Dear Dr. Shari
What do you do when you have more than one boss and they both ask you to do things at the same time? I am really in a frustrating position. I am a young professional, fresh out of grad school and I am looking to do my best, grow, and prove myself. I am really struggling though, since two partners at a firm tell me what to do. We are at the SAME firm! They speak all of the time so you would think they would get it together and figure it out. It seems that their lack of organization has become MY problem, but I need to do well here for my career so I am literally without a solution. All I am trying to do is a good job, and I sit here confused and scrambling! — Nate
Settle down Nate. You are not “literally stuck without a solution.” And, as a young professional, one of the most important skills that you are going to need to develop, is the ability to handle things when they don’t unfold in a convenient way. So, here we are. Congratulations. You now have an opportunity to gain a skill that will serve you for the rest of your career, and you can start developing it, today.
Nate, lets break down the imperative steps to a solution to your issues:
Shift your mindset. Take this seriously. This might be one of the most important skills that you can develop. Nate, in your letter I hear whining and blame. The sooner you can dump the immature attitude, and look at life with “ownership,” the sooner you will be successful. Rather than complaining, ( which has zero value) fully immerse yourself in solution creation. That you reached out, is a good sign. It IS one way that you are looking for a solution. Just stop whining about what they should do (which is pointless) and lets consider how you can take control of this.
Prioritize. Now that you are clear that there is a problem for you to solve, lets look at “what” you are being asked to do. If you are being asked to accomplish two things at the same time, the first thing that I recommend is that you take ownership of the tasks, assess their importance, and prioritize them in your mind. ACT like a professional, use your mind and decide where your time is best spent, in what order, and why. Step 2, however, MUST be taken adjacent to step 3.
COMMUNICATE… and confirm your plan. Nate, one thing that I gained from your letter is that you are not communicating sufficiently. You blame others for not communicating but if you want to be a contribution to the firm, then you must improve your communication skills. My question for you is “Why have you not been the conduit to eliminate the obvious confusion?” Change this Nate. Keep everyone informed of what the right hand and the left hand are doing. If you want to be of value, contribute to this engine running smoothly rather than complaining about why it is not. See a problem? Solve it. See confusion, clarify. Keep your employers informed and empowered and efficient. This is how you grow and gain respect.
4. Know your limits. If a true contradiction exists, which means A: two authorities really want you to do different things at the same time and B. it is not possible to get both jobs done within the deadline, and C. you have already communicated to both of them what the other has asked, so everyone is informed and D. They STILL disagree and each demand you do a different thing, THEN, Nate, your solution is to reach out to both of them and ask that they work it out. I find that a group email works well in a situation such as this. Inform everyone what you have been asked to do and by whom. Identify the problem that seems to exist. Then, (and this is imperative) suggest a solution that you feel is viable.
Finally, ask them to respond with a directive regarding how they want you to handle the situation. This way, you have cleared up ALL communication issues, you have been completely responsible with regard to your responsibilities and placed the onus of the contradiction where it belongs.
Nate, I respect your ambition. Just remember that success requires stretching and pushing and taking ownership of situations especially when issues arise. IF you find yourself in situation that is NOT unfolding smoothly, look to yourself first, and ask, how can “I” solve this problem? This is how a leader thinks.