In my last post, I talked about the ten things you should be saying to your boss. Now it’s time to look at the other side and share ten things that your boss should be saying to you.
- “What do you think?” Your boss should value your opinion and contributions and frequently ask for your input. He/she should understand your unique perspective and solicit it often. This isn’t done just to make you feel better, but because teams function a lot more smoothly when everyone feels like they’re contributions matter.
- “I’m sorry.” Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you’re without fault. Be honest. Be transparent. We all make mistakes (well, I assume we do – I sure as hell have). Your boss should be self-aware enough to know when they’re at fault and why. And guess what? If you’re the boss and someone on your team messes up, your first inclination to should be to look internally – it’s your team. You’re responsible for their success and their failures. If they mess up, is it because you didn’t provide enough direction? Because you forgot to pass along a key bit of information? Because you didn’t read an email they sent to you? Own up to it. Apologize and move on.
- “Are you having fun?” My very first boss at Booz Allen made this a habit to ask this question of everyone on her team at least once a month. While she was always focused on meeting our deadlines and staying under budget (she was a PMP, after all), she also realized that there was often more than one way to do that. She made sure that everyone was also enjoying their work because she understood that more (and better) work got done if people were having fun doing it.
- “How can I help you?” Despite what your job description and place on the org chart may say, you aren’t employed to simply ensure your boss’s success. It’s a mutual relationship. One of your boss’s most important jobs is to ensure your success as well. One of the first things I told my account supervisors when I took my current job was that I wouldn’t be successful unless they were successful. Just like you should be proactively asking your boss what you can do to help, he/she should be asking you the same thing.
- “Go ahead – I got your back.” Sometimes, the best thing your boss can do is to give you the top cover to take a risk. To do something innovative. To challenge the status quo. One of the reasons I really enjoyed working at my last job was because my leadership always encouraged me to push the envelope and empowered me to do what I thought needed to be done. Even when they didn’t agree me every step of the way. My boss once told me, “I don’t really get what you’re doing, but you seem to be passionate about it and I trust you know what you’re doing so go for it.” And if I stirred up a political battle or wrote a controversial blog post, my bosses were right there behind me to step in and negotiate those difficult conversations. Employees need to know that their boss is behind them 100% and will go to bat for them whenever, wherever, and with whomever is needed. Employees with this freedom and encouragement can do amazing things.
- “Here’s what’s going on…” One of the most common complaints in pretty much of every organization that I’ve worked with has been internal communications. The C-suite gets frustrated when they tell their senior leadership teams something and it doesn’t cascade down through the organization. Middle managers get inundated with messaging and don’t have the time, or the incentive, to take time away from their projects and budgets to share anything with their teams. Operations staff feel like their just cogs in the machine because they have no idea where the company is going. Junior employees get frustrated because they don’t see a path forward for their career. A good boss will take the time to sit down with his/her team and pass along the information they receive that their teams may not be privy too – either because they’re not on the same distro lists or in the same meetings. Your boss should be filling in those details for you and letting you know where you fit into the bigger picture.
- “This isn’t going to work for me. Here’s why…” Being able to provide candid, timely feedback is a lost art among many managers. They try to sugarcoat their feedback or they avoid the confrontation altogether and fix everything themselves. If I create something that totally misses the mark, I want my boss to take the time to tell me that, help me understand what I did wrong, and how I can do it better next time. If your boss doesn’t give you that feedback, how can they expect you to do it any differently or any better the next time?
- “You did a great job.” As a manager, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day deadlines, budgets, and client demands. You become so focused on what needs to get done that you forget to share positive feedback as well. Your boss’s feedback should always include a mix of positive and constructive feedback – while it’s certainly important for you to clearly understand your mistakes (see #7 above), it’s also important that you understand what you did well and why.
- “Here’s what I’m looking for.” I used to work for someone who was notorious for giving very cryptic direction on new projects. In some cases, she wanted you to follow her direction to a tee – your role was to simply regurgitate her exact words into a PowerPoint slide. In other cases though, doing exactly that would only cause her to throw out everything you did because you took her too literally. You can imagine how confusing this was to her team as they were constantly guessing what she was really looking for. Your boss should be able to clearly articulate exactly what he/she wants you to do…even if sometimes, that means, “I don’t know what the right answer is – see what you can find out and bring me a recommendation.”
- “It can wait until later.” Have you ever worked in an environment when everyone is seemingly “putting out a fire” or “handling another fire drill?” No one likes working in that kind of job. Guess what? Not everything is a fire. Not everything needs to be done ASAP. Make sure your boss is helping you prioritize what needs to be done today and what is truly important. If you don’t need that report until next week, make sure you’re telling your team that so they don’t spend 10 hours at the office on something that you aren’t even going to look at until next week. I don’t think bosses realize how stressful an environment they create for their teams when they make it seem like everything is a priority all the time.
How many of these are you hearing from your manager on a regular basis? If you have a good manager, what other things are they saying to you that you appreciate? If you’re a boss, are you saying these things? Why or why not?
Excellent advice and some that I think every manager needs to be reminded of now and again. I think the governments scores on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey would improve if our leadership followed these suggestions.
Much truth here.
Wonderful post! Thank you!!
Steve, this sounds a lot like my boss. I really like that you covered both sides of the equation in these two posts.
On some of these you need to be careful. For instance, on #1 you can ask and then not really listen…and if that happens over and over, an employee feels like they’re participating in a shell game. Feels more manipulative than managerial. I think #7 is a bit of a dance, too…again, if it happens with frequency, it can be demoralizing.
On the positive side, I think a great boss looks eagerly for ways to articulate #8 early and often. And #10 is critical when you’re moving fast and have multiple projects (and multiple stakeholders or managers, all with high expectations).
@Andy – thanks for the clarification as you make some important points. None of these points really work all that well in a vacuum – they need to be accompanied by actual action and by a sense of compassion and empathy or else it just across as someone who read a blog post and starts trying to say all the right things without realizing that actions speak louder than words.
Tips on communicating with employees, from Government Executive: http://www.govexec.com/excellence/management-matters/2012/09/tips-talking-your-employees/58203/?oref=govexec_today_nl
How can an introverted boss make similar comments? If they are not engaged in your performance, how can you as an employee make them engaged?
@jennifer . It’s not about being introverted or extraverted – it’s just about being a good boss. If your boss isn’t saying these things, I don’t think he/she can blame it on being introverted.
Now, for your second question, that’s a whole other blog post that I’m going to have to write 🙂
I can’t wait to read that article Steve! 🙂