5 Tips for Surviving ‘The Curse of the Disorganized Boss’

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
— Peter Drucker

It is safe to believe that most people want to do the best job possible – there is something soul-fulfilling about doing a good job and completing a project right. This sentiment has echoed throughout the ages, from Herodotus to Rousseau and Marks. And while there might be a small percentage of slackers whose only wish is to slide on by, I believe that the vast majority of people want to do a good job. They strive to perform at a high level and want to work as efficiently as possible.

However, as Peter Drucker aptly points out, delivering your output efficiently is useless if what you have been asked to do does not add value, is redundant to other efforts, or simply makes no sense. Being assigned an unnecessary task can be frustrating. But it is only one of the ways you and your office can be affected by “The Curse of The Disorganized Boss”.

When your manager assigns you a task, it would be nice to assume that he has analyzed the needs of the organization and determined that you would be be the best person to handle it. But if she is disorganized, then this may be a false assumption since your boss probably does not stay up-to-date on what’s going on outside of her little corner of the company.  She may assign work to you that she has previously given to a co-worker.  She may even blame you for her mistake!

A study performed by Florida State University Professor Wayne A. Hochwarter found that almost 40 percent of respondents had problems with their bosses, that could very well be due a lack of organization:

  • 39 percent said their managers failed to keep promises
  • 37 percent said their bosses did not give them the credit they deserved
  • 27 percent reported negative comments from their management
  • 23 percent stated that their supervisor blamed them or other workers to cover up personal mistakes

As a consultant, I often work on multiple projects for different companies simultaneously. Over the years, this has enabled me to gain experience with many more people in management positions than most full-time employees would have.

What I have learned is that bad managers are usually not bad people. They simply lack the skills and training that a good manager has.

But how can you tell a bad manager from a disorganized one?

Do your emails requesting information go unanswered? Is your manager so overwhelmed with day-to-day tasks that he never has time to for a one-on-one to catch up on what you are doing? Does she give you one set of orders today and then contradict them all tomorrow?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above question, you may be suffering from ‘The Curse of the Disorganized Boss’.

This curse can have a serious and potentially negative impact on your career, not to mention your health and well-being.  Working for a disorganized boss can cause you to lose sleep, develop repetitive motion disorders, spark unhealthy eating habits, and incur costly monetary losses for your company.

There are a number of methods for saving yourself from this curse. Of course, every situation and every manager is different, what works for one person may not work for the next. But I’m going to share five handy tips in this article, so hopefully one or more will be successful for you.

  1. Stay Visible At Work – This is one of Professor Hochwarter’s recommendations and one of my pet peeves about people who wonder why they are not getting the recognition they think they deserve at the office. Being invisible at work keeps others from noticing what you’re doing right.  Making your efforts more visible will help you to overcome the fallout from disorganized actions taken by your boss. The benefits of being visible at work are innumerable, and the attention you gain will create a positive feedback effect.
  2. Don’t Lose Focus, Motivate Yourself – This one is really important. It can be pretty easy to become discouraged in a situation like this.  Have heart!  If you play your cards right, you might end up as the new, more organized boss!  Stay focused and always give 110% to your job.  Put my organizational tips into practice and soon you will have a critical skill that is necessary to lead a team.  (See How to Find Your Sense of Urgency!)
  3. Always Confirm Orders Promptly –  I’ve found that sending your boss a clearly written clarification of what you think he told you to do is imperative. I heard of one manager who would give knee-jerk orders and then change his mind later that same  day. Restating what he told you and then allow for some “wait time” while he clarifies what’s his own mind can avoid miscommunications and wasted efforts.
  4. Provide Regular Status Reports – Expending energy to write status reports might seem like a waste of time when you have a disorganized boss.  Will he ever get around to reading them?  Status reports aren’t just a tool to inform your manager about your exploits.  When distributed via email or posted on an intranet site, they keep the rest of the company informed about your accomplishments.  Another benefit is that writing regular status reports will create a running log of your work efforts.   When it comes times for your annual review, you can hand them all to your boss and he will have no excuse not to be aware of your hard work during the past year.
  5. Stay Organized! – This is one of the most important pieces of advice I can give anyone, and it works for employees at companies as well people who work for themselves.  Organizing yourself will make you more efficient and enable you to handle a heavier workload.  and still be as  and your work will place you on the path towards more success.  (See Is Your Life Full of Clutter? Organize It with Evernote!) 

The process can take time and seem incredibly frustrating. And honestly, if you have a boss that shoots himself in the foot constantly, it might be better to jump ship than to try and fix the situation. But that is an extreme case and not always true. Sometimes there are simple fixes for the situation and it makes everyone’s lives a little easier.

Try some of these tips and let me know how they work out for you. Post your comments below about your office success!