I was recently reading through the comments on one of the fantastic online networks for EAs when I saw an Assistant had posted a question asking if it was okay to take time off following a knee operation, even though her boss had assumed she would be back in the office the next day! As you can imagine the responses were mostly ‘hell, yes!!’. One response made me sit up and think; the Assistant responded ‘it isn’t always about the boss’. We’ve all worked with demanding bosses, and this is one example of an extremely demanding boss. But, what do you do if you work with a boss who wants everything done right now? It is a fairly common scenario. You are always flying by the seat of your pants because your boss says everything is urgent; you have no time to plan and are constantly interrupted. How do you follow any structure? Make time to strategise, let alone make time for yourself? It is hard working for a demanding boss, but if you can rise to the occasion, you might find that you really can expand your skills and fly in the role. Here are a few strategies you can put into place when working for an Executive who is demanding.
How to work with a boss who wants everything done right now!
You have to communicate consistently. You should have daily meetings with your Executive so that you can get ahead of the work. Sit down with them and find out their priorities. During the meetings plan out what you should be working on that day, in the hope that your Executive realises what is on your plate for the day. You should set up regular meetings throughout the year so that you can plan. Planning and organisation are essential when working with a demanding Executive.
You have to help with their time management and planning. You have to be confident when working with a demanding Executive, and you need to take control of the situation. If they are continually throwing work at you, leaving documents on your desk and bombarding you with emails. This is not good and not a productive way to work. You have to tell them this! You are there to make them successful and to save them time. In this instant, you will need to slow them down, teach them to priorities and plan so that they not jumping from one thing to another and handing everything over to you to get done asap. If you work in a high-pressured environment, then you will have to jump on board and go with the flow. Plan lots of contingency time, expect plans to fall through or need constant updating. If you can plan time for the unexpected, then you won’t be blindsided.
You have to get up in their business. When working with a demanding Executive, you have to know everything about them, what they do for the company and what is expected of them. Demanding Executive’s tend not to be particularly sensitive to the people around them, so use this to your advantage. You don’t have to worry so much about their feelings or stepping on their toes. Take control and get to know every facet of the business. Match them in their knowledge, and they are more likely to see you as a partner rather than a dumping ground for all manner of tasks.
You have to set expectations. When your Executive drops a load of work on your lap, make sure you communicate realistically how long everything is going to take you. If you know the business inside and out, you will know what a priority is, what is urgent and what can be pushed back (or not done at all!).
You have to solve problems and come with solutions. Problem-solving skills are required when working a boss that wants every done right now. You have to be creative and work out how you are going to finish the tasks without much guidance. This is where networking comes in handy. Your Executive doesn’t have time to tell you how to do something, but his direct reports will probably be able to help you or put you on the right path.
You have to push back and respect your boundaries. In my experience, highly demanding Executives who want everything done right now don’t understand that you have a life outside work and don’t want to work the crazy hours they are working. Whatever hours you are happy to work you need to communicate that to you Executive and you need to respect the boundaries you set for yourself (because they will not). Burnout is highly likely working with demanding Executives, and you need to bear this in mind.
You have to know when it is time to go. This comes down to why your Executive is demanding. Are they under a lot of pressure? Is their Executive demanding too? Are they ultimately a right person? If this is the case, then you can work with them and help relieve the pressure. You can work together as a team. If they are demanding because they are an a*rsehole, then you have to consider your options. Don’t let anyone negatively impact your wellbeing.
It is not a smooth ride working with a boss who wants everything done right now. It is tough but can be exhilarating with lots of fantastic opportunities, if you have the confidence to stand up for yourself and don’t let the stress get to you. If you find working with an Executive like this does affect your wellbeing, do consider your options.