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Dealing with a Controlling Manager

by Joan Tabb in Blog

Dear Joan,

I’m a lawyer and I’ve always loved my work. I’ve been at the same firm for 8 years and was on track toward being partner within the next couple of years. I’ve earned consistently glowing reviews and pride myself in using good, careful judgement in all of my business dealings and I have a robust and growing client base. The problem started three months ago when I was assigned to work for a new partner in the firm. He is the most controlling manager I have ever had. I can’t make any decisions without him looking over my shoulder.

In fact, he asks me to review, in advance, any and all client communication. It is counterproductive, demoralizing and frankly, I have never been this frustrated and unhappy in my work before. My wife can’t stand to see me this miserable. Should I just quit and look for a new job?

Please help!

—Larry, who at present is a very unhappy lawyer

Dear Larry,

I feel for you. This sounds like a very uncomfortable and difficult situation and unfortunately, one that is not that uncommon.

You and your manager have a style clash. You tend to be an independent worker and he is very high on control. I  suggest that you consider not taking his behavior too personally. Why? He either has been treated this way himself and is modeling familiar behavior or, more likely, he has probably been burned before by subordinates who acted impulsively or improperly and the consequences fell to him.

My suggestion is that you ask to talk to him about the style situation, and how you really want to earn his trust.

Suggest that for the next say 3-week period, you meet with him on a daily basis, and discuss not only your current workload, but communicate your strategies and your thinking in full. Let him get to know you and become comfortable with your judgement and decision making style. Additionally, send him a detailed full status report twice a week with any special concerns, red flags or questions. After that 3-week period, ask for feedback, and if it’s positive, ask him if you can meet less frequently but continue to do weekly detailed status reports.

Larry, I have seen this strategy work, a systematic process of earning trust toward more independence.

Best of luck to you and onward to earning your partnership in the firm.

—Joan, the career coach