First, the solution- Muster the courage to ask, plan your conversation and seek feedback!
- Lack of alignment– Maybe you are not listening when they tell you what’s important. Do you know your boss’ top priorities? Do you know what they care about most? If not, ask or figure it out pronto. Then create your plan for your group/department and validate that your plans align with the boss so your success equals their success.
- Lack of clarity– You think you understand what the boss means when she says you need to collaborate more, but you are afraid to ask for examples, you may not even know her definition of it. Read about it, learn from others who do it well, practice asking questions, creating win/win solutions with others and being patient during problem solving with others. Get clear on what the boss means by collaboration. You cannot assume collaboration means more meetings, or slower decision making, it may mean listening more, inviting different groups to your meetings to solve problems, it could mean you are acting like a dictator, or you are avoiding others and working too independently. Find out. Ask questions. Practice.
- Fuzzy role definition– Too many people are involved, or when two people think doing something is their job (very unproductive). Kind of like the mix up on who is in charge of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Leandra English, or Mick Mulvaney? Also if many processes in your responsibility are not clear, then clean that up and then tell your boss what you did. Be courageous. Do not wait for the boss to tell you what needs to be done. If roles are fuzzy to you, imagine what they look like to your team and peers?
- Your thinking styles are different– Diversity of thinking is good, it strengthens the team, but you must understand your boss’s thinking style and give him/her what they want in the format they like. Do they want quick updates, or long reports? Do they want you to drop by with status updates, or do they want you to figure everything out with your peers and colleagues? I had a manager who came to conclusions by talking through everything out loud. He had to hear himself. It drove us crazy, listening to his long winded approach to everything, but we learned to check in with him later to see if his ideas stuck and he had reached a conclusion. We had to learn to summarize,” so what I hear you saying is….”
- Need more face time– Another boss never returned my emails. I had to learn his travel schedule and arrange to see him when he was in a city I was in and then arrange breakfast meetings. Get creative, find out the best way to get one:one time. Ask boss’ assistants for suggestions.
- Freedom– To what extent do they give you freedom to act? You must know how far you can go without checking in or verifying you are on the right path. If you have a micro manager, find out why they are doing it. Maybe you are inexperienced and they fear you will mess up. Talk about that, find ways they can gradually let go. It’s up to you to ask for responsibility and get clear on expected outcomes so that you can work without their close supervision.
- Do not mess up alone. I know many examples of managers getting in over their heads and not asking for help: not asking peers, stakeholders and/or their boss for help. If you are not asking for help, guidance, input or validation how will you know you are on track? Pull others in to look at your situation, get their input, do not fail alone.
- What does success look like? If you are lucky and have a boss who makes things crystal clear, more power to you. You now have one less thing to worry about. You do, however need to deliver on those clear things he told you to do. Have a continuous improvement mindset to deliver more success. What’s your value? Do you serve customers? What is the metric? Satisfaction score, money savings, market share growth, operating cost reduction, or on time delivery? When clients I coach do not get along with the boss, usually it is because haven’t owned what great performance looks like. You must ask- who do we serve, what is success? What value do I provide? What does great look like?
- How they view you as a leader? Listen to their developmental feedback. It may bite, or take the wind out of your sails, but listen to and accept the feedback. It is their perception of you. If they say you need to read your audience better, then find out how to do it. Improve, and get an accountability partner to watch you present next time. Then invite the boss to observe you next presentation. Those who fight with the boss or deny the feedback are not going to survive. If you shiver at the thought of getting constructive feedback, get over it. Face your fears, and put a plan in place to improve.
- What, why, how? Agree on “what” is the goal? Ask if the “how” is something the boss hands down or do you have freedom to create your own strategies? Next, agree on the outcome- what will you have once you succeed at the goal? To understand the Why, watch Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle Ted Talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPYeCltXpxw
If you don’t understand why it is important, who the initiative serves and why it matters, then you cannot possibly deliver on it.