Have you ever worked with a leader who never returned emails or answered phone calls, always rescheduled meetings, and in general seemed like a ghost?
It can be especially frustrating when you’re working remotely and have no way of stopping by their office to force them to interact with you.
When implementing change, you need leaders to participate by showing up, making decisions, and communicating clearly. Nailing them down to coordinate that participation can be a challenge.
There are three approaches to dealing with a ghost leader, with different levels of effectiveness:
In other words, nag. If they don’t respond to your email, forward it back to them to follow up. Give them a concrete deadline when you need a response, with consequences of what is at stake if they don’t. Text them to remind them about your meeting. Pick up the phone and hope they answer.
Ok, this option is annoying, time-consuming, adds more noise, and not a long-term strategy to solving the problem. If this isn’t working, move on to one of the other options.
Ask for less
Consider what you are asking them to do. Looking for feedback? Asking for the ok to proceed? Are you doing that because you need to, or because you’re covering yourself? Save the leader some time by doing more things without asking for permission. They’re sure to let you know when you’ve crossed the line. In the meantime, you’ll get more done. Reserve their attention for when you really need it.
Openly address it
If the leader’s ghosting you is hindering your ability to get things done, then the best option is to just talk about it with them. Next time you have the opportunity for a discussion, bring it up! Let them know how it seems like they aren’t responding to you, and share what the impact is for you and your project. Ask what you can do to make it easier for them to communicate — better subject lines, working with their assistant, scheduling a regular check-in meeting? Gain agreement on what you can do without their input. Design how you’ll work together to support your project.
Ghost leaders can be frustrating, but give them the benefit of the doubt. They probably are not ignoring you. They just don’t realize that it feels to you like you are communicating into a black hole. Check your own need for their approval. Let them know your perspective on the situation. And gain agreement on a better way to get things done.