What Your Boss Really Needs From You
Bosses will tell you they are looking for something different but they're not, actually. — Ian McShane
What Your Boss Juggles Everyday
When your boss ‘barks’ at personnel it may not be because your boss is a bad egg; it may well be a sign of sheer overload or frustration. After all, being the boss, supervisor, or manager is no picnic and requires being pulled in multiple directions at once, juggling a variety of tasks. On any given day, your boss will cycle through multiple jobs which can include:
- Hiring and training new employees
- Setting goals for performance
- Setting deadlines, delegating tasks, and organizing workflow
- Monitoring employee productivity and providing constructive feedback and/or coaching
- Undertaking disciplinary actions or deciding on performance-based rewards and promotions
- Receiving complaints and resolving problems
- Preparing and submitting performance reports
- Ensuring adherence to legal requirements as well as company policies and procedures
- Keeping employees informed as to both strategy and results
- Reporting to corporate officers regarding key results
What Your Boss Doesn’t Need
With so much responsibility, bosses need to guard their time and energy. Anything that takes time away from the important tasks they need to accomplish is bad news for both boss and employee. Here are some real no-no’s a boss doesn’t need from an employee:
Inconsistent performance. An employee who does great one day and ‘phones it in’ the next day is problematic. This kind of behavior forces a boss to use up valuable time double-checking an employee’s work.
Unreliable. For example, an employee who takes too many personal or sick days forces others to cover for them, including the boss. Again, valuable time is lost.
Excuse prone. Employees often do not understand that when the boss questions why a [fill-in the blank] is past its deadline and still not done, they do not want to hear an answer that provides only an excuse such as, “I ran out of time because Robert asked me to proofread his letter.” Bosses want results. Anything else wastes their time. A better response is, “It was my responsibility and I underestimated the time it would take. I apologize and I will have it completed by [fill in the blank].”
Easily hurt feelings. Employees who put their feelings ahead of mental reasoning cause a boss to feel more like a baby sitter than a business professional and again, chews up a boss’s time and energy.
Demanding special attention. The employee who is a temperamental prima donna with an exaggerated opinion of themselves, who demands special recognition for this or that accomplishment, is another drain on time and energy for a boss.
Too many problems without solutions. An employee who constantly questions work assignments without offering suggestions for solving problems forces a boss to stop everything and defend every single decision they’ve made. Bosses are human too, and this kind of behavior can make a boss feel that the employee has no confidence in their decision-making abilities.
Too much ‘sharing’ of information about one’s private life. The employee who wants to get too ‘cozy’ with their boss by talking too much about their own private life creates uncomfortable moments for their boss. This strains the employee/boss relationship and is stressful for any boss.
Being a ‘termite’ in the workplace. The employee who undermines the organization with gossip and just plain talking too much. This always gets back to the boss who must then take time away from his or her own duties to ‘smooth feathers’ and get everyone back on track.
What Your Boss Needs
Simply put, your boss needs for you to make his or her job easier. Bosses may say they want new approaches to choosing and retaining personnel but nine times out of ten they are really looking for the tried and true characteristics in an employee that will help them be successful.
In her article, 5 Things Every Boss Is Dying for You to Do (But Won’t Ever Ask For), for themuse.com, Alyse Kalish discusses five things that a boss wants but won’t ask of you:
1. Take the Lead. In other words, when your boss delegates a task to you, be proactive and work on it without needing constant prodding and supervision. “I can almost guarantee they’ll be both impressed and relieved to see you taking charge in meetings, setting agendas, and completing assignments without having to ask.”
2. Let Them Know When You’re Struggling. In other words, if you feel in over your head be honest about it. Explain your concerns with your boss and ask for advice as to how to proceed. Ms. Kalish provides more advice on this, plus an email template in her article, How to Tell Your Boss You're Lost Without Feeling Stupid (Email Template Included!).
3. Be on Time and Prepared. “Basically, even though they don’t say it, they really want you to show up to do your day-to-day job responsibilities, in addition to showing up to work on time, coming prepared to meetings, and meeting deadlines. And really, why wouldn’t you if you care about keeping your job?”
4. Ask Questions, Push Back When it Makes Sense, and Offer Alternate Solutions. In other words, do your homework on assignments, think critically, and if necessary, question projects you’re working on, while offering solutions to your concerns. Ms. Kalish points out that questioning should be judicious and only when necessary, otherwise you run the risk of appearing to mistrust your boss’s judgement.
5. Help Them to Better Manage You. Bosses are, “… technically open to feedback. I say technically because in an ideal world, everyone you work with would want to improve and would seek out constructive criticism to make that happen. Alas, that’s not always the case.” Use your judgement in offering feedback. Ms. Kalish provides a template for this in her article, The Email Template You Need to Ask Your Boss for Better Feedback. Or, “If you want a more subtle method, reinforce habits you like. For example, ‘Thank you for giving me such in-depth feedback on that memo, I found it really helpful and I’d love for you to continue to do that for other projects.’” In net effect, you subtly retrain your boss to communicate with you more effectively.
In his article for inc.com, 3 Things Your Boss Really Wants You to Know (But Will Never Tell You), David Walker, CEO and co-founder, Triplemint, writes from experience when he outlines three things your boss really wants you to know:
1. "Always come to me with a problem and a solution." Employees are often concerned about bringing up problems for fear of being blamed. So, guidelines for bringing up problems in the workplace often go unspoken. However, Walker explains, “What your boss really wants, however, is for you to come to him/her with both a problem and a solution. It's okay if your solution ends up being wrong, but there is nothing more valuable than an employee who tries to solve problems and improve the company, no matter what the problem is. An important caveat is that there are some problems (like HR problems) that should be flagged right away without trying to solve them.”
2. "Show me you can learn things that aren't your job." In other words, your boss probably doesn’t see you staying in your current position forever. Rather, he or she will be watching your progress and growth in learning your role with the idea of promoting you to a position of more responsibility in the future. As Walker states, “That makes it critical to show progress and adaptability beyond just your role. Getting really good at your current role doesn't always mean you'll be good in the next role. Managers can find it hard to communicate this concept because they don't want you to take your eye off your current role and start dropping the ball and they don't want to set your expectations too high before a promotion has been finalized. Be proactive and show an ability to learn and improve while still balancing your current role. Your boss will feel more comfortable promoting you to a new challenge.”
3. "You're my understudy." Walker writes, “Like actors in the theater, you and your boss play a role in a large performance…you should think of yourself as your boss's understudy. If your boss doesn't have a piece of information or drops the ball on something because he/she is too busy, it's your job to be there ready to jump in. Just as the audience still sees a wonderful performance if a lead actor is out sick because the understudy jumps in and fills the role, you should work to be able to jump in and help your boss fill their role in a moment of need.”
Knowing what your boss really needs allows you to hone or develop habits adapted to your boss’s needs but still within the framework of your own authentic self. It really comes down to actively managing your communications with your boss. This isn’t the same thing as being a “suck-up” but rather it is a matter of cultivating a “partnership” with your boss in order to create a win-win for you and your boss in which everyone comes out successful. In the process, you won’t get barked at and you may just get a promotion!
What do you think?
- Do you have a good working relationship with your boss? If so, what do you feel is your contribution to the relationship?
- Do you have a difficult working relationship with your boss? If so, what do you feel is the source of the trouble?
- What additional thoughts do you have on what bosses want from employees?