In this time of confinement, we are each more aware of our limited resources: finances, time, energy, focus, humor, patience, and more.

Knowing our priorities helps us invest these personal and professional resources more wisely.

Our work priorities depend upon those of our boss.

Do you really know what three numbers keep our managers up at night? What are they measuring?

They be looking at different issues during confinement than in “normal” times

  • Cash
  • Sales pipeline
  • Employee health
  • Access to technology
  • Employee morale
  • Team communication
  • Employee autonomy
  • Interruptions during a workday

Especially during a crisis mode, it is vital to (re)align our efforts with our boss’ imperatives.

YOU and YOUR BOSS

How is your relationship with your manager?  Do you know there are 150 Million responses to “I hate my boss” on Google?!  (FYI 670 Million search “I hate my job.”)

Few of us are at ease calling our boss to ask about her priorities.  Coaching clients tell me this:

  • “It’s not my job to ask my boss about his priorities. My job is to follow his directives. He chooses. I act.”
  • “It would not make a difference if I asked my boss about her priorities. I still must do the same work.”
  • “We don’t have that kind of relationship. I am not her confidant. She asks us what is going on in the field. We don’t ask her what is going on in the board room. I think she’s a great boss because she listens to US!”

Employees expect the boss to take the lead.

And yet, you have the most to lose by not being aligned with your boss’ prioirities.  Your peace of mind, energy, and possibly job security depend upon it. 

How can YOU take this positive initiative and ask your boss about his priorities with utmost respect?

Prepare both the PEOPLE and the Content

Often preparation for a meeting focuses on getting the content right.

This process prepares the people too.

Prepare Yourself

The first person to prepare is YOU (and me!).  Mindset matters.

We all have some degree of the imposter syndrome. The underlying questions are, “What gives me the right (validity) to …?” “Should I ask my boss about his priorities?”

Try reframing the situation slightly to focus on results. You’ll discover empowering questions.

  • “How can I ask my boss about priorities in a way that makes her want to share them and even appreciative of the opportunity to do so?”
  • “How can I better help my boss perform well during these times of stress?”

Here, we focus on overcoming obstacles. Merely formulating these questions helps us to birth an action plan.

Prepare Your Boss

It is more the exception than the rule to enjoy strategic exchanges with our manager. He might be taken by surprise by your request.

Consider a two-step process to help him adjust.

  1. Tell him you want to ask about priorities
  2. Ask him

Prepare the Discussion Content & Process

I like to have a basic structure when engaging in open-ended discussions. Sounds counter-intuitive?!
Structure provides safety when venturing into less certain territory.

The following steps guides us in launching and closing the discussion with confidence. You will also gain pointers on how to stimulate the exchange if your first attempt does not generate the hoped-for response.

1. Explain the trigger for the discussion

Your boss might be wondering what makes you act “oddly.”

As humans, we fill in knowledge gaps with our own interpretation. And oftentimes with negative news!
Let her know from the onset this is a forward-thinking exchange. 😊

When you explain the trigger for the discussion, point out your motivation to grow professionally.

2. Confirm your objective to support your boss in her/his priorities

Products and services that sell well are those that satisfy a need. Your boss has needs too, among which performance criteria. Assure him that you are committed to those as well.

It sounds obvious, yet we can get caught up “doing our work” and forget the reason for it. The purpose of your discussion is to add purpose to your work!

3. Present the context which depicts the relevance of your question

As we work in increasingly complex organizational structures….and as we work from home during confinement (!)…your boss might not know exactly what you do.

He might be oblivious to the fact that you spend HOURS on projects that get dropped and that your motivation has taken a toll.

This is your opportunity to provide a succinct glimpse into your preoccupations. You can present these concerns in ways that reinforce the interest of the company or of the department.

  • To best use your time and focus
  • To maximize learning for the department
  • To best reach our quarterly objectives
  • To fully tap into collaborative teamwork

4. Make your ask

Your boss is the person who knows her priorities better than you do. There is a time for you to ask that she express them.

Directly.

Expecting an answer.

It’s O.K to leave a few seconds of silence. They might feel like hours (!). Your closed mouth puts the onus on your boss to speak.

It’s O.K to leave a few seconds of silence. They might feel like hours (!). Your closed mouth puts the onus on your boss to speak.

Many of my coaching clients fall into the trap of filling in silence. It makes them uncomfortable, so they speak.

Change your mindset about silence. Remember that when you ask a question and pause, your silence communicates loudly. It speaks of

  • Intent
  • Confidence
  • Self-Control
  • Interest

And more.

I was recently on a videoconference meeting where the decision-maker had been avoiding making a choice about when to kick-in an emergency plan. One of the participants finally presented the issue as a direct question.

“What is the minimum level of cash that triggers the emergency plan?” Silence.

His silence kept us quiet.

Finally, the manager responded. “I guess I have to make a decision.”

The participants remained silence still.

“Ok…” and we FINALLY got an answer!

Be serious about asking your boss about her priorities…and you will be taken seriously.

5. Prepare to listen MORE

Have you noticed how it is easier to listen when topics are relevant to us?!

The more we understand how our boss’ priorities relate to our work, the more fruitful the discussion will be for you or me.

You can guide the discussion with well thought-out queries.

  • If _____(such and such happened) what impact do you see that having on our work?
  • What might maximize our chances of success?
  • Where are the risks higher and where are the stakes lower?

6. Have a back-up plan

I teach a class on resilience. One of the keys to being able to pick up and get back into the game is to have a Plan B.

Think of professional soccer players. They fall all the time. And get back up again. They even have training sessions on how to fall so that they can rise up again quickly.

A Plan B gives room for margin.  You and I don’t have to be perfect on the first attempt.

A back-up plan is like a life vest. When we swim out of our comfort zone and into deep waters, we have something to keep us afloat.

As a Plan B, anticipate several of your boss’ priorities and ask her to comment on those and even to rank them in order of importance.

You could even present potentially conflicting priorities and explore how your manager evaluates and compares them.

7. Link strategies to actions

In the interactive story mentioned above, The Calamities of Jade, Jade had been previously assigned a Project A. She brings it up during this strategic discussion with her boss. “How does Project A fit in with your priorities? “

(We don’t know the answer yet. In fact, it’s YOUR vote that determines it! Click here to vote on #SafePlaceToTalkAboutWork.)

Our companies thrive because ideas get implemented. Your boss’ priorities impact decisions about how you and I spend our time, energy, attention, affection, and finances.

In the end, it comes to “Just doing it.”

Gain clarity on what needs to be done!

8. Close with thanks

Thank YOU!

Working with a Challenging Boss

How is your relationship with your boss?

I help managers and high potentials manage themselves and their bosses with confidence.

You spend most of your hours at work.  If your manager is a source of discouragement, you carry that with you in all facets of your life.  You used to have the commute ride home to unwind.  With confinement, that discouragement enters your own home.

Let’s (re)build your confidence and your positive impact.

Send me an email to share your goals and the obstacles that keep you from reaching them.  Let’s connect to see if my online training and coaching is the right solution for you to boost your confidence and your career.

Cover photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

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