Interpersonal EDGE: Too Many Bosses, Too Little Time
Sunday, December 4, 2011

By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services

Q. My organization has been bought three different times in the last five years and I currently have three different bosses that I report to. The problem is every boss acts like they are my only manager. I cannot possibly get through the list of responsibilities they each give me every week. How do I avoid getting fired?

A. You need to let your managers fight among themselves to determine your weekly list of responsibilities. If you try to negotiate reasonable job responsibilities with each of your managers separately, they'll just see you as insubordinate.

Make a list of each manager's expectations and provide it to each manager. Tell each manager you want to make sure you are addressing each manager's priorities fairly. Make it clear that with your current list, you can see that you will end up disappointing all of them at various times since the combined job responsibilities greatly exceed your time at work.

Make it clear to each manager that you have confidence that they can (and will) negotiate among themselves to whittle your list down to a reasonable size. Emphasize that your goal is to make sure that each manager gets his or her priority tasks accomplished by you in a timely manner.

You might take comfort in knowing that many people don't think through the consequences of what they want other people to do at work. If your manager asks you to fly, he is mostly thinking it would be darn useful to him if you could find a way to defy gravity. He doesn't do much thinking about how you will accomplish this or the actual laws of physics. If you ask him to suggest approaches to overcoming gravity, this will be the first time he considered the problem from your viewpoint.

Many of my clients complain to me that it is becoming more common for them to report to multiple managers. While keeping even one manager happy is difficult, the difficulty of pleasing multiple managers is nearly impossible. I'd doubt your managers have previously looked at the list of responsibilities each has assigned you and considered that you can't clone yourself!

If you fight with each manager separately or complain about your workload, you just make yourself look either lazy or incompetent. Without the ability to see the whole picture of what you are being asked to do, none of your managers will understand that the amount of work they've assigned is unrealistic.

Expect that once they see they've given you the workload of three people, each manager may come to you and try to get you to fight with the other two for them. Unless you enjoy misery, turn down this invitation. Humbly state that you know you don't have the authority to decide upon your job responsibilities. Repeat that you know your managers can decide among themselves how to divide your time fairly.

Once it is clear that you are diplomatically handing over the problem of amount of time vs. workload to your managers, they will be forced to negotiate who gets what from you. You will have a realistic amount of work and they will be happy with your performance.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker.  She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). Contact  her at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.

This was printed in the December 4, 2011 - December 17, 2011 Edition


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