How To Handle Multiple Bosses & Not Lose Your Sanity

SUMMARY POINTS

> Working for multiple bosses can drive you insane
> Get group consensus on project priorities and timing
> Use our tips and strategies to make your life easier
> Having multiple bosses is a great way to build your career

You’ve just sat down at your desk on Monday.

It was a good weekend actually. Everything was pretty chill on the homefront, you met up with old friends, had a couple of incredible martinis and a wonderful dinner out - finally some relaxation time.

Wait, did you lose a few pounds too? Looking good.

And then you spot them - your multiple bosses in person, by email and via phone.

Your stress levels skyrocket and it’s back to the old problems. All good things must come to an end. Don’t you just know it.

Raise Your Hand - Who Loves Matrix Management?

There’s a growing trend towards ‘matrix management’ in the workplace. It can have benefits, but there are plenty of drawbacks too as you’re probably experiencing.

Basically, matrix management means you have multiple bosses. It sounds simple, but you may be fighting with these issues:

- A lack of communication and organization
- In-fighting among management
- Not knowing who to please first
- Each manager thinking they’re the most important
- Multiple overlapping deadlines and competing demands
- Conflicting messages, decisions and directions
- Being used as a pawn by management

Confusion rules - we don’t need to say more.

Good God, these managers hold senior positions and earn more than you?
Surely they should have more sense, right?

It may help to ease those feelings of isolation and pressure if you realize you’re not alone.

This Gallup survey of 4,000 U.S. workers found 84% had to deal with matrix working in some way, shape or form at some point in their careers.

Now, you may be worried that speaking up will mean you’re accused of not being a team player. Yes, that’s a possibility, but even in team sports, you can only be on one side.

In case you were wondering, you are on your side.

Don’t worry, you can manage this competing deadline, multiple boss madness. We promise it’s not always going to be a flashing red light situation.

We’ve got some helpful tips and strategies to see you through the day, set up your week and build skills to improve your resume.

8 Tips To Manage Your Multiple Bosses Effectively

Watch this short video first to set the scene and then we’ll go into more detail about what is actually achievable for you right now. We're taking baby steps.

VIDEO: 7 Tips For Managing Multiple Bosses
YOUTUBE: Position Ignition
LENGTH: 1:10

​Summary points:
> You can manage your multiple boss nightmare
> Multiple managers mean you build great career skills
> Always stay positive

1. Remember You Are Important Too

During times of multiple manager madness, always keep in mind that you’re not a piece of meat to be tugged over and chewed into.

This is your job and you are worthy of respect.

If any of the managers are assholes, read this article here. It’ll help. And when you need to communicate with them, do it in a professional way. Don’t stoop to their level. 

You’re not there to be yelled at, belittled, or put under such a massive strain that it affects your health and home life no matter how busy the office becomes. 

2. You’re Not The Boss Of Me

In a world of multiple bosses, keep one eye firmly on who your actual boss is.

You know, the one completing your performance review and deciding on promotions and pay raises. It’s important to keep this person happy first and foremost.

This is also the person to speak to if you need direction or assistance with your ‘other’ managers.

If your direct boss isn’t such a good option, try reaching out to HR. This is typically part of their responsibilities. They can provide some valuable insight and recommendations and if needed, can step in to support you.

3. Prioritize Your Managers’ Projects

Yes, all of the managers are important (in their minds anyway), but are their tasks equally as urgent?

Probably not. So, this has gotta be one of the first things that needs to be done.

STEP #1: Set-up a meeting with your managers
STEP #2: Review all the requested projects/tasks and timing
STEP #3: Present your capacity and timing
STEP #4: Force rank all the projects (everything can’t be top priority)
STEP #5: Get agreement by all managers

Be sure to save the documentation for your reference and defense.

Then, on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis, present your status and any challenges you may be experiencing so that issues can be escalated, projects and timing can be adjusted or additional support can be provided.

As you work through the projects, there will be the inevitable requests coming in from all over that aren’t on your project list.

Put these requests and tasks through the...drumroll please...Eisenhower Matrix for better workload management. You can read more about this strategy here.

The main tasks that you should be focused on are those that are “important and urgent” (quadrant 1) and “important and less urgent” (quadrant 2).

Watch this for a good explanation - it really helps manage multiple tasks for multiple bosses.

VIDEO: The Eisenhower Matrix
YOUTUBE: Eisenhower
LENGTH: 2:24

​Summary points:
> Eisenhower knew what he was doing
> Prioritizing means you’ll get more done
> You’ll be less stressed with a clear plan

4. Speak Up At The Back

Sitting very still and skipping lunch as you attempt to juggle multiple managers and tasks will only work for so long.

Can you see yourself coping with a flood of too much work for the foreseeable future?

No, of course you can’t, because even with the best will in the world, it’s not possible. Multi-tasking leads to multi-mistakes and a cycle of stress that’s hard to break.

Do less multi-tasking and more mono-tasking for your success and sanity. Read more about mono-tasking here

And, speak your mind with dignity before you blow your top or go sick with stress.

Here’s how:

When you’ve done your Eisenhower homework and gotten group consensus, you must be able to say no, or better yet, provide an evidence-backed reply like:

"Sorry, I’m completely booked because I’m working on these agreed priorities” while smartly pointing to the saved documentation.

If they continue to press the request, then put it back in their court.

It’s up to that manager to set-up a group meeting with the other managers and you to re-sort the project priorities. Or have him or her make the request at the next scheduled project review meeting.

Don’t be the go-between because you’ll go crazy.

It’s up to that manager to take the initiative and schedule the meeting or wait for the next scheduled session.

Then, it’s up to that manager to build the case for including the new request and getting consensus from the other managers on where it falls in the list of priorities. 

And here's a key point...don't let the manager just add in their project willy-nilly.

You need to speak up.

There's only one of you and only 40 working hours during the work week. Something else has gotta be bumped and/or pushed back to accommodate the new work. 

Plus, it’s not your job to figure out which is the most important piece of work between managers that needs to get done.

Which brings us to the next related point...

5. Sort The Communication Lines

Good communication can sort out most problems. When you’re dealing with multiple managers clear comms are essential so everyone knows where they stand and you have no nasty surprises.

Otherwise, everyone starts wandering off in different directions. Then, you’re herding cats all week long.

VIDEO: Owner Struggles to Herd 10 Kittens
YOUTUBE: Storyful
LENGTH: 0:39

Summary points:
> Kitten are waaaay too cute...we can't stand it!
> Small furry animal babies are absolutely irresistible
> We want to take them all home with us...just for a few weeks 

Start clear communication off by getting your bosses together to decide how it’s best to communicate.

It could be by email, phone conferences or in-person meetings.

If you’re already stuck in the hell of disorganized communications, you can dig your way out by writing a proposal to your line manager. Getting their buy-in will help multiple managers hear your voice.

After all, no-one will get any work done for them if you’re so snowed under you can’t keep up.

6. Make It Easy For Them To See Your Workload

Rather than relying on random emails or phone calls, bring on the technology so all your bosses can see what your workload is looking like.

Trello, Basecamp, Slack are all web-based team collaboration tools. They’re all useful in their own ways.

However, if online web-based collaboration tools aren’t allowed at your office, set up a shared work calendar. Color out blocks of allocated time for each manager so they can quickly understand your capacity, know what you’re doing, and for whom.

A shared calendar prevents those awkward phone calls when a manager is demanding something urgently but you don’t have capacity.

It’ll also help to keep you focused on one project or task - monotasking!

7. Keep It Friendly

Yes, you might be clenching your teeth until you’re popping veins in your forehead, but learning how to deal with people is a life skill worth mastering.

Keep the communication channels open, be honest and upfront with a positive attitude no matter how trying they become.

Aggression and rudeness are often met with the same response, so if you blow your top, it just gets worse.

And there’s nothing wrong with flattery either.

Make each manager feel important and special - really, this is like managing kids at a birthday party with just as many tantrums but none of the cake. 

(Credit: Kris Klug via Flickr)

Tough managers will need reasoning with, so keep your cool and hold the line.

Other managers are easier to get along with and give you more slack, but make sure they feel important too. If one manager feels like they get less attention than the others, that’s asking for trouble.

Personable employees are always in high demand, so flex your most charming muscles and work your magic. 

8. Don’t Take It Personally

It’s easy to believe those managers are a team of lions out to get you, they hate you and want you gone.

It’s simply not true.

Your managers have their own agendas - whether that’s a promotion over the others or a simple belief that they are more important.

If you’re feeling under pressure, victimized, or persecuted, it’s probably collateral damage from manager stress rather than a personal vendetta. So, don’t take it personally.

The Flipside To Multiple Managers

Hey, it’s not all doom and gloom because working in matrix management really does have a flipside.

There are positive gains to be had when you report to more than one boss, we just need to reframe your thinking a little.

Honestly, you probably already know this stuff, but the daily grind wipes out room for reasonable thought.

Multiple Career Directions

There’s no doubt that you’re thinking about where you want your career to go in the future. For us, there isn’t a month that goes by without us thinking about it.

If you already know where that is, then work strategically with the manager most aligned with that role. Just don’t forget about the managers working on topics you’re not so keen on - you’ve got to keep them all happy.

If you don’t yet know what you want to be when you grow up (we don’t either), then having multiple managers gives you a variety of options and experiences across a variety of departments.

This gives you multiple potential paths to different areas. It gives you the experience, knowledge and capability to change course in your career more easily than someone that’s been doing the same thing for years. 

Learn How To Be A Good Manager

You've got lots to watch and learn from with multiple bosses - a variety of management styles in one tidy package.

You can learn from the good and the bad.

It’ll shape your thinking and teach you a lot about working with employees when you get to the top and you’re running the entire show.

Even the worst manager is a learning opportunity in what not to do and say for best results.

Cut and Paste A Mentor

The times when graduates started a job with a mentor are gone. Businesses don’t have the capacity to train that way in a matrix environment, but you can create your own collaged mentor from multiple bosses.

Piece together support from multiple managers. Anticipate what they’ll ask for and get ahead of the curve. Pick out the most successful aspects of each manager and emulate those in your working life.

In fast-changing environments where people quickly move into new jobs, it’s a great way to ensure you have continued support if one boss leaves. An insurance package means all your hard work doesn’t leave with them.

Wider Exposure and More Opportunities for Recognition 

If you perform well across multiple departments, several managers will notice. This can lead to a variety of promotion opportunities across your organization.

However, if you had just one manager and you guys didn’t get along, you’d be screwed and won’t have much opportunity to move up in the company.

Reporting to multiple managers means you have access to a larger internal network and multiple career advancement avenues to pursue.

That’s got to be worth a bit of stress, right?

Stop Yawning With A Greater Project Variety

It’s not much fun doing the same thing day in and day out. And, you can only stare at your cubicle wall for so long.

Monotony sucks the joy from life even if you like your job.

But, you’ve guessed it, multiple bosses mean multiple work streams that keep your neurons firing to stimulate your confidence, imagination and interest.

After all, none of us have athletic office skills like this Cubicle Cristiano to keep ourselves occupied.

VIDEO: Bored At Office
YOUTUBE: Radu Cilinghir
LENGTH: 0:39

Summary points:
> Answer the damn phone or forward it to voice mail!
> Recycled paper can be a suitable substitute for a ball
> Don't ever use that copy machine

A Greater Skill Set

Sticking with the same role can mean you fall into a learning rut.

Yes, you can sign up for training courses, but do you really need another morning spent on ‘How To Use Excel Database’?

A variety of managers and projects mean you learn new skills in multiple departments every day.

How’s that for a first-class resume?

It’s the Future

You might not like it much, but matrix working is speeding into the business world. You can’t stop it, so save yourself stress by learning to work with it.

Experts think the next decade will see a huge increase in matrix management with workers coming together to carry out project-based roles in loose teams - that means multiple managers will need to oversee these cross-functional groups.

It won’t always be smooth sailing because some managers need to learn how to manage matrix-based teams. Not all of them will know how, but you can make your working life easier by showing them the way.

Take It And Make It Your Own

You have the capacity and the confidence to take control and turn this muddle of multiple managers into a functioning team of world-class experts.

You know it and so do we.

The situation won’t change unless you implement some strategies, because you’re the one working on all the projects and have a grasp of how much is being asked of you.

Start at the top of our list and make some changes today. You’ll hear the stress release valve hissing almost immediately and feel the pressure easing.

You’ll be banging out projects and tasks with clear expectations, timing and priorities among all your bosses and all within your available time and resources.

You’ll be “in the zone” and before you know it, it’s Fri-yay! Well done. You can kick back and relish in your success and amazing progress.

Get the martini kit out - it’s time for a couple of drinks. We’ll take a vodka martini - shaken not stirred.

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]