Managing Your Boss When They Don’t Have Enough Time

Pay close attention to the boss’ routine. If you handle them right, you can turn ad hoc one-on-one meetings into regular ones.

Some bosses are convinced they are too busy to meet with you. Or maybe they are convinced it’s just not necessary and they simply do not want to meet with you.

If this is the case with your boss, you might have to do some convincing.

Hopefully, that isn’t the case for you, but if your boss seems resistant, remember that it’s nothing personal. Stick to the business case. It’s as simple as this: When you don’t meet for regular one-on-one conversations, then the work you are doing becomes susceptible to:

  • Unnecessary problems that are more likely to occur
  • Small problems that could be solved easily, but that turn into bigger problems
  • Resources that are less likely to be optimized and more likely to be wasted
  • Low productivity due to lower morale

Remind your boss that he or she is likely to end up spending a lot of management time on you regardless. But if it doesn’t happen up front in these on-one-ones, then it probably will be late in the process, after small problems that could have been avoided or solved sooner need his or her intervention. Make your one-on-one time “high-leverage” time and the boss will know that it is worthwhile spending time with you.

No matter how convincing your arguments are, some bosses are still nearly impossible to pin down for a scheduled one-on-one. Maybe they are responsible for too many direct reports and feel they can’t possibly talk to 16, 60, or even more employees on a regular basis and still get their own work done. Or maybe they have erratic schedules, making scheduling a meeting in advance with them pointless. That boss might say, “If you want to catch me for a one-on-one, then you’ll have to take me on-the-fly when I’m available.”

When bosses hide in their offices or run from one meeting to another, they often leave a power vacuum on the day-to-day management front. Ringleaders sometimes emerge to fill the vacuum. Often, these ringleaders are the squeaky wheels who have good personal relationships with other employees and assert their authority and influence in ways that are self-serving and sometimes damaging to the team. Sometimes they form cliques, bully others, and spread rumors, but more often they are simply self-deceived mediocre performers who believe they are high performers. They offer guidance, direction, and support to their coworkers, but they often lead people in the wrong direction.

If a ringleader has filled the power vacuum left by your absent boss, it’s more important than ever that you get your boss’ attention so you can stay focused on the work and move in the right direction. What do you do?

An effective boss-managing nurse working in a bustling hospital shared her simple technique for getting her incredibly busy boss’s attention: stalking!

Here’s what she told me: “My boss is responsible for 43 nurses, technicians, and aides, all reporting directly to her and nobody else. She is also responsible for a hospital annex in a different location. So it’s pretty hard to get her attention.” What does she do to get her boss’s attention? “I have a pretty good idea of her schedule and her M.O. I know what door she comes in and when, the route she takes to the locker room and to the cafeteria for coffee or to the vending machine for two Diet Cokes. When she has a free moment, I’m right there waiting for her. I’ve learned there are certain places and times when she really doesn’t want me to try to talk to her, like when she is in the locker room. But there are other places and times when I know she will give me five, six, or seven minutes. It’s not ideal, but I’ve gotten into a routine now of meeting with her while she gets her coffee in the morning or her Coke in the afternoon. I prepare in advance with the issues and questions I need to run by her. I bring my pen and notebook and I stand there taking notes.”

What happens when this nurse and her boss are not working the same shifts? “Sometimes if she is working the shift after me, I will wait and catch her on her way in. If she is working the shift before me, it’s a bit harder because I haven’t found the right time and place to get her on her way out the door. I guess I’ll have to stalk her a bit more to figure out the best way to get her attention when she is leaving!”

What lessons can we learn from this nurse?

  • Sometimes the best you can do is stage “spontaneous” one-on-one meetings.
  • If you handle them right, you can turn ad hoc one-on-ones into regular meetings.
  • Pay close attention to the boss’ routine.
  • Figure out where and when the boss does and does not want to have ad hoc meetings.
  • Be prepared in advance for every staged “spontaneous” one-on-one.
  • Keep the meetings focused and quick.

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Tulgan is the best-selling author of numerous books, including “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy” (revised and updated, 2016), “Bridging the Soft Skills Gap” (2015), “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” (2014), and “It’s Okay to be the Boss” (revised and updated, 2014). He has written for The New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training magazine, and the Huffington Post. Tulgan can be reached by e-mail at; followed on Twitter @BruceTulgan; or via his Website,



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