Q: The vice president I report to is hard to get in touch with. She used to be more accessible but now she skips our catch-up meetings and isn’t good about answering my emails.
My best tactic is to catch her in hallways between meetings for impromptu questions. Now that we are all working from home, I’ve lost this opportunity. What can I do to get the decisions I need? — Les, 38, operations director
A: Rethink what you believe you need from her.
Realistically, you are not going to change her. And as you move up in an organization you need to become more self-reliant.
That’s not to say that her behavior is good. At the very least it’s rude.
However, it does free you to step up and lead your part of the business.
Reading between the lines, this may be her objective. When you were first in your role, she may have been deliberately more available to provide support.
This can become a detriment to you if it goes on indefinitely. It goes from training to hand-holding, wasting her time and limiting your growth.
Think about the questions you have for her and the decisions you want from her. In the absence of input, what are you doing to move forward? It’s simple — either you are not taking actions that are needed or you are figuring it out, but perhaps with more stress than is necessary.
Once you have accepted that it makes sense to create a new model for working with her, consider what you would like that to look like.
If she, like many VPs, has many areas within her scope, she probably isn’t a subject matter expert in your realm. Consequently, if you need technical guidance, it would help to have other resources to consult.
Who are the people you can reach out to? Keep in mind it may well be someone on your own team.
She also doesn’t appear to be a strong mentor-style leader. In order to develop your leadership skills, seek out other options. HR training programs or finding a personal mentor could give you someone to talk with when you are facing a management dilemma that you would have brought to her.
Yet, she surely has knowledge that would be valuable to you. Perhaps she is extremely savvy about business strategy and navigating organizational politics. You would do well to consult her specifically on these matters.
At the same time, you can’t just go silent; you have a responsibility to keep her informed.
You can also define your approach for this. Use short communications, one topic per email, with a direct statement of your need and planned action.
Have a “will proceed unless you disagree by (date).” This keeps you from being frozen in place but keeps her in the loop.
Then when there is a highly sensitive or high-risk situation, you won’t have worn her out with minor questions and will be more apt to get her attention.
As you move forward, your confidence will grow. You will learn how to manage anxiety around making decisions and your status with your peers and leaders will also increase. Everyone benefits and the work gets done.