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

By Tom Davidson

There’s no good reason to be a drive-by manager, unless your intention is to keep people off balance, out of sorts, and nervous! Here are three things you can do to strike a better balance:

As we’ve been discussing in this blog series, you might have earned the reputation for being a drive-by boss without realizing it, a rep that will destroy your leadership and quite possibly derail your career before you even know it’s happening.

Here are three types of drive-by bosses who – like drive-by shooters – can cause great harm to others while remaining detached from the carnage.

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. Which one are you?

If you’re in the first category, then you’re unlikely to be concerned about your reputation as a thug, but if you’re in the second, then you are likely to be interested in how to avoid being any or all of these versions of the drive-by boss.

While we covered drive-by communicators and drive-by feedback givers in the two preceding blogs, this one concerns the drive-by delegator.

Drive-by delegators
A drive-by delegator tosses out assignments without enough regard for:

1. The appropriateness of the assignment for the individual involved
2. The amount of guidance that is needed for them to get a good start and have the best chance at success
3. The plan for checking progress, like firing off an unguided missile and hoping it hits the right target

As an everyday manager, a big part of your job is to delegate tasks and orchestrate the workflow of your group, department or team. It’s not just a matter of deploying the work but a matter of using delegations as learning opportunities. Not enough delegations will keep you overwhelmed with work yourself, and too little will mean that your work team (and eventually you and the organization) will suffer from lack of people development.

It’s a delicate balance, but that’s no excuse for being a drive-by delegator.

Here are three things you can do to strike a better balance:

1. Determine the readiness of the individual for the task. By lobbing too much on them too soon, you risk their success and discouraging them from taking on future delegations. Moreover, if they return a result that doesn’t meet your expectations (and you have to do it over), they will put less effort into your future delegations and will probably wait for you to do it for them the next time.
2. Provide sufficient guidance. Drive-by managers drop assignments out of the sky and run, but stop-by managers approach the task more situationally. For example, if the delegate is very experienced and has had proven success with a particular delegation in the past, you can just ask them what they need from you! But if they have never done the task before, you’ll have to be more directive and hands-on in its execution. Whatever your choice, make sure they know why you’re managing the situation the way you are.
3. Make a plan for checking progress. Drive-by bosses fire off delegation missiles all the time without sufficient guidance systems, hoping they hit the right targets. But when they don’t, they hit the ceiling, often when it was their own fault from the beginning. To avoid this, install checkpoints during the execution of the assignment so that you can intervene to get the person back on track before it’s too late. Waiting until the deadline is too risky, for them and for you.

There’s no good reason to be a drive-by manager, unless your intention is to keep people off balance, out of sorts, and nervous about what bomb you’re going to toss over the cubicle wall next. By doing some or all of the above and following the advice in the two preceding blogs on this topic, you’ll very likely gain a different reputation with better results, that of the stop-by manager.

What other tips or advice do you have for avoiding the drive-by delegator syndrome?

Share this article