We tend to look within our department or at our responsibilities and consider what could make our jobs easier or our department run more efficiently. Which is great. However, if you need resources to accomplish your idea, your manager may shut it down. Unless you can share the outcomes and how they tie into what your manager is responsible for accomplishing. That’s where curiosity, along with your initiative, can help gain traction for your ideas. What if the cost of your idea increases revenue to more than cover the expense, or improves services delivered to constituents, or achieves a greater level of member engagement? Any one of those outcomes could address a strategic objective or solve a challenge your manager is attempting to resolve. Boom! You’ve got her attention.
JUST LIKE YOU, YOUR MANAGER HAS A MANAGER.
It may be one person or it may be a board of directors. There’s a learning curve to build a relationship with one person as your manager. Imagine what it’s like to build consensus with an entire board of directors! Typically, the board establishes strategic objectives annually to reach that big audacious goal your organization wants to achieve. Your manager may own the responsibility of operationalizing one or more of those objectives. She may or may not know how to go about doing that, which is where you come into the picture. Your curiosity and initiative could be the next best thing for your manager.
Take some time to learn more about the priorities of your organization, your manager and what she is responsible for accomplishing. Then ask how you can help. When being curious, use open ended questions starting with How, What, or Where instead of Why. Why questions tend to put people on the defensive instead of engaging in conversation. Your goal is to engage. Once you ask the question, sit quiet and listen. Give your manager time to process. She may be startled and grateful that someone is curious and willing to help. Here are some examples of questions you could ask:
- What are the strategic objectives for the organization?
- Which of the objectives are you working on?
- How would you like to accomplish those objectives?
- What are your main priorities?
- How can I make your job easier?
- How can I help?
- If I have ideas about how to accomplish the objectives, what’s the best way for me to communicate them to you?
I was asked my first curious question when I was managing 45 people who were staffing an operation that was open 10 hours/day, 7 days/week. It was 8pm on Friday night. I was standing over my desk organizing papers so I could hit the ground running Monday morning. One of the supervisors walked over to my office and asked, “Is there anything I could do for you over the weekend?” I was stunned, sat down in my chair and with wide eyes asked, “Really?” She said, “Yes, really.” By asking that question, she opened a conversation that shifted how we worked together and our relationship, which continues to this day. It also shifted how I prioritized my responsibilities because I knew I had someone interested in learning and supporting me.
IF YOU HAVE A TEAM REPORTING TO YOU, HOW DO YOU TRAIN THEM TO MANAGE YOU?
Share your priorities with them and what you’re responsible for accomplishing. Let them know you are open to ideas. If their ideas don’t fly, tell them why and invite them to brainstorm with you about what could work.
If you have team members come into your office so you can solve a problem, instead of solving it, ask them what they would do. After a while, they will come into your office with the problem and the solution. Love that! By training on policy and procedure, how and when exceptions can be made, and giving permission to move forward, your team will grow in confidence and critical thinking. This will make your job easier, their job more empowering, and you’ll overcome challenges more quickly.
Here’s an insight for those of you on the team. Your manager is thinking a hundred things that don’t have anything to do with the challenge you’re trying to resolve. When your manager asks how you would solve it, it is NOT because she is testing to see if you know the “right” answer. It is because she must regroup, shift focus and process your problem in order to solve it. By suggesting a solution, you shorten the consideration time and get to the resolution faster.
Taking initiative is one of the most amazing gifts you can give your manager. Being curious and understanding organizational goals and your manager’s responsibilities will focus your initiative to create an open environment for innovation and accomplishment.