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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Succeed When Your Boss Doesn’t Have Time for You

For employees who are used to being micromanaged or butting heads with their boss, having a manager who keeps his or her distance may seem like a dream—or at least, a pretty good problem to have.

But to really succeed in your job—especially if you’re brand new to the industry or job function—it’s important to get quality, one-on-one, focused feedback and coaching from your boss.

So, when your boss doesn’t have time for that—when he or she is constantly rushing from meeting to meeting or so involved in the big project of the moment that none of your conversations go beyond a cursory greeting—you may be able to get by, but you won’t learn how to really thrive.

When I made a recent career move, I suddenly found myself with a boss who didn’t seem to have time to manage me. He was constantly traveling between the company’s several locations, so I saw him very rarely, and being in and out of the office, he wasn’t readily accessible for quick questions or advice, let alone involved coaching. And so, I usually went without.

Not only does this lack of attention leave you feeling frustrated and ignored, but it can seriously stall your career growth. Because if you’re not moving forward in your career by constantly improving your work and developing your skills, you won’t be first in line—or in line at all—for any raises or promotions.

If you’re not getting the attention you need from your boss, I learned there are two main routes you can take: Take charge of the issue with your boss or find another source for feedback and coaching. (Or, cover all your bases and do both!) Here’s how.

Option #1: Take Charge

Truthfully, there’s no good excuse that a manager can possibly have for not managing. Sure, bosses are busy—but their primary job function is to manage others. So if you’re not getting what you need, you shouldn’t have to just suffer through it.

If you don’t already have a weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one with your manager set up, take the initiative to put a standing meeting on your boss’ calendar. That way, even if you aren’t able to pop into your manager’s office whenever you need something, you’ll have dedicated time to talk through issues and ask for the feedback you need.

Plus, your manager will likely appreciate you taking the lead. The reality is, your boss probably meant to set up a one-on-one with you at some point and truly does want to help you—but needs the time set aside to do it.

Then, when you’re in that meeting, don’t leave it to your boss to bring up coaching opportunities. Make it easy on him or her and bring a specific list of things you want to discuss. By guiding the discussion, you’ll be able to hone in on the topics and assignments that you’re most unsure about.

It won’t result in an always-accessible boss who showers you with feedback—but you’ll be in a much better position than where you started.

Option #2: Find Feedback Elsewhere

If that doesn’t work, the good news is that most offices are full of other resources that, used appropriately, can provide a good stand-in for the coaching you’re not getting from your manager.

In my situation, for example, there was another department manager who saw that I was struggling and reached out to see if there was anything he could do to help. I started running some of my project first drafts by him, and he would give me feedback in return. Over time, he’s become a mentor and a much more constant source of guidance and feedback than my boss is.

Of course, you have to handle this situation delicately. While it’s great to find a mentor, you have to be respectful of his time, recognizing that he has his own direct reports to manage, as well as his own responsibilities to fulfill. But if you can find another person whose advice and coaching you trust and who is willing to make time for you, take that opportunity.

Your colleagues can be helpful, too. Once I started to get to know my teammates, I was able to pinpoint a few whose opinions I value, who have been successful in their own roles, and who were willing to spend some extra time helping me succeed in my role.

For example, one co-worker had actually been in my exact position before I came on board, but had since moved up to a more senior role. Knowing she had some expertise in my job function, I’d occasionally ask her to take a look at my assignments before I turned them into my manager. She’d ask insightful questions and give thoughtful feedback—which helped me learn how to do my work better.

Again, this is a resource that you don’t want to overuse—your co-workers have their own work to do and can’t possibly look at every one of your assignments in addition to that. But, line up a few co-workers you trust, and you won’t have to burden any one person with your questions and requests for feedback. Plus, you’ll get multiple perspectives, which can help you widen your own outlook and improve beyond any one person’s experience.

Getting constant coaching is key to moving forward in your career—so don’t settle for just getting by if your manager doesn’t have the time to provide that feedback. Try one approach or both, but don’t let a distant boss get in the way of your career advancement.

Photo of calendar courtesy of Shutterstock.