survival200I’ve talked to more than a few communications directors who are stymied in their work by their “visionary” bosses. These communications directors are often in awe of the visionary’s big ideas, creativity, and insights. They really do admire them, and often wish they themselves could be so bold.

But that’s where the love stops, and the day-to-day frustration begins. Working for a visionary director can create some trying situations for the communications director:

High priorities this week are all but forgotten about next week as the visionary moves on to the next great idea. Only problem is that no one told the communications director who has been working her rear off to make the original project work.

The visionary has unrealistic expectations for how long things take to get done. Even though the visionary can’t articulate in any kind of specific detail how to get the big vision accomplished, she expects it to be done immediately.

The visionary has blistering criticism for anyone who can’t “keep up.”  Staff feel like their intelligence or dedication to the organization is constantly questioned by the visionary.

If you find yourself in these situations, here are five ideas that might help.

Discuss What the Visionary Needs from You, and What You Need in Return, for Success. If at possible, meet with the visionary face to face. Explain that you are inspired by their vision, and as the person charged with implementing it in a concrete way and handling all the messy details, you need their support in setting clear goals and realistic deadlines.

Do Top Priority Checks. You can’t stop the idea machine. But you can check in regularly to see where last week’s ideas relate to this week’s. Always have your Top Three Priorities for the week or month on the tip of your tongue. When assigned another priority, ask the visionary to tell you where it rates compared to your current Top Three.  Does it replace something else as a top priority? (Naturally, this works a whole lot better if you have both agreed that “Three Top Priorities” is an appropriate way for you to make choices about where you spend your time and energy.)

Write Up a Super Quick Summary and Check in Regularly with Drafts.  Don’t just jump to it and work straight through on a project until completion. Start with a quick email or note — or even a quick verbal check-in — summarizing the project as you understand it and asking for confirmation that you have the concept right. A full creative brief may be called for, but the reality is that the visionary will probably be too busy to review  all those details. Then check in regularly with drafts so the visionary has the option to change or end the project before you’ve invested too much time.

Prepare to Repurpose Your Work.  You’ll put a lot of effort into projects, only to have the plug pulled. If you suspect that outcome, as you work, think about ways that the energy you do put into it could be repurposed into another project later. Keep everything! You never know when you can recycle it! Odds are the visionary won’t even recognize it when they see it again.

Practice Benign Neglect. Benign neglect is when you purposely ignore something and as a result, it takes care of itself, usually by falling off the to-do list altogether.  If you suspect the visionary will quickly drop this week’s hot idea, just sit on it for awhile. Wait to see if it is mentioned again before you invest any time into it.

What ideas do you have for managing up with a visionary leader?

Please share in the comments.