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Great time to shine when the boss is away

June 09, 2007 13:58 IST

While the cat's away the mice will play. That's the mentality many employees have when their boss leaves for vacation. It's a time to roll out of bed a few hours later, take long lunches and make long distance phone calls.

But consider this: Instead of goofing around during your boss' time off, try making the most of the peace and quiet that comes when he or she isn't peering over your shoulder or giving you more assignments. If you do that, you're likely to gain more independence and thwart the efforts of a micromanaging boss.

"It's a great time for you to shine," says Doug James, vice president of EMI music publishing with responsibility for film soundtracks, who manages 10 staffers directly. "When someone isn't over your shoulder you're allowed to excel and you get steady on your feet. We've all had those great days, when the day flew by because you've accomplished so much."

Steve Chandler understands the challenges of dealing with a micromanager. He's a consultant and author of The Hands-Off Manager, who is called into companies to increase productivity. What bosses don't realize when they call upon him is that they're frequently the people who keep their employees from functioning on their own.

Chandler's first task when he enters a new business is to observe how a boss manages. Are employees given the freedom to set their own priorities and see a project from beginning to end? If not, he gently teaches the boss how to back off.

What he's learned over the years is that bosses often stand in the way of productivity. "Some companies have done studies to show productivity goes up when managers leave," says Chandler. "They wonder, 'How can that be? We hired them to manage productivity?' The answer is that today's worker is completely independent, knowledgeable and self-taught. They grow up faster and contribute more if you leave them alone--they

love the responsibility."

To make the most of your boss' vacation, first meet with him or her and present the items you believe need to get accomplished during the vacation. Since you're likely to get those daily tasks accomplished without your boss there to interfere, take on a larger project too. Perhaps it's something that's been on the back burner that you couldn't get around to doing. Now is your chance.

Since bosses don't always see the big picture, don't forget to toot your own horn. Once your boss returns, communicate what you've done. Say to your boss: "While you were away certain things got accomplished and I'd like to bring you up to date." If your manager is extremely hands-on and you're looking for some freedom, the next step is to gracefully request more independence. Chandler recommends saying something like: "As you can see, I get a lot done when I'm left alone. And that frees you up to do other projects."

Bosses need to see that their staffers are capable of taking initiative. But it's a fine line, so don't overstep your authority. If you're able to make smart decisions while your manager is away, that means he or she has less work to come back to when the vacation is over.

That mentality has worked well for Michelle Winkley, who works in human resources at PricewaterhouseCoopers' Los Angeles office. "I think about what my boss wants and needs and I have it done before she returns," says Winkley. "We track utilization of our benefits in this office so when my boss comes back and asks how busy we were when she was gone, I have the reports ready for her. It builds confidence in me."

The best part is, if your boss knows to trust you during a vacation it ensures that he or she will take more time off. And that's a good thing all around.

Tara Weiss, Forbes