Managing Multiple Bosses and Teams Without Burning Out

One of my favorite lines ever from a commencement speech was given by Bill Gates. He said, “If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.”

Man was he right. Of course he was right—he built the world's largest software business.

I’ve worked with bosses who yell, throw pens and slam doors. But, I’ve also worked with some who care deeply about their employees and know just what to do to bring out the best in everyone. Whether good or bad, the attributes are amplified when you report to more than one boss. 

Most of us have experienced this at some point in our career. We have a “real boss,” who gives us our performance evaluation, and then we have “other bosses” who give us assignments to complete along with the list provided by the real boss. Which boss’s request gets top priority? How do you please them all without working 24 hours a day?

Elizabeth Malatestinic, senior lecturer in Human Resource Management at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, says communication is critical in these situations. 

“Employees need to be open and honest (without whining) about their various commitments,” she said. “They also need to understand that it's better to do fewer things well than to spread themselves too thin. It's much better to admit that you can't add something to your schedule than to take it on and do it poorly. The former may temporarily disappoint, but the latter will leave a lasting impression.”

Are you overloaded with work from multiple bosses? Here is a list of ways to manage your situation.

•    Know who your actual boss is. Be sure to know who is doing your performance evaluations and making decisions about your future. Ask questions to make sure you are clear about which assignments are top priority and learn the reporting hierarchy. 
•    Communicate with your boss frequently. Keep your boss up to date about all of your assignments and who you are working for. Your boss cannot help you manage your time if he/she doesn’t know what is on your plate. 
•    Know the deadlines. Be sure to communicate specifically about deadlines with each boss. You need to know exact dates for when they want the work completed so that you can make a calendar of assignment due dates. This calendar will help you avoid missing a deadline or overloading yourself with tasks due at the same time. 
•    Ask your bosses to talk. Make sure that your bosses are communicating with each other and know what they have assigned to you. They need to work together to decide how the assignments rank in order of importance and timeliness. 
The working world is a fast paced environment and in order to survive we all need to know how to work with multiple bosses. Just be sure to communicate and set boundaries. Finishing and excelling are two very different outcomes.

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