Don’t be a Drive-by Boss (part 1 of 3)

By Tom Davidson

Drive-by bosses fall into two categories, the ones who care but aren’t aware and the ones who are aware but don’t care. Which one are you!?

A very good client recently received some feedback on his communication style, and it included a reference to his “drive-by communications.” Ouch! It was a clear allusion to “drive-by shootings,” the cowardly and vicious practice of gangs and thugs who fire weapons at their victims from the safety of moving vehicles.

My client was already aware of his unintended impacts and was making great improvements. But the way this was phrased made a particularly strong impression – as it should have – and it is the subject of this blog, drive-by bosses.

What is a drive-by boss?
A drive-by boss is a manager who does some or all of the following with enough regularity to develop something of a bad reputation:

  1. Drive-by communicators who fire off short, curt or blunt emails and text messages from a safe distance
  2. Drive-by feedback givers who toss loaded and hyper-critical feedback out the window in passing, without concern for (or awareness of) the damage
  3. Drive-by delegators who lob indiscriminate and ambiguous delegations over the cubicle wall and then counterattack when the task is late, incomplete or not up to his or her standards

Drive-by bosses fall into two categories, the ones who care but aren’t aware and the ones who are aware but don’t care. My friend and client falls in the first category, but as an executive coach, I run into ten times as many who fall into the second.

Which one are you, and what can you do about it? Today’s blog will focus on drive-by communicators; the next two will cover drive-by feedback givers and drive-by delegators.

Drive-by communicators
Short, curt, blunt or ambiguous communications aren’t just he purview of rude or arrogant managers these days. They may also come from well-meaning managers for the following reasons:

  • Today’s everyday managers and leaders are consistently overwhelmed with work because of flat organizational structures, unrelenting demands and ever-changing priorities.
  • Most managers are promoted for their exceptional execution skills as individual contributors but rarely make a smooth or rapid-enough transition to leaders of people.
  • Technology has forever changed the way people communicate, adding multiple layers of detachment to our communication methods and breaking the interpersonal connections so critical to good leadership.

While these factors may be true-enough reasons for drive-by communications, they are no excuse.

How to become a stop-by instead of a drive-by communicator

If you’re a manager who cares, then here are some tips for avoiding the landmines that might harm others and mortally wound your reputation:

    1. Instead of sending an email or text every time you have a thought, idea or suggestion, save them up for a face-to-face meeting, putting them in categories and in writing so you can convey these important items in the proper context, observe reactions first hand, and answer questions.
    2. Instead of blasting through the office in a hurried and task-oriented way, common to almost all busy managers, invest time in mingling with your staff, colleagues and direct reports. Savvy leaders know the value of interpersonal connections and one-to-one communications, and the very best ones know that this kind of communication is not an add-on to their job but that it is their job.
    3. Instead of firing off orders and directions like a platoon leader under fire, ask more questions. Open-ended questions (particularly the ones that start with “what” or “how” rather than “why”) provide multiple benefits:
      • a. They give you the opportunity to listen and learn.
      • b. They ensure that your people feel heard and respected.
      • They provide insights into better solutions than yours and build ownership for execution.

It’s hard to help managers who are aware but don’t care, but if you’re a manager who cares but was unaware of your impacts, try one or more of these strategies and let me know what you learned.

Share this article