How to get what you need from a scattered manager.

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By Marie G. McIntyre / Tribune News Service

Q: We recently got a new manager who is totally disorganized. “Rick” will tell us to do something, then after we finish, he says that it was not at all what he wanted. Rick also forgets a lot of things after we talk about them. Our team is getting confused and discouraged. How do you work for someone who is a complete space cadet?

A: If your previous supervisor was a systematic, orderly type, then Rick’s leadership style is undoubtedly a huge adjustment. To get what you need from this scattered boss, you and your colleagues may now have to put much more effort into “managing up.”

As you have seen, disorganized managers frequently fail to convey expectations clearly. Because they think about results in general terms, they simply don’t consider many details. Then, when a project is complete, they are dismayed to discover that the finished product doesn’t match their mental picture.

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To minimize these unpleasant surprises, try to extract Rick’s hidden assumptions at the beginning of a project. By asking reasonable questions, you may be able to explore his thinking and better define what he’s looking for. You might also propose some possibilities and see how he reacts.

At the start of any new activity, build in some feedback points to get Rick’s view of your progress. If he has an opportunity to approve plans, review drafts, evaluate prototypes, or provide input on key decisions, he is much more likely to be happy with the final result.

To compensate for Rick’s unreliable memory, put important meetings on his calendar, send friendly reminders about critical dates and follow up discussions with an email summarizing conclusions and agreements. While all this may sound like a lot of extra work, in the long run it will make your life much easier.

Submit questions to Marie G. McIntyre at