When I finally got my first female boss after many years of working for men and fighting hard for every promotion, I was shocked when she started treating me like an administrative assistant instead of a senior manager.
It started the first week Ms. Tech-Challenged joined the company. I managed fifteen people, while she supervised me and three other department heads. My boss wasn't familiar with basic programs like Microsoft Outlook, and whenever she got stuck, she would instant message me. I would rush over, show her how to solve her problem, and hightail it out of her office--highly annoyed at the time I was wasting. I did bring up our IT Help Desk, but someone the phone just wasn't going to cut it for her.
Ms. Tech-Challenged also had an administrative assistant. But he was shared by all the department heads, which meant that he never seemed to have time for any of us. So my boss's requests kept flying in and I kept cheerfully complying. But my hidden resentment soured our whole relationship.
Since then, colleagues have asked me about similar problems with their bosses. Here's the advice I wish I had followed back then.
Option 1: Be a little harder to find.
I used to pride myself on never using "Do Not Disturb" on my instant message status unless I was in a meeting. But if my boss had found me unavailable once or twice, surely she would found another option.
Option 2: Don't be afraid to say no.
If my "Do Not Disturb" status failed to deter a desperate ping from Ms. Tech-Challenged, I could have just answered back with a cheery "Sorry, tied up -- can't help out right now." By always rushing over, I probably gave her the impression I didn't have that much work to do.
Option 3: Supply the information in a different way.
We had created on-boarding guides for new hires, but they didn't have all the information my boss was looking for. I could have asked a member of my team to expand our cheat sheets and helped other new hires with similar questions.
Option 4: Use my boss' requests to build a stronger relationship.
While this option would have been the hardest for me at the time, I'm sure it would have been the most successful. I now think my boss wasn't actually looking for an administrative assistant, but a work buddy. She was overwhelmed with a big new job and I was the person she felt most comfortable coming to for help. Why was I unable to see that as an opportunity instead of a burden?
Instead of rushing out of her office after I answered her trivial questions, I could have sat myself down and started a conversation. So, how are things going? I know how complicated this place was for me when I started. Do you have any questions about our strategy?
Perhaps we could have built a relationship in which she would have relied on me for more significant advice than how to book a conference room. Worst case scenario, she would have realized that pinging me would turn into a time suck and would have thought twice about bothering me in the future. Either way, my feelings of resentment would have lessened and I might have been able to build a healthier, more equitable relationship with a boss who just needed a little bit of help.