’t the best-edited post I’ve ever made – I came back to it a few times – but hopefully the idea I’m trying to communicate comes through, which is generally: If you have to do more work because of your boss’s crappy work ethic, look at that extra work as insurance against losing your own work ethic. I’ve found doing that also helps disengage – the extra work you have to do to keep things in order also give you the closure on the task, since I’ve done everything I possibly can given the circumstances.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          In a similar idea, I had a boss who routinely threw me curve balls she constantly changed plans or instructions. I learned if I did not give her a reaction things went better in my life. So I did not react. Instead I told myself that she was sharpening me for my next job. I would get to the next place and they would actually appreciate me because I just knew how to dig in and get stuff done against all odds.

      3. JB*

        You can turn it to your advantage. Track the status of everything, even if it’s “Stalled since August 20 waiting on feedback from Boss X.” That way you are proactively managing your workload, you can prove any delayed/incomplete projects are not your fault, and if you do have to return to something after a month off you can easily pick up where you left off.

        1. Jaguar*

          Yeah, there’s a cover your ass component to it as well, but when cynicism sets in (for me at least), I stop caring if I get in trouble. What is the disorganized person going to do, fire the person below them that’s putting out as many of the fires they create as possible? Not likely.

          1. Oranges*

            This is where I am right now. I don’t really care about getting in trouble because work isn’t getting done. I’m just plodding through it as fast as I can (not very since I don’t give a flying monkey) all the while wanting my company to implode. Hello burnout!

            Is there a way back from this besides leaving? Which is what I’m trying to do.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              “Is there a way back from this besides leaving?”

              The situation sounds terrible. Why would you want to stay?

              If you have an answer for that, that’s the answer to your question (good stepping-stone to something better, pays well enough to offset the negatives, potential to move out of the situation but stay at the company (assuming the whole company isn’t a clusterfuck), etc). If you don’t want to stay, don’t force it, just go somewhere better like you want to.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              Well, it depends on your setting, your standing with your boss and stepping outside your safety zone.

              I have said things like, “Boss, I can’t work like this. We need X, Y and Z. Without it we WILL fail. I am not saying MIGHT, I am saying WILL. I have to tell you up front if these things do not happen we– all of us— are going to be in HUGE trouble. I cannot continue on without saying this to you. We have a Very Large Problem here.”

              Typically, I have said things like this when I felt there was nothing to lose. I figured if the situation did not change I was leaving, period. So that made me bold enough to be candid with the boss.

  3. Reinhardt*

    Wow! What a terrible manager, and you’re handling yourself excellently by the sound of it.

    It sounds like, to quote Alison’s response to other letters ‘your boss sucks and isn’t going to change’

  4. Cambridge Comma*

    OP, if it works in your context, have you tried the kind of mails that say ‘I will take x action if I don’t hear from you by tomorrow y pm’?
    Could you phone or Skype him?

    1. Blue Bird*

      In theory I like this approach, but I fear the OP could face repercussions if the decision doesn’t end up being the best one. The boss can argue that it’s not OP’s responsibility to make decisions or give him an ultimatum (and he would be right about that), and the result could be firing the OP.

      1. Karo*

        The boss can argue that it’s not OP’s responsibility to make decisions or give him an ultimatum (and he would be right about that), and the result could be firing the OP.

        That may be true, but I’ve never seen it played out this way. I’m hard pressed to think of a single project I haven’t used that tactic on, and the execs I’m working with do not care. If I didn’t do that, I’d be in the same position as OP, with all my projects going uncompleted – which is WAY worse than giving an ultimatum. (And, FWIW, I think “ultimatum” is a harsh word here. It has such a strong negative connotation that this type of pretty standard business email doesn’t warrant.)

        1. Blue Bird*

          I don’t know what industry the OP is in or what the stakes are… it could very well be that it would be okay if the OP made those decisions (and it could be beneficial for her long-term). But if there are legal matters to consider, for example, I wouldn’t want to take the fall if things don’t go according to plan.

        2. Lars the Real Girl*

          Even if it hasn’t failed, and there may not be repercussions (which I’ve also never seen having deployed this tactic a lot), as his admin, it’s not her job to make them. I don’t mean that in a condescending tone, but more in a “there aren’t enough zeros at the end of my paycheck for me to take on the mental or professional toll of this”.

          I finally said that to my boss (c-suite) the other day (about a different unresponsive exec) and she was like “nope, don’t even go there. If they’re not responding, don’t feel like you have to.”

          So while there are a lot of times and scenarios where I do this, at some point it’s me taking the responsibility of someone who is actually paid to do this.

          1. winter*

            +100 There might be some decisions that can be handled this way. But usually there is a reason you are asking your boss for input and it’s really not your responsibility or paygrade to come up with solutions.

            It is healthy, freeing and *a good way to keep your job* to recognize where that line is.

        3. Kira*

          I think it might be relevant that many of these questions aren’t OP’s, but from other members of the OP. What if it wasn’t OP (the admin) but rather the relevant question-asker who said “Hey, I’m gonna do X. Let me know if you have a different plan.”

          Also, I agree that this isn’t an “ultimatum” – it’s a plan, a course of action. A bad boss might snap back and see it that way, but as long as it’s got that underlying message of “or we can do it differently if you have another idea” it should be fine.

      2. chicken_flavored_deodorant*

        > the result could be firing the OP

        So far, this boss has shown little capacity for follow-through or action. Why would that suddenly change when it comes time to fire OP for silly reasons? Besides, by firing OP he’d only be creating more work for himself in terms of conducting interviews, selecting a candidate, etc.

      3. designbot*

        That’s true, but it may be completely within the scope of the people she’s trying to help. I’d probably talk to Bob one more time and suggest that he empower team members to make decisions if they don’t hear from him within a specific window of time to keep projects moving. It would be totally crazy for my bosses’ assistant to make those sorts of decisions, but if my bosses told me to keep going if I didn’t hear from them that would make complete sense.
        That said, this only makes sense if these are projects with external clients and deadlines. If they’re internal projects and the deadlines are flexible, the boss may be right that everyone can just relax and take their cues from him.

      1. Karo*

        While this wouldn’t work for OP, it may be worth checking with Bob (in person) if this is a viable tactic for the team so that they can do their work.

      2. Cambridge Comma*

        It sounds like the input doesn’t ever show up though, so in a non-life-or-death field her guess might be better than nothing (it would be in my field, because it’s better to move on with an imperfect decision than to be stalled, but I appreciate that it would be different in other fields).

        1. paul*

          There’s stuff that might really not be OK on her authority; signing contracts, authorizing overtime, authorizing expenses, significant changes to a business practice, etc.

          1. Snark*

            Which is why several of us were agreeing downthread that it sounds like this hierarchy needs another level – a dedicated manager below Bob who’s empowered to do those things in his stead. Ordinary daily progress on major projects shouldn’t be dependent on the personal approval of the CTO or whatever he is.

    2. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

      I came here to say the same thing about just calling him. He doesn’t keep scheduled calls but how about just calling him unscheduled. You might want to ask him if that is acceptable though. I am not saying to “blow up” his phone, but when you know he is available, maybe one call every hour or two or one call every “break” he has until you reach him. If that doesn’t work, then I would say go back to Alison’s and Wannabe Disney Princess advice and just learn “not to get worked up” about it. In fact, didn’t he basically tell you that?

      “The team might need some help from you and I in relaxing their frenzy on this project”

      Good Luck!

    3. neverjaunty*

      Which means that the OP will end up doing Bob’s job, without getting Bob’s pay, and Bob will take the credit for her efforts.

      Let him fail.

    4. PersephoneUnderground*

      I like the phone calls approach- since you have his schedule you know when he’s free, and he seems to not be responsive to emails. Maybe he’s the type where he figures anything really important (or time-sensitive) would warrant a phone call, so he sees everything in email as something that can wait. He may not mind a daily check-in call or two at all if you start making them. You could even walk through the email you typed up with priorities and questions you need a response to on the phone with him.

      I think we are trained to see phone calls as intrusive when we’re so used to email, but since you said he’s a verbal person he may not mind a phone call. Maybe you could even try operating as if it’s the 80s and there is no internet, and use whatever methods of communication would have worked back then since email just doesn’t seem effective for him. (Within reason, but I mean it! Pretend emailing him is equivalent to mailing a letter, since it seems to have about the same delay…)

      I’m like this in my social life- call me if you want something, email is something I check a couple times a week. So basically, try adapting to his mode of communication (and hope that phone works, and he isn’t restricted to “in person only” for being really engaged).

  5. Rowan*

    In this kind of situation, is there any utility in the whole team taking their concerns above Bob, to the CEO?

    1. Jubilance*

      That was my first thought as well. Is Bob’s boss, the CEO, aware of how Bob’s inaction is affecting the work of the rest of the team? It could be that he’s unaware, or it could be that the CEO is cool with Bob’s working style, or willing to overlook this cause Bob’s work is so stellar in other ways. But either way, they won’t know until they escalate.

      1. Church Lady*

        This was my first thought, if Bob is so laid back and laissez faire, haven’t his fellow C-level execs and the CEO noticed?

        1. Jeanne*

          I thought this. Then I thought how many managers had to ignore his faults and promote him to get to this position. Obviously they don’t care.

    2. Friday*

      I would do this ONLY if the delays were creating a negative viewpoint of me, like the CEO starts making comments that I personally am dropping balls or taking too long on projects. Then it’s a matter of clarifying what’s really going on. But if the CEO doesn’t care either then don’t stick your neck out to her.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I have worked with a couple of HR departments where we could have all gone to the HR head and said, “Here’s a problem we’re having, and it’s affecting our productivity, and to be honest our job satisfaction. We don’t know how to bring it up to him. Is there anything you can do to help?”

      And the HR people might bring that concern directly to Bob, or to the CEO.

      But that takes a really good HR person/department.

  6. Helpful*

    I wonder if you could get more authority on some of this stuff. Then you could make decisions yourself. If select a handful of areas I wanted to take the lead on, and present them to him as taking them off his plate.

    Also, could he just be a face-to-face communicator? Some people are just awful at email. Perhaps you could do a 10-min stand-up with him and get his verbal yes/no/etc. on the major needs, which you could then execute.

    1. Mona Lisa*

      But since he’s travelling, there’s no way to have face-to-face communication unless the OP uses Skype, and “he is notoriously bad at keeping appointments with his staff.” He doesn’t care about prioritizing his staff and their needs, which is going to eventually result in some of the better staff leaving for someone who does.

    2. Jaybeetee*

      It sounds like a big part of this issue is that he’s often out of office for long stretches on business travel, when she can’t get the face time with him, and he’s ignoring his emails/forgetting phone appointments while on these trips. It sounds like a case where he’s sidetracked with his own work and forgetting he still needs to manage his team. He seems to imply that these projects are not as urgent as his staff thinks they are, and that the answers can indeed wait, but if that’s the case, he needs to make that clear so people aren’t stressed out waiting on his responses.

      1. Snark*

        You’re a charitable soul, because I don’t think he’s sidetracked, I think he’s an incompetent who failed upward to the c-suite. I’d be ASTONISHED if he was actually doing much real work. Flabbergasted.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          I was trying to have a little more benefit of the doubt. Maybe he IS really good at something technical (like an engineer or scientist) but really, really BAD at managing a team and all the managerial duties that go along with it. Generally, you might have your Admin do these things, but if OP is saying a lot of that is “over her head” I am thinking very technical stuff perhaps?

        2. AvonLady Barksdale*

          I don’t share your astonishment. He might be incompetent, but to me it sounds more like he’s a client-facing guy with a ton of presentations and, likely, sales calls. Maybe it’s bias from working in fields like this, but I’m picturing someone who’s out on the road presenting results of projects yet also having to manage projects in progress. It sounds like he might be great at the on-the-road part of his job but terrible at the behind-the-scenes stuff. That said, it’s not great, and I agree with others that there needs to be a middle person to field these issues and make decisions while Bob’s gone; however, if he’s the person dealing directly with clients, then yes, he might have to be involved sometimes.

          I’ve been in Bob’s position and I’ve been in the OP’s position. When it was the former, I had to be out of town on one project while putting out fires on another, and while I felt comfortable juggling (all I had to do was give my team some guidance), my superiors got all upset about it and I got reprimanded for trying to handle to two projects at once. When it was the latter, I really needed the CEO’s attention on something urgent and he first ignored me and then gave me a snarky response. Grrrreat for morale, that was. I don’t think Bob is quite that bad, but he does need to have a sit-down and figure out how to solve this problem.

  7. BlueWolf*

    I agree with Alison in that you can only control your own actions/responsibilities. Obviously that involves assisting him, but I think you have met your obligations in that regard. At this point, he has to face the consequences of his lack of responsiveness (whatever those may be).

  8. Junior Dev*

    “This is not a situation where morally you must find a way to solve it no matter what, like “Bob is keeping people locked in their offices and not feeding them, and they are malnourished and slowly starving.” ”

    …this is actually a great inspiration to me to not try and take on all my workplace’s dysfunction. Thanks.

    The way I’ve been putting it to myself is that ultimately the company suffers from being so inefficient and I shouldn’t bend over backwards trying to make them more money. But this also helps.

    1. NaoNao*

      Yes, very rarely is there a truly moral component to work. Medical, or theraputic work, yes. But writing code for apps, selling clothes, supporting an entertainment org, working with the public on everyday stuff like transportation or libraries—it’s all important, fun, and meaningful stuff. But it’s not a MORAL issue. That has helped me a lot of times pull back on the BUT THEY’RE SO SO WRONG AND WASTING TIME AND MONEY AND AUGH. Let ’em.

  9. Snarkus Aurelius*

    If Bob’s behavior doesn’t affect the company’s overall bottom line or his individual employee performance, and it sounds like it doesn’t, then all the more reason for him not to change.

    I’d also wager the CEO doesn’t care about Bob’s behavior either for the same reason. To these C level exces, employees come and go all the time so for a bunch of them to get frustrated and quit one by one? That’s normal in 2017, and they wouldn’t think twice about the reasons or morale.

    I get it because I’ve been there. I know how frustrating it is. I once didn’t see or hear from my boss for three months, and I can say it doesn’t matter, but it does because my career stalled in the long-term.

    But AAM is right. You’ve exhausted all options, but nothing has changed. It’s up to him now. At this point, the only options left are acting like his mom, and you don’t want to do that.

    By the way, Bob clearly does get it. He just doesn’t care. This is not ignorance; this is indifference.

    1. Mazzy*

      The point about your career stalling is a good one, I hadn’t thought of that. I had a good outcome, as per my below comment, by just taking over the higher level stuff from my boss basically without his permission because he was so unavailable. And yes, I did end up making more money and got high raises, but I can’t say that it didn’t impact my career long term, since no higher ups knew or remembered most of the stuff I did. I just had a flashback of going to corporate at my last company, and people that were doing the lower level work then me had a much higher a job titles and respect and nicer offices, and I remember thinking, if I was doing the same work but in a different location with more visibility, things would be different

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        I love this response because you’re so right.

        I found that when I took over my non-responsive boss’s tasks, no one really cared until something went wrong. Then I was thrown under the bus. No one cared my boss was falling down on the job because my screw up overshadowed that. That was always a risk I had to take. Super annoying.

        Your other point is also great. Sure, I can take on more work. Maybe I’ll get a raise. Maybe I won’t. (I usually didn’t.) The only person it really benefits is me though and not that much. Sure, I can say I did all that stuff in job interviews and on my resume and maybe there will be someone to verify it or some work examples. But my boss can just as easily deny it in a reference check if he wanted to.

        So yeah, when I hear the suggestions about doing more as a way to get more experience, I’m not always so jazzed about it because it’s so risky.

  10. Miss Elaine E.*

    I wonder if either looping in the CEO (boss’ boss) or this boss would help if said this way, paraphrasing what seems to be a frequent script of Alison’s”:

    “Often we need to have decisions made or action take and Bob is not available for extended periods of time. How would you like us to proceed in that case?”
    “If X happens or Client Y calls and Bob is not available, do we have your approval to do Z?”

    That way, the OP is not throwing Bob under the bus but you’re still getting the answers you need and also making them both aware of the situation.

      1. Lilac*

        Perhaps a bus is exactly what Bob needs, though. He’s not a sacrificial lamb here – his own actions are directly causing the issue, and he should probably feel the impact.

        1. Blue Bird*

          I agree that Bob needs a wakeup call! However, if he’s in a particularly vindictive mood he might take it out on the OP.

        2. Snark*

          Yeah, some time under the bus might do Bob good. I’ve worked with a lot of C-suiters whose charm and charisma is inversely proportional to their competence and ability in the position, and it’s never a bad thing for everyone to get a reality check on their fitness in role.

      2. blackcat*

        It seems more like pointing out to the CEO that the bus the boss is supposed to be driving is currently driverless.

    1. Girl in the Windy City*

      Why not try this tactic with Bob first before going above his head? It sounds like the OP is taking most of the responsibility here and may be the only person who has raised the issue with Bob. (Though maybe not. It’s unclear based on the information we have.) If he has other direct reports, they can just as easily go to him and use that script. And, I’d argue they should do that before even considering going to the CEO.

      We’re looking at this primarily from the perspective of the OP, but IMO if his direct reports have a problem, they’re just as (or more) responsible for speaking up – either as a group or individually – rather than sulking and becoming bitter.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I don’t think this is going to get you the result you think it will.

      It’s not the CEO’s job to figure out what to do when Bob isn’t around, and chances are good this CEO would have no idea what to tell you. CEOs generally don’t care about this stuff because they have so much else going on. They don’t have the time to care, especially when the company’s bottom line is being met. (See my comment above.)

      Besides for all you know, all those times you think Bob is available to do this stuff, he could be off with the CEO on some very important project or meeting. Just because you guys don’t know what he’s up to, doesn’t mean the CEO doesn’t. If that’s the case, then going over Bob’s head would make it worse. (I honestly don’t know if that’s the case here though but a realistic possibility.)

      If this were a mid-level manager, I’d say go for it. But since it’s a CEO, nope.

  11. Fishcakes*

    He just doesn’t want to manage and you can’t force him to do it. It’s a frustrating situation and unfortunately common.

  12. nnn*

    I’m not sure whether OP has already tried this, but two possible scripts occur to me, perhaps best used after the next time his unresponsiveness stalls a project:

    1. “What is the best way to reach you for urgent/important decisions so the request doesn’t get lost in your inbox/to-do-list?”
    2. “Is there someone else we should be going to for these decisions when you aren’t able to respond promptly?”

    He may well not actually have answers (or useful answers) for these questions. But a) this gets him thinking about the situation from his staff’s point of view, and b) once you’ve asked these questions and adhered to the answers, you’ve tried literally everything.

  13. Mazzy*

    OK I’ve dealt with this at two companies and I’m not saying that my solution is the right way it works everywhere, it depends on your industry etc., for example I wouldn’t make legal decisions in place of a lawyer, but I definitely started making higher level business and operations and sales decisions when those managers were very unavailable in this way. The few times there were concerns about why I had done things above my level I had the paper trail of emails and documentation on how I based my decision on how similar things were done in the past. And not once did I ever hear ” you shouldn’t have done that ” after the conversation was done. Actually I just started making more money because my bosses realized they weren’t going to change and so the higher level stuff was basically in my job at this point even if it wasn’t meant to be

        1. neverjaunty*

          So your company was getting a bargain – instead of having to promote and compensate you at the level of the work you were actually doing, they got a discount.

          That’s not in any way a dis on your work ethic or your skills. Just that stepping up doesn’t do much good unless your company actually recognizes and appropriately rewards it.

  14. The Data Don't Lie*

    Honestly, most of my bosses have been like this. I’m starting to wonder if the way you get ahead in the corporate world is by ignoring people’s emails so it makes them think you are more important than they are or something. It’s SO frustrating. I can almost guarantee my boss won’t read any emails I write him, so I’ve resorted to printing anything that’s actually important for him to see and handing it to him in person.

    WHY are people promoted to managers who have the least ability/desire to actually manage people?

    1. Five after Midnight*

      WHY are people promoted to managers who have the least ability/desire to actually manage people?

      Because: Those who can, do; those who can’t do, teach; those who can’t teach, manage… :-)

      1. Snark*

        I’m struggling to respond to this mean, shitty “joke” in a way that isn’t as gratuitously insulting as you’re being to teachers and managers – hell, doers too – but…..this is about as civil as I can be. Seriously, if you think this is a valid sentiment, go…..reevaluate your life choices.

        1. NaoNao*

          I think, while I get why people are upset, it doesn’t mean “all teachers are incapable of doing.” It means that the Peter Principle, which says that people get promoted to the level of their incompetence, or that people who struggle with “doing” are promoted up and out of the trouble zone, is a real thing.

            1. Mazzy*

              I always thought this saying referred to college professors who are good enough at something to teach it, but aren’t stellar enough to make millions doing it – not actual teachers.

          1. Snark*

            But….that is what it means. Literally, that’s what it means. That’s how it’s meant and how it’s taken.

      2. miyeritari*

        I hope you only said this in attempt to be funny on the internet, and don’t have this much disrespect for teachers in real life.

        1. Student*

          I don’t know where or when you last went to school; I understand there’s a big class/socioeconomic part to this.

          I had a couple of really great teachers who made a difference in my life, or did a great job explaining their material.

          I had a ton of mediocre teachers who could’ve (and sometimes were) easily been replaced by a couple good videos or text book. They were glorified babysitters, with no special understanding of their own subjects, even after years of teaching.

          I had a few teachers, about as many as the great teachers, that were horrible, destructive, corrosive people, or so deeply incompetent as to be harmful to their student’s education and development.

          Teachers don’t deserve unfailing praise. They’re normal people, and a lot of them are average at their job. Once upon a time, not long ago, teachers were usually the smartest women in the community, because that was one of very few jobs available to them socially. Now, teachers are the people who get an education degree in college – people who can’t get a better career in their field, people who think other majors are too hard. My friends who went to college to get teaching degrees were not coy about this – they wanted an easy degree with a guaranteed job with low expectations of them and lots of security. They don’t know a lot about their subjects; they know how to “manage a classroom” (babysit a large group).

          If you’re talking about college teachers, it’s a different ball game, but it’s still not generally falling on people who have mastered their subject and love to teach, either. It falls on professors who aren’t politically powerful enough to opt out of it, to their graduate students and post-docs who are basically conscripts who don’t usually want to teach or necessarily have deep knowledge of the material themselves.

          1. Gingerblue*

            I’m a college professor, and your idea of how college teaching works bears no resemblance to the reality at any of the colleges or universities where I’ve taught.

          2. Artemesia*

            The secret to a good school isn’t great teachers, it is having no terrible teachers and lots of good average teachers. I learned a lot from dedicated average teachers and my life was transformed by a handful of exceptionally fine teachers. But nothing is more damaging especially in the first few grades than very bad teachers and weeding them out is the biggest challenge in public education.

            Two things have happened that have caused the decline of teacher quality in my lifetime. One is relatively equal career options for women. When I was in college, women were systematically excluded legally and openly from law and medical school and graduate programs. They were not hired for management track positions in businesses, again openly. Many very well qualified women went into teaching where they were welcomed and were often spectacularly fine.

            The other is the end of the draft. I taught high school for a few years back in the 60s with many excellent male teachers who were motivated by a desire to not be drafted and by their strong ethical opposition to war. They were among the best intellects I have every worked with and I have also taught at a prestigious private university with some very smart people.

            It take a pretty dedicated person to pursue teaching today or a lack of other good options. It isn’t even the money, although that is part of it; it is the lack of support for working with difficult kids. It gets really discouraging when a few kids are allowed to disrupt a classroom and a single teacher in that room has no resources to remove or manage that child and 30 other students. I have seen several very motivated young people with lots of camp and other child management experience give up on inner city school teaching as a result of this situation.

          3. Artemesia*

            I have lived in several states. IN each of them high school teachers were required to have degrees in the subject they are licensed in and elementary teachers are also required to have an academic major and also a wide variety of other academic coursework to support their broader academic demands.

            I have taught in a prestigious college where every senior professor in the department taught undergraduate courses and the core undergraduate coursework in the major was taught by professors including clinical professors who were hired only for teaching (PhDs in a non-tenure track) Adjuncts from the community taught some specialized courses.

          4. Hrovitnir*

            Teachers don’t deserve unfailing praise, but they certainly don’t deserve to be sneered at because the teachers you know chose it based on being “easy”. (Which I think does bear similarity to managing in as far as it can be easy to do a mediocre-to-poor job and bloody hard to do a great job. True of most things but particularly marked in those careers IMO.)

            As for college teachers… you know what I’ve been having fun [/s] observing at my university? Our education system becoming more capitalist (NZ) and our school getting rid of anyone who isn’t pumping out research so they can claim they’re great at research. With the end result of good scientists who are not good teachers (because it’s a skill, damnit), and also have little motivation to be good at it given they’re just supposed to fit it around everything else.

            My favourite opening line from a scientist I respect very much but turned out not to have the slightest clue how to break down concepts for intimidated undergrads (it was the first class she’d ever taught)? “I’ve never understood why people find physical chemistry so hard.” Ah ha ha ha… the only time I have failed a test in my degree, and been proud I did better than most.

            Another lecturer (biochem) is one of the kindest, most generous lecturers I’ve had. Willing to spend heaps of time helping you out, joined the class Facebook group to answer questions, clearly really passionate. For those who found biochem unintuitive his attempts to explain tend to make it worse. It’s painful to watch.

            OK, I’ll stop now. TL;DR: don’t be a dick about teachers just because you know some people who fulfill the stereotype. Teaching is a skill in and of itself and there is exactly as much variance in talent and skill in research itself, and it’s gross that we treat one as superior to the other.

            1. Candi*

              That’s not capitalism, even if they’re trying to blame it on the economic system.

              That’s the administration of the college not understanding the social and work environments a college functions in, let alone what it takes to teach and help students learn. Such ignorance is usually willful.

              “Good at research” smells like a smoke screen to me. Either for an agenda or incompetence, I can’t say.

              It reminds me of companies that harvest “idea men” but disregard the people who can turn ideas into reality. That’s not capitalism either, even if it’s trying to take advantage of it; it’s poor/wishful/unrealistic thinking, if they’ve even bothered thinking things through.

          5. AGirlCalledFriday*

            I had to take a minute to think before responding to this. I don’t want to derail too much, but I think this is a really important conversation to have given that so many people so completely misunderstand what a teacher does.

            I have been teaching a number of years and have multiple degrees. One of my fellow teachers is a chemist who returned to school to become a teacher. It’s his first year teaching and the other day he just put his head down on his desk and said, “This job is harder than any other work I’ve ever done, and I get paid so little. I didn’t realize it was going to be this hard!” And he is correct. I’ve worked in health care, done office work, factory work, customer service, service jobs such as cleaning/food prep/serving and teaching is the hardest job I’ve ever had by far. Part of what makes teaching so difficult is that the job spans so many skills and it’s impossible to be amazing at all of it. You have to be an amazing communicator, be a researcher, know your subjects well, be able to organize and maintain your systems and paperwork, you have to be versed in several online platforms, be a decorator, be excellent at time management, be incredible at people management, you have to be able to navigate issues that involve emotionally volatile and immature minds, you have to be a role model and a stable presence, be extremely flexible when everything changes at a moment’s notice, be prepared to teach subjects outside of your purview, work an insane amount of overtime, be completely ON and watched every moment of the day, and be available to plan meetings and festivals and events and drives and field trips and after school clubs or sports. It is a job that leaves you physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. It is a job that requires you to think several steps ahead at all times to prevent insult or injury. It’s a job that requires you to be a presence in your community. Finally, it’s a job where for a short time you hold the trust of your students and you become a nurse, a counselor, a mentor, or even a parent of sorts depending on the needs of the student. Especially as so many families feature 2 working parents who often do not have time or energy to devote to their children.

            When I hear people complain about teachers, I’m willing to say that some may be average or even bad. But I bet that most of those ‘bad teachers’ are excellent at 90% of what they are asked to do but they can’t keep it up every day and every year, and eventually burn out or let some things go. You really have to in this career or you never stop working or relax. I have more education and put in more hours by far than my roommate who makes 5 times the amount I do…because apparently I can’t “do”. So if we aren’t going to appreciate teachers by giving them a reasonable workload and fair pay, at least can we please, please stop vilifying teachers in casual conversation?

      3. Bethany G*

        My husband risks his life teaching in a dangerous district, and has the literal scars on his skin to prove it. He has been shivved twice.

        I respect Alison so I won’t state what I really think of you, but I will say it wouldn’t make the cut for network television.

    2. Enough*

      Because for many it’s all about the money. And for those who would be good there isn’t enough money in the world to get them to take the promotion.

      1. Snark*

        Yeah, a decent number of managers are incompetents who got promoted with no understanding of how to manage and no interest in learning, but there’s plenty of good managers, plenty of competent and capable individual contributors who got promoted and try their best to be good managers, and plenty of us who took that promotion for reasons other than money. C’mon.

    3. JB (not in Houston)*

      Because so many places don’t think of management as requiring a distinct skill set you have to acquire and work at. They think “this person has done well in this job, so let’s put them in charge of others doing the same work” and just assume the managing part will happen naturally. And people who take the promotions often assume the same.

    4. Adlib*

      This is what I want to know too. Seriously, the only time I see managers get let go is due to poor company performance, not poor management. How would their superiors ever know if they were actually doing their job or not? Like most people, they are on their best behavior around their bosses too.

    5. Argh!*

      I tried this recently, with an important document, in an inter-office envelope marked “Confidential.” I got back the envelope with something else in it (for me to sign) so I know the envelope was opened but I got no response at all on this. My conclusion is that my manager has some kind of psychological issue that makes her think that avoiding parts of her job is okay. At least I have done my part. I have given up on her and her avoidant personal style.

  15. Aaron*

    You mention he’s a verabal processor anadromous hates writing. Perhaps there’s something going on that means he can’t? If his travel and schedule permit it perhaps you could update him on pressing issues by phone or Skype and pass on his thoughts?

    1. Wanna-Alp*

      Yes, I wonder if this is to do with verbal processing. It would be worth asking him what his preferred means of communication are and really explore to see if there’s something that would work for him, since email clearly doesn’t.

      Perhaps there is some email-to-podcast technology that facilitates recording-and-reponses so that it makes it easier to get information from the boss?

  16. Lady Phoenix*

    If you already had your serious, no bs meeting with your boss and it STILL hasn’t gotten any work done–then at this point, your only real option is to talk to the CEO.

    If nothing is done, then your BOSSES suck and they are not going to change. Find a new place that is full of disorganized slugs.

  17. Belle*

    Thank you SO much for this answer! I’m going through a similar emotional thing with my workplace right now, and I really appreciate the reminder to do what is in my control and let my boss make his own bad choices

  18. Master Bean Counter*

    OP let the balls drop. Get used to saying, “I’m waiting on Bob for that.” “Try nailing down Bob for that answer.” and “I can’t do anything with that until I hear from Bob.”
    It’s a hard thing to do, and as long as you make it clear that Bob is the issue, not you, you should be good. Eventually the CEO will hire another person who can do the work or the CEO will have to start actually managing Bob.
    In the mean time you can sit on the couch with me while we wait for our bosses to do what they said they would do weeks ago.

    1. Argh!*

      “In the mean time you can sit on the couch with me while we wait for our bosses to do what they said they would do weeks ago.”

      Can I join you? I’ll bring popcorn.

    2. Serin*

      I agree with this, difficult as it is. Until it costs money or clients, from the business’s perspective it’s not a problem. So as long as someone is willing to do Bob’s work for him (and that’s what you’re doing; executives are paid to execute), as far as anyone in a decision-making role is concerned, everything’s fine.

      It’s hard for people with professional pride to let things fail, but failure is the only language that can be heard from the top.

  19. Georgie*

    If I were the OP, I wonder what would happen if she sent ONE email a week, when he was out of town. Prioritize what needs his assistance or answers to and her last sentence would be, let me know what you would like done…..and then that’s it. NO MORE reminders, questions, emails. Maybe if he realizes he has silence coming from his office he might get the hint. AND when the other staffers start asking what they should do, she says, I emailed him but have not heard from him. Do what you can and I’ll let you know if I hear from him. If anyone else contacts her, the same answer. I have emailed him but have not heard anything. If I hear from him I’ll let you know. Who knows. But it appears to me the OP is going WAY above and beyond. To me, above and beyond is in response to encouragement for doing helpful things and being told it’s appreciated. This is not the indication at all! In the meantime, be looking for another job. Good luck.

    1. Theodoric of York*

      I had this same idea. Sometimes, it’s easier to ignore a blizzard of communications than a single message. After that, the ball is in the boss’s court. Actually making these decisions is not the OP’s job.

  20. Katie Fay*

    Only one comment to add to Alison’s response: might Bob be wanting his direct reports to behave more independently (read: is he purposely distancing himself so others will make decisions in his absence)? If this is the case, he should have instructed his staff as much, “When I am traveling and slow to respond, use your judgment and proceed.” I don’t know the work dynamic – are people empowered and not using this empowerment?

    1. Kira*

      Yes, I can imagine the potential that that’s what Bob thinks he’s doing.

      Alison points out that — even if that’s what he means — by not being clear with the staff he’s still not living up to his responsibility as their manager.

      As I think about it, this interpretation isn’t quite in line with his language. “The team might need some help from you and I in relaxing their frenzy on this project” suggests that the team should de-prioritize the project, not that they should make the call and move forward. Which would be really distressing to hear if your personal view of your job is to Get the Project Done Promptly and your boss is saying “Hey, reee-lax. No biggie.”

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        True, but it’s also useful for people here (ie: people who read recreationally) to be reminded that not everyone is a good reader. Lots of people can read competently but with an effort, and they might avoid it when they can. (Lots more people are functionally illiterate but they’ve learned ways to pretend not to be, because holy cow is that ever taboo.)

    1. NaoNao*

      Well, the thing is….even if he is struggling with a disability or learning challenge/reading challenge, he’s also ignoring meetings.
      It also kind of…doesn’t matter?
      If Bob had a disability and was a good manager, he’d find a way to work with/around it.

    2. Forgotmename*

      My sibling is very dyslexic he doesn’t like written correspondence, but that means that he uses the phone / skype OR he asks someone else to type what he dictates. He learnt ways around his reading / writing issue as a child. Unlike my brother, this boss actually has someone who is paid to assist him, so has no excuse for ‘not’ replying to e-mails and even less for dodging scheduled calls.

  21. Government Worker*

    It’s really tough to be an admin to someone like this. A good executive assistant can be kind of an intermediary between the boss and others in the office. Part of the job in some roles like this is to get the staff what they need from the boss, so when the boss isn’t holding up their end of the bargain the assistant can feel like she’s failing at her job, or that it reflects badly on her.

    In OP’s situation, I’d have a hard time disconnecting enough emotionally and would be starting to job search. I might be able to handle it if I were in a staff role, or if the admin role didn’t include the kind of schedule/information/email management that’s described here. But this kind of executive assistant role sounds like one of the cases where the job description is almost a type of managing up, and being in that role for someone like this would really wear me down.

  22. Granny K*

    You could also try texting him 1x per day. I had a boss who would answer emails sometimes a week after they were relevant. But he responded immediately to texts. I would then follow up with an email to make sure I had a record of our conversation.

  23. hbc*

    I think you need to follow up on his answers and make sure you’re both understanding the consequences.

    -“The team might need some help from you and I in relaxing their frenzy on this project.”
    -“Okay, so you’re suggesting that they should just wait until you get back to them, and it’s okay if there’s a project delay. So, for example, teapot spout approval will take up to 4 weeks, as it did on the Tiny Teapot project last month, and Fergus should build that into his project plan. And Jane should just pay the late fee if we miss the deadline to register for the Annual Tea Show.” You may not agree with the answer, but at least you have something for Fergus and Jane.

    -“Maybe I need to be a bit more present so the team doesn’t get so worked up over this stuff”
    -“Okay, but you’ve said that before and your travel schedule hasn’t really changed. Is there anything you or I can do to help the situation if we assume that’s not an option?”

    To be honest, my experience is more with unavailable people who won’t delegate *and* are upset that the projects aren’t completed on time. Bob sounds more like he’s willing to let things go late, and it’s just a matter of you and everyone else accepting that he’s going to add X days to everything that has to touch him, no matter the consequences.

  24. Reinhardt*

    This may not be right in every situation, but how about when something needs his approval the direct reports could email something like “Bob, I need your input on X. Option A seems the way to go to me, so that’s what I plan to do if I don’t hear back from you by (deadline)”

    If it’s the right choice, it can make the person look good and decrease their stress. There’s documentation of a plan, the reasoning, and the needed deadline. If something goes wrong, it serves as a wake up call and that person’s butt is covered.


    1. Not So NewReader*

      ha! “Bob, I need your input on X. I am not familiar enough to make the decision myself. If I do not hear from you by Y (date/time) I will assume you want me to go ask Grandboss instead.”

      Noooo, OP, don’t do this. But it might put a smile in your mind, while you work this one through.

  25. Anon for this*

    For years I have successfully worked for a kindly but inept and forgetful boss — an absent-minded professor type. Fortunately my work is self-directed and needs little input, and the pros of my particular situation far outweigh the cons. I genuinely like my boss and he appreciates my work. But there are still times when it’s hard not to be frustrated or even infuriated about our frequently bumbling office, especially when it impacts others. My most effective coping mechanisms have been doing the best possible job I can do and not worrying about my boss’s foibles.

  26. Anonymoose*

    Maybe you could show Bob how to dictate emails into his phone? If he processes thoughts verbally, then it might help. Or he might just be hopelessly disorganized.

  27. MissDisplaced*

    All I can say is that very, very often top-level executive people get promoted into these roles and they are not really qualified or suited for them. How they got there is a mystery. Maybe they knew the CEO or maybe they’re just a good bullshitter… seriously, I have no idea sometimes how this happens.
    And they have good people like the OP and other staff who KEEP ENABLING THEM because it is their job to do so.

    1. Alienor*

      My boss’s boss is one of those people, and having watched his rise, I can say it was about 60 percent being a good bullshitter, and 40 percent being drinking/partying buddies with the right execs.

  28. Noah*

    If people just below a c-level executive need this much project-specific assistance, it makes me think the company is missing an important layer of management.

    1. Snark*

      Yeah, it sounds like a lot of the stuff Bob isn’t acting on really needs to be delegated to a middle manager. It’s not entirely typical for someone at his level to be so enmeshed in daily decision-making and approval that his lack of daily involvement causes weeks of delay.

    2. Anon to me*

      I agree. And/or the project managers need to be empowered to make more of the decisions about these things.

    3. Ramona Flowers*

      Sorry, I totally missed the fact that you’d already made this point and made it so succinctly. Agree completely!

    4. Joan Callamezzo*

      This is what I keep thinking as I’m reading the responses. Bob needs a direct report who can manage the day-to-day stuff.

    5. PM Jesper Berg*

      Yes. Exactly this. I suspect that the executive isn’t negligently ignoring communications so much as *he doesn’t have time to deal with them.*

    6. K*

      Well put! Thinking about it, my C-level manager is rarely a bottleneck in getting the actual work done. And the one time it did come up was when she was newly hired and didn’t even realize Task X was being passed through her. We figured that out really quickly, and streamlined that task so it takes the minimal amount of time from her.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      It’s either that or Bob needs a reliable system for distributing information so his crew can function while he is away.
      Where I work, my boss and I use a note book for communication. (Pen and paper because there are days where we have no power or no internet.) Once in a while she emails me or leaves a voice mail. (Cable company phone line so phone is not always reliable either.)
      I started using a notebook when I realized that we would not be working together very much. Her hours can vary wildly for reasons. I introduced the notebook idea by saying that I was concerned that she should know what I was working on and I needed a consistent spot to put messages from others. I am fortunate because my boss was thrilled that I wanted to leave her general notes on a regular basis.
      But perhaps, OP, you can present this to your boss as “We have a big problem here. What ideas do you have for solving it?”

  29. Anon to me*

    Allison’s advice is spot on. You’ve tried your best. You’ve tried multiple things to resolve this particular issue. Your boss isn’t going to change.

    At this point, my concern for the OP is that they get dragged down by the bitterness that their colleagues express. Bitterness can be toxic and spread like wildfire. And it will make your life miserable.

  30. Kc*

    Do you call him when he doesn’t call you for meetings? My boss often forgets we have a phone meeting, but I will call her if she doesn’t call me. She always apologizes quickly, then answers my questions. If you haven’t been calling for these meetings now is a good time to start.

  31. Nico m*

    I think there’s a missing piece of the puzzle here:

    What has happened when an Under-Bob has given up waiting for a decision and just done stuff without approval ?

    Does bob actually have any special expertise or could he be replaced by a rubber stamp and a coin?

    1. K*

      I’m curious, too. But without details, I’ll trust OP that that’s not an option for whatever reason (someone above gave a hypothetical where executive sign-off might be needed on legal paperwork).

  32. Elder Dog*

    “The team might need some help from you and I in relaxing their frenzy on this project”
    You are telling Bob a team is getting upset and “bitter” because he’s not getting back to them on something they think is important. Bob is telling you it’s not that important, and moreover, he’s saying it’s your job to tell people to chill.

    You need to stop trying to change Bob and start getting the teams to settle down. Is it the whole team or just a couple of rabble rousers who are actually upset and coming to you and fussing and fuming and threatening to quit? It sounds to me like you are letting other people’s demands for attention get you overexcited.

    Is it possible some projects will fail or not get done on time? Sure. But until Bob tells you this is a problem, it’s not a problem. People lower down the scale don’t get to set priorities for Bob, for the teams, or for you. And it sounds like you need to tell them that. Bob is your boss, not people who are not getting the attention from Bob they want.

    So settle yourself down, and tell people sorry, they’ll have to wait for Bob to get back to them, and gee, you’re sorry they’re upset but you can’t help them and have work to do and please close the door on your way back to your desk.

    Seriously, your boss doesn’t see this as all that big a problem, so it probably isn’t.

    1. K*

      It could be that it’s not a problem for Bob, or for the company overall. But I’d imagine that the staff members’ performance evaluations (and career opportunities) would be hurt by these projects getting stalled all the time, so it’s fair that it’s important to them.

      Still not OP’s problem, but it’s a legit concern for Bob’s direct reports. If he knows it’s not going to hurt their performance reviews, Bob should be clearer with them about that, rather than confiding in his assistant that his staff should simply settle down.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      If people refuse to calm down there is nothing further OP can do to help them calm down.

      I do think that OP has given enough examples to show that Bob is extremely neglectful of his department.

      I do agree, however, that OP needs to stop wearing everyone’s upset for them. It’s their upset, OP, try your best not to get upset with them. You can say, “Yep. I see the problem. You needed an answer from Bob last Tuesday and now it is a week and a half later.” All you have done here is repeat the facts without dramatics, cussing or reciting the last 15 times Bob did this. I am sure you don’t do these things but I wanted to show the contrast here.

      Unfortunately on the other side you have a boss that does not get upset at all, over anything. Again, don’t be upset for him. Remain calm, cool and collected as you tell him, “Remember those fire extinguishers I asked you to order and we never got them? Well now the building is burning down and we still do not have fire extinguishers. And the insurance rep wants to talk to you right now. So I am putting him on the phone, I told him you would know the status of the new fire extinguishers.”

  33. PX*

    OP, lots of good suggestions here, I think caring less might be a good one, taking a good hard look at whether another layer of management is needed is also a good one. But as some people have pointed out, and which I think is also relevant is that if he is very much a verbal processor and not good with emails, do you call him when he is travelling? I know you said you’ve scheduled phone appointments (which he misses), but if whatever he is doing on these business trips is client based or customer based, I can understand why perhaps he doesnt prioritise keeping a staff call as much as (wild guess here) schmoozing a customer for a new order.

    So my one tip if you still want to try and get him to communicate: call him first thing in the morning (in his time zone) every day, or once a week or however frequently you need to and go over things that need his input. Maybe put it in his calendar, or dont if you think he will avoid/forget them, but it seems like it will be up to you and the team members to be proactive on this, meet him in his desired medium (ie not email) and see if that works. You want to do this first thing in the morning because often meetings can run late, plans can change etc, but you always know that at 7am or 8am, people are usually reachable.

    My boss also travels frequently, and while he does keep up with his emails as much as possible, we always know that if something is actually urgent and needs his input – just pick up the phone and call him, so why not give that a shot?

  34. Ramona Flowers*

    I’m curious about why a C-level executive needs input on the day to day of specific projects, and wondering whether he actually needs this input or if the team mistakenly think he should do.

    I mean, my grandboss (head of department) and great-grandboss (head of directorate) have oversight and ultimately carry the buck for our projects, but we don’t need their input on the day to day. They’re more focused on things like strategic planning and wouldn’t have the time to give this level of input. My grandboss is very approachable and a good person to bounce things off, but I’ve only asked for his direction on a project once, and there was a very specific reason to involve him.

    So I do wonder if your team’s workflow and process could do with a bit of a rejig. If you have agreed objectives and processes, you shouldn’t need the boss to weigh in on everything. Though obviously this may depend on the field.

    1. RVA Cat*

      Again, though, this is something way beyond the OP’s control. However, it’s something to consider when interviewing for other executive assistant jobs….

  35. Argh!*

    “As for why Bob is like this, I’d guess a combination of incompetence, severe disorganization, and inability to understand his impact on others and/or lack of understanding of what his role as a manager requires of him (which itself is a form of incompetence).”

    My “Bob” doesn’t keep up her calendar so it’s anyone’s guess if she’s really as busy as she claims. She’s barely available when she’s sitting across from me! She promises to follow up on things then never does, doesn’t remember emails she asks me to send so asks me to send them again (and never reads the 2nd one).

    Yet she wants to micromanage things! Crazy-making. If she would just phone in our evaluations and let us all have merit raises, we’d be happy with her, but she saves her venom and ire for performance evaluation time, dings us for things she never brought up in person at the time, and then insists she’s “fair” to the half that doesn’t get a raise.

    And yeah, I’m looking for another job. Her real job isn’t supervision – it’s keeping grandboss from being made at her (so she can get her merit raise), and he could care less about what us peons do.

    Managing up in a literal sense sometimes works, but often just annoys her because it reminds her of how inadequate she is. We have separately managed our relationships with her and just keep our heads down and guess what we’re supposed to be doing. Her undermanagement is very toxic, especially since she’s a gatekeeper for a lot of what we need to do. Rather than ask her for permission to work across silos with a coworker, we just suppress good ideas and stay in our lane.

    As long as grandboss thinks she’s wonderful, she’s safe and we are just stuck with this situation. I’m not sure a different person would be better, as grandboss is part of the problem. A new person would probably start doing all the same things to get along with him.

    1. RVA Cat*

      She and Bob both sound like great examples of the Peter Principle – someone promoted to their level of incompetence.

    2. AW*

      …she saves her venom and ire for performance evaluation time, dings us for things she never brought up in person at the time, and then insists she’s “fair” to the half that doesn’t get a raise.

      I’m willing to bet that’s what all of the other employees being managed by Bob are worried about: he acts like he doesn’t care now but everything he refused to help with will suddenly be a big deal come performance time.

  36. CMDRBNA*


    I’m really sorry this is happening to you and I’m sorry your boss sucks. I wish I had something more optimistic to say, but the reality is, you’re going to start losing staff unless something changes. I just left an office where both my immediate boss and her boss, our department head, were unavailable managers. Neither one of them really traveled, and I really couldn’t tell you what they did all day, but both were micromanagers who refused to delegate and spent all their time in meetings, so getting any face time with them was nigh impossible, they rarely responded to emails, and were hardly ever in their offices – but they wanted final say-so on even minute details, which meant projects stalled out completely waiting for them to respond.

    Ultimately, everyone quit. Our office had nearly 100% turnover twice in the three years after they were promoted, and I just found out that several other people quit right after me.

    I really think you are doing the best you can, and this sucks.

    1. winter*

      I really don’t understand why companies are doing this. You would think that amount of turnover would make people catch on that something’s wrong.

  37. RB*

    Alison often suggests getting several staff members together when bringing up an issue. Since you have several staffers that are not happy with the situation, and since Bob has a boss (rather than being the CEO or owner of the company), wouldn’t this be a good example of a situation in which several people together could raise the issue with the CEO?

  38. NMFTG*

    *Since I manage his schedule, I know full well how many hours per day he’s truly unavailable (i.e., in meetings or on a plane) and I can promise you he does have plenty of down time, during which he could presumably be working on these answers to emails.*

    I think this idea that he is “available” or has “down time” at any point he’s not on a plane or in a specific meeting, is less helpful than the OP thinks. I’m guessing he actually prepares work for these meetings, does other work while travelling (possibly of a character that requires a lot of concentration), networks and represents the company, rests from gruelling travel etc. I’m sure being away from the office makes it easier to ignore email, especially if that’s not his preferred communication method, but I would try and let the idea go that he is available and has a lot of down time that he’s choosing to use “selfishly” instead of on his office.

    *What’s more, I have access to his emails and can see just how much comes in and goes out (hint: my own inbox/outbox is astronomically busier than his is, yet I keep up with mine just fine).*

    Again, it’s not necessarily responding to email that is a prioritised or important task when Bob’s travelling, or for his position at all. (Which might indicate that office would work better with an under-Bob.)

    There were a couple of practical ideas up-thread that might be helpful for the OP – as long as the office use it sparingly: skype and texts. Since the OP says Bob is very verbal, and thrives in meetings (probably why he is travelling and representing the company!), a skype meeting where he can see, talk to and interact with the office once a week might be something he’d accept. Maybe put in his schedule a few tentative appointments each week, and then text a set time before to accept or decline (“weekly skype meeting in 45 min – ok or postpone?”), something he can answer to with a one-word text, or even just Y or N.

  39. Essie*

    It sounds like this is easily solved by a little bit of DGAF on the part of the LW. If only more problems could be solved in this manner…

  40. Sounds familiar*

    You hit on my theory- his priorities are probably not the staff’s- e.g. their urgency is not his. I struggle with this with my own team… Both a perception that I am not available enough if I try to quell the unending parade of staff with questions, and their differing concept of what is truly timely/urgent.
    I am not sure what the situation here is, but in my own, my staff lacks the judgment to make determinations about urgency etc without my input. I would love to be and to address this things a couple of times and solve the problem, but we’ve found that doesn’t seem to work.

    1. PX*

      I have terrible google-fu, but Alison has definitely answered this question in the past (how to get staff to develop better judgement) and I’m sure Friday Open Thread will also have some useful suggestions if you are around then.

    2. K*

      I’d say one of the ways you can avoid becoming a Bob is to say “Hey, you’re judging the urgency wrongly here. Because of X and Y, it’s actually better for our weekly meeting rather than an urgent phone call.” Per past Alison scripts, you could bring it up in the moment or address it as a bigger picture thing.

      – “Overall, thinks like X and Y don’t need to be resolved immediately. If I don’t reply to your email within a week, you can follow up. Things like A, however, are different because [insert reason] and should be brought to me asap.”
      – “This is really more of an X question, you can wait til our one-on-one to bring it up or send me an email and I’ll respond when I have a chance. Please don’t interrupt the board meeting for this kind of question.”

      What Bob’s doing wrong is that even though he thinks this isn’t a priority he’s not helping his staff to see it that way, too. He’s saying he should help them reset the priority, “calm the frenzy”, but then he’s not actually doing anything to follow up on that.

  41. LadyProg*

    There are ways to try to work things out with your boss and you tried them, if I were you I would indeed accept that “Your boss sucks and isn’t going to change.”
    My boss is way less bad and all attempts to getting him to fix behavior that impacts his team have proven to give little or no gain… it’s tough =/
    I suppose there’s a part of them that is convinced that since they got that far then they’re not the problem maybe? I don’t know, just a thought I sometimes have…

  42. Naruto*

    Your boss sounds to me like I can be sometimes when I’m depressed and hate my job, especially when I find aspects of it particularly stressful for some reason. It can be a lot easier to just not deal with something when you want to avoid it or feel like you don’t have the bandwidth for it.

  43. PM Jesper Berg*

    To OP: what is happening here is that your boss is saying loud and clear that he prefers to not communicate by e-mail. And that’s his call. The e-mail inbox too easily becomes a daily agenda, which is a problem at any level of an organization, but particularly so at top levels.

    Pick up the phone. (I realize that you say you’ve tried a weekly Skype call, but that’s not the same as picking up the phone on an as-needed basis.)

  44. KH*

    I know people like this. Call them on the phone. Yeah, just call them. Call them over and over. They prefer to communicate through talking, so you grab them in person or over the phone. You know his schedule, you know when he should be free for a phone call. Eventually he’ll get tired of the phone ringing and will answer. If that doesn’t work, see if you can speak to other C level execs and describe to them the problem. At some point, someone has to decide whether he is a net strength or liability to the firm.

    1. Matt*

      Yeah, I’m a big phone hater, but people like this ask for it.

      Besides, in my opinion those people are responsible for the “old” phone culture of unscheduled calls still not going away. People still call everyone about everything because they think everyone is like OP’s boss and “you don’t get responses by email”.

  45. Big Biscuit*

    It would be interesting to know more about Bob. He must be doing something right on his long business trips or one would think the CEO would be on to him by now. Is he close friends with the CEO? If these deadlines are urgent, do you ever text him or call him directly? Has a project or assignment ever failed because he did not respond or do his part? What’s Bob’s accountability piece? It sounds like you’ve done your part, just keep your e-mails showing you’ve tried to get him to respond.

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