Recently, a newer employee at LaSalle turned to his manager to ask for help answering an email. The manager turned, paused, and simply replied,
“Pretend I’m dead… and answer the email.”
The anecdote, and the sentiment, has caught on in the office – not just because it’s funny, but because it also captures a common bad habit some employees develop:
Sometimes when a team has a strong, hands-on manager, employees can get too dependent on their wisdom and experience. They ask easy questions; they don’t take initiative; and they feel compelled to get the manager’s approval for everything. They don’t give themselves the chance to think critically, experiment, and sometimes fail.
You don’t have to be completely independent – and a second set of eyes always helps – but you should feel comfortable taking initiative, and you should have confidence in your own opinion at work. Growth can’t happen unless you’re willing to think, explore solutions, act, and find out what happens.
Sound scary? Then maybe it’s time to pretend your manager is dead… just for a little while. Instead of going to the boss for all the answers, the next time an issue comes up, do this:
#1) Take a few minutes to think
Many people develop a habit of just asking questions without stopping to think about the question first. They ask easy questions, get quick answers… and they stop thinking for themselves. Before asking your manager for help, spend at least five minutes thinking through what the question or the issue is. Think about what kind of answer you need, whether you’re missing information or you don’t know the right strategy for approaching an issue. Determine if your manager is the only person who could answer the question (if not, see #4).
Use this time to gather all the facts you do have: if there’s an issue, know the cause and who else will be affected. If it’s simply a question, be prepared to explain why you need to know and how you’ve already tried to find the answer.
#2) Brainstorm at least three solutions
Take initiative when solving problems: show your team and manager you respect their time, and come up with potential answers or solutions before asking your manager anything. Having ideas ready turns the conversation into a dialogue instead of a monologue, and some of your ideas may result in better outcomes than what your manager would have suggested.
This brainstorm session can demonstrate your commitment to the job and your potential for creativity. A manager is much more likely to dedicate their own time to devising solutions when they know you’ve given it your all.
#3) Google it
Seriously. Every single person has access to the best resource in history… why not use it? Questions big and small can be answered by opening a new search window. Which form of “alumnus” do I use? How do I create two columns in Microsoft Word? How do I get pen ink off a wall?*
The answers to all of these questions are online, along with billions more. It’s easy to discover if the answers to your questions are there, too. Do a few searches, and see what information others have compiled. Even if these searches don’t turn up the answer you need, they will likely leave you better equipped to present the issue to your manager when you do ask.
#4) Utilize coworkers and peers
Before turning to the management level, consult with teammates and peers who may have run into the same problems. Ask if they have any advice, and talk through the steps you’ve already taken to find solutions. More tenured employees are especially useful resources because they’re more likely to know the answer or at least know what the manager might say.
Collaborating with teammates to arrive at an answer can make the whole team stronger. Everyone has the opportunity to share ideas, discuss solutions, and learn from each other. These conversations not only produce new ideas, but they also build trust and camaraderie on the team.
Be careful, however, that you don’t rely too heavily on your peers either. They shouldn’t be a replacement for your manager, or for brainstorming on your own. Use peers as a resource… not as a crutch.
*Apply hairspray directly to the ink. Wipe away immediately with a cloth, and repeat. You’re welcome.