At some point in their career, every IT professional has been associated with magic of some sort—as in: “Work your magic for me ….” In fact, it's quite common for IT professionals to be portrayed as "wizards" (as in the comic strip Shoe) of their profession. When most of us heard it the first few times, we probably puffed up a little bit and felt proud. After all, we were masters of something so incomprehensible that people referred to our abilities as magical. Being a master magician often turned out to be a good thing. People did not question what you did and took your word for gospel. Not a bad gig being a wizard, eh?
At some point though, wielding magic started to have a deleterious effect—people stopped associating your efforts with WORK and began to assume that everything you did was effortless. After all, you made it look so easy! You, on the other hand, knew different. You were working your tail off and people just took it for granted—after all—it’s magic!
Being magical also led you into situations such as this: “Hey Bob, we need you to work your magic and___." Fill in the blank with some impossible task that needs to be done in 24 hours. So you drop everything you are working on and muster all your available resources to produce a product that should have taken you considerably longer. Yet you deliver it, and the audience for which you just performed applauds your "wizardry."
You and I both know that the above scenario gets old real fast and in the long run does you more harm than good. You also know that you need to say NO to these requests to perform magic, but what if the person asking is your boss? It’s one thing to wean a coworker off of your magical abilities, but it is a tad harder with your boss. After all, deep down inside, we do want to impress our bosses and performing the magic gives us some sort of satisfaction that is often difficult to explain. Yet saying no is something we need to learn how to do. If not, your magical ability will become more of a burden than a gift.
So how do you say no (to your boss or a VIP)? First, don't try to start when they are making the "magic" request. More often then not they are on a deadline, and they are depending on you to pull their rear out of the fire. You need to do it after you have performed the magic and are basking in the glow of success. It is at that time that you need to explain to your boss that performing magic for them means putting off other important tasks and that, in fact, you could have performed even BETTER had the request not required your magic, but just your regular efforts.
Most reasonable bosses will get the message after the first few times. With these bosses, you will come to an understanding with them about the things that can be planned in advance and those inevitable times when they ask for “magic” because it really is important and time is of the essence. You can still work your magic from time to time, and be known as the “go to” guy or gal.
Unfortunately there will be those bosses who can’t seem to take a clue and continue to take advantage of you; because they cannot manage themselves, everything is a priority that requires your “magic.” These bosses are much more difficult to deal with and changing their behavior can be quite the conundrum. For those who can’t seem to take a hint, you may have to just be blunter with them. Again choosing a time when things are not in crisis, you may have to schedule a meeting with your boss where you simply have to say that things cannot continue as they are and that for the benefit of both of you, things are going to have to change. You have to frame this as a win-win to get the most success out of this strategy; otherwise you'll be accused of being a whiner.
For those bosses who are just bad managers, you have a different set of problems. In this case, you may be carrying your boss on your back (so to speak) and any talk of performing differently may cause them great consternation. For these, (if you want to stay where you are), you can try to anticipate your boss by gathering as much information as possible from other sources to see what's coming down the pipeline. In this way, you may be able to get out in front of crises and avert them. For some though, the best method may just be to move on as soon as possible.
Obviously, there are other ways to wean your boss off of your magic, such as actually educating them as to what it you do, rather than let it remain a mystery. This may work with some; others might not have the time or inclination. Another method (although risky) is to make yourself unavailable to perform your magic, thus forcing them to deal with the situation differently or rely on someone else to deal with their problem. This could have negative unintended consequences though—so think it through.
In the final analysis, while the "power" may be addicting, providing magic services to clueless bosses is not a workable strategy for the long term. You will never get the resources or the respect you deserve if you let people abuse your abilities. It’s better to be known as the wise wizard, who can make magic happen in a pinch—but it better be a heck of an emergency! That’s the most satisfying position to be in—knowing you have “the magic” to draw on, but doing it at your discretion.
And you thought you just worked in IT <g>