Get the Support You Need When Your Boss is Overwhelmed
“I feel like I’m on an island. My boss is overwhelmed and has canceled all of our one-on-ones. How do I get the support I need?”
“Honestly, my biggest job right now is to keep my boss from freaking out. Forget about getting the support I need.”
“My boss is overwhelmed with all this contingency planning, so he’s not really focused on what I’m doing. But the truth is, I need direction so I don’t spin my wheels. How do I get the support I need from my frustrating boss?”
If you’ve found yourself uttering these words, you’re not alone. Neither is your boss. We’re all a bit freaked out right now.
Let us start with a bit of a public service announcement. Unless you’re on the front lines battling this crisis as a first responder (which if you are, we’re sure you don’t have time to read this), then …
PLEASE DON’T CANCEL YOUR ONE-ON-ONES.
Your team needs your support and guidance more than ever.
Be the leader you want your boss to be.
5 Ways to Get the Support You Need When Your Boss is Overwhelmed
But what if you’re the one needing support – what can you do?
1. Give a little grace.
Start by giving your boss the benefit of the doubt. She may be facing serious issues she hasn’t shared. Assume she has good intentions that she’s struggling to execute. See what you can do to show up and offer as much support as you can.
We were talking with a Director in a hospital who confided how stressed she was trying to balance her role leading their full-court press on operational readiness while trying to support her very stressed team. She said, “I almost choked up when we were ending our staff meeting and one of my team members said, ‘I just want to take a moment to recognize you for all you’re doing right now. We know it’s hard. And we’re really proud of you.'”
Leadership can be lonely—recognize that you’re all in this together.
2. Get clear on what you need.
Second, get very clear on what exactly what support you need. Because a generic, “I need more support from you,” is hard to respond to. But if you’re very specific and streamlined in your asks, you’re more likely to get exactly what you need.
3. Ask and schedule.
Once you understand what you need, ask for it. “I need feedback on this approach.” Or, “I want to run this customer communication by you.” Or, “I need you to understand why this new working-at-home situation is such a challenge for me.” “May I schedule twenty minutes on your calendar to talk this through?” Check their calendar and send an invite. Make it easy for them to just show up.
4. Come prepared.
Make a list of your topics and come prepared with an agenda, including any specific areas where you need input. Sure, they may also come with an agenda—you may be pleasantly surprised that once you’ve got the time scheduled they’re ready to go. But just in case, be prepared to guide the meeting to ensure you get the support you need.
5. Find the others.
One of the challenges with leading remotely, is that it’s really easy for the manager to become the hub of all communication — which bogs things down and takes a toll on the manager. Yes, you deserve support from your manager, and you should ask for what you need. And it’s also useful to consider who else might be helpful. Can you partner with a peer to get what you need? Do you have a mentor you can use as a sounding board? If you’re struggling, it’s helpful to build a strong circle of people you can count on (and you do the same for others).
Be the leader you want your boss to be – and make it easy for them to help you.