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Gloria was at her wit’s end. Her senior manager gave his staff no direction, which made it difficult for her as a middle manager to successfully complete projects. Her manager didn’t plan successfully, hindering her ability to lead her team. He lacked any kind of business vision, so neither she nor the other team leaders knew how to direct the efforts of their team members. By the time she came to see me, Gloria’s frustration was evident.

Gloria had worked for me several years back. I knew that she had solid credentials and was a very capable employee. She was a self-starter who needed very little direction to get the job done. My sense was that she should be flourishing in her new role as a team leader.

My advice to Gloria was this: So what if your manager is not a visionary? You should look at the situation as an opportunity rather than a hindrance.

Simply put, most people tend to be reactive rather than proactive. They face problems as they happen instead of anticipating them, and they don’t develop strategies for the future. It’s part of human nature, and often it’s just easier to operate that way.

Truly effective managers are not reactive. Yes, they know how to apply technical resources to solve problems, but an effective manager also knows how to drive his or her business operation by setting the goals, planning the activities, and implementing plans.

I told Gloria that if her manager couldn’t do those things, she should.

Stop using your manager as an excuse
Many of the “reactive” managers I’ve come in contact with would pretty much go along with their employees’ ideas and initiatives if those ideas and initiatives were valid and served the company as a whole. Even though I consider myself to be proactive, some of my best initiatives have come from employees with great ideas—not all my successes have come from my own ideas. The list would be very short if that were the case.

It’s easy to underestimate the full value of your insight and ideas. Don’t be shy about pushing your points, especially when you feel they’re of real value to the company. But keep this in mind: If it’s not ultimately good for the company, it may not be a good idea.

Of course, you’re going to run into the occasional senior manager who resents your taking the initiative. In that case, you may want to take a look at your methods. You don’t want to barge into a senior manager’s office with a whiteboard and say, “This is how things should be done.” No one wants to be railroaded. You want to present your ideas in a collaborative manner.

I would approach a reactive manager with care and with the goal of helping the team, the manager, or the company. As soon as you send the signal that you’re doing things for yourself, a weaker manager might view you as being individually focused, overly aggressive, or trying to just get attention for yourself.

Here are some guidelines for successfully developing a planning strategy with your manager:

  • Sit down with your manager and the key resources (three or fewer) of your organization to discuss the need to define your organization’s purpose and mission.
  • Quantify the challenges and key issues that exist for the organization.
  • Decide what your objectives need to be. Once you define them, validate them with key managers who have a vested interest in your definition.
  • Develop a list of all initiatives and/or projects that should be tackled.
  • Prioritize your initiatives and/or projects. Validate with senior management to ensure the priorities are consistent with company needs.
  • Determine who needs to lead each initiative and assign projects to them.

It’s a lot of work to take the initiative, develop a plan or even a recommendation for a plan, and prepare an informal proposal. Most employees—even managers—would prefer to complain about their manager than make the effort to be the catalyst for change. My theory has always been to try to look inside myself first before blaming someone else for a lack of clarity.

Developing a vision for an organization is not easy, especially for someone who has never done it before. But you can have more influence in directing your organization’s purpose than you think. People who take the initiative to help a company become stronger and more successful often find themselves achieving more success as well. That’s the kind of employee or manager I want working for me every time.