Q: I work for a swooper. She gives me authority over people and projects, then swoops in and takes over. This causes confusion, rework and frustration for a lot of people. She has good ideas, but how can I get her to channel them appropriately? — Syd, 38, art director
A: It’s in your court to be clear about your needs and expectations.
I assume that when you say it causes “frustration for a lot of people,” that includes you. For starters, then, you will need to get yourself calmed down. Discussing this when you are riled up won’t be helpful.
If you have been holding this in for a while, it might not be easy. Look for some low-risk ways to vent, maybe to a friend or by writing out your feelings. Think about the situation from her point of view, too, to try and bring some additional empathy to soften your reactions.
Assuming the identity of a third-party observer, write out the situations that have occurred. This will help you be objective as you discuss this with your boss. Include a description of ways things could have been improved.
Look at your role in this dynamic. Perhaps you are carrying an aura of uncertainty, giving her the sense that you need her help.
Also refresh your memory of the positive aspects of working with her to bring a full view to the table.
Once you are ready, find a neutral time to have a conversation about roles and responsibilities. Express the big-picture situation as you see it, along with your desired outcome. Maintain a positive tone to reduce the chances that she will become defensive.
Ideally, she will be invested in resolving these sources of frustration. Even better, she will partner with you on ways she can bring her creativity and ideas to the work you do.
That still leaves you with the need to do clean up. Others on your team are likely having some struggles from this, so you will need to help them work through it.
There are a couple of different ways to handle this. If your boss had a major moment of realization and is completely on board with backing off, maybe you just acknowledge the past dynamic to your team and move forward. It could be handled fairly lightly, maybe even with some humor, depending on the personalities involved.
On the other hand, some people may feel more harmed by the past dynamic. They may need to be guided through some of the venting and reflection work that you did. Be willing to take the time to support your team, as needed, taking care not to let things decline into a moan-fest.
Realistically, this behavior is probably part of her personality. She may be very enthusiastic, or be having a hard time with the distance from the work that comes with being in upper management.
In that case, expect her to regress. Talk about that in advance, and agree on ways to bring it to her attention in low-stress and collegial ways. Everyone — you, your team, and her — will all be happier and more successful.