A Two Step Conversation that Helps Your Boss Help You Get Ahead
Ask your boss to talk about her aspirations for your department or team.
Provide focus. Don’t extend the conversation into the distant future. You might say, “I’m thinking about the big picture for the next year.”
- Listen to understand. Let her speak 80% of the time.
- Don’t judge.
- Restate her ideas to be sure you’re on the same page.
Ask your boss to talk about her aspirations for you. The context is within her organizational aspirations.
This approach feels awkward to many bosses. They may fall back on generic answers like, “I want you to enjoy work.”
Practice humble inquiry.
- Thank her for her response.
- Explain that everyone benefits from an outside perspective.
- Restate the organizational aspirations she explained in step one.
- Provide a specific context. “I’m wondering about your aspirations for me as a team leader?”
- Press for more. “I’d like to hear what you think. I was wondering if you might have specific aspirations for me.”
Try one of these conversation starters.
- “What do you see in me that’s holding me back?” Explore the aspiration behind the concern. Seek feedback. Don’t wait to receive it.
- “How might I make new contributions to our organization?” Listen for specific behaviors.
- “What are your aspirations for my leadership?
- “What are my greatest opportunities, from your point of view?”
- Turn negatives to positives. Your boss might explain something to stop. Look for something to try.
- Your boss may need time to think about this.
- Let your boss know that her viewpoint matters to you.
- Listen openly. Reject defensiveness.
- Don’t pressure her to make commitments to you.
Help your boss help you by seeing yourself through her eyes.
How might you help your boss help you?
Dan, Great thoughts — your ability to think beyond the typical. I think the tip on not being defensive is critical. Might be helpful if it was in bold, a header, something. It can be a challenge when we ask someone to tell us what they think we need, and then not try to defend ourselves. Learning to be confident in who we are provides us with the foundation to truly listen to what we are being told — and then saying, “thank you.”
Thanks Alan. Yes. Great thought. It seems that I regularly hear concerns about the problem of defensiveness. It’s a real hinderance. Thanks for your insights.
The suggested conversation can help only if your boss is interested in you and your career. In most cases, bosses are selfish and look for their own achievements. They create the team to fulfil organization’s interest with own success than benefitting the team by way of promotion. They may be liberal in rewarding the team with Verbal Appreciation, Recognition on speeches, Merit Certificates with Cash Rewards but nothing beyond that!
Often, they put a blame on HR or Promotion Plolicy Restrictions and get away with the real thing to boost a subordinate’s career. In a
corporate world, one may find it difficult to get a right good boss as your well-wisher.
Thanks Dr. Asher. I feel your concern about bosses who might not be interested. This exercise really puts them on the spot. Part of me feels good about expecting them to come up with a good response. Part of me sees the danger of expecting them to expand their thinking.
I’m definitely writing from the assumption that the boss cares about you. Just this morning, I asked a CIO about the aspirations he had for his team members. Because he cares, he had some great ideas.
The Boss is the Boss, just depends on which Boss is the Boss? Really depends on the pecking order, some Bosses have the capability to deliver, others just string you along with open promises. If a person has aspirations of growing they really need to search out their options during their journey to see what fits them. Key component knowing where you want to be and how to get there? often the how becomes the deal breaker.
Thanks Tim. Research shows that people don’t leave organizations. They leave bosses. This demonstrates the influence a boss has on people on the team. Perhaps I should have taken a proactive approach to this conversation. Bosses should invite their team members to a meeting where they talk about their aspirations for their team members.
Another useful opportunity is to compare the bosses aspirations with the employees aspirations. How much alignment is there?
So true, people do leave the Bosses, I have seen this many times in my life/career. You also bring up a good point of how much alignment is there and the aspirations each party has?
Surely we/people can make things complex at times.
This is good. Regardless of the ‘career’ result, it should show any good Leader that you are engaged in their goals, success and want to be a part of that. The conversation described should not be an entrance into a “this is the career I want”. It demonstrates collaboration, and indeed that alignment of activity, which should lead to measurable actionable steps that when examined after time show evidence of progress.
Now if you indeed have a “Boss” all bets are off. While I do have Managerial responsibilities, I do not want that title.
Thanks Will. First, hats off for bristling at the term ‘boss’. It’s a term that comes out of a command and control system.
You capture one of the goals of having this conversation. “I am engaged.” Another goal is “I’m open to insights of others.” In large part this is an exercise in humility.
Hi Dan – I think the questions you have suggested can be really useful. From reading through the comments it appears some people don’t think their boss is interested in helping them grow and instead they focus on their own ambition. Knowing this, I wonder if someone asked their boss what their own aspiration is and follow that by paraphrasing what they hear before asking the boss how their team can support her in achieving her aspiration. In most cases, once the boss feels really seen, heard and understood she may even focus on the speaker and their team. If not, at least the person will have a better understanding of what the boss has as expectations and that may add clarity to their role as a leader. Perhaps the leader can request feedback from others to support their learning.
Thanks Kathy. Brilliant observation. Just make sure to begin with your bosses aspirations. From that context, what might their aspirations be for you. Even a self-centered boss can understand the value of helping someone succeed when that person wants to help them succeed. 🙂
It can be difficult to approach any sort of career-orientated conversation if you are switching the focus away from how you can approach the situation, to ‘my boss isn’t interested in what I have to say’. Few stop to ask themselves ‘why isn’t he interested in me? How can I change that?” I wrote an article on this because it’s an attitude I believe is all too prevalent in the workplace. I’d be interested to hear everyone’s thoughts on this slightly different perspective on the issue https://lawyerlauren.com/2017/02/08/stop-blaming-your-boss/
Thanks Lauren. If we want to get to the next level, we need to take control of our own behaviors and trajectory. You have my respect for the article you wrote.
Exploring the boss’s aspirations for us is one more way to take the bull by the horns.
I agree Dan, it’s a multi-faceted approach for sure!
Dan, thank you for great insight. I understand that most people find it tough to have a difficult conversations with their bosses. Managing upwards have never been easy. However, with bad leader who drive their own agenda instead of focussing on suspending their agenda for other, we have to give them food for thought and through a proper method plant the seed of them becoming selfaware of that fact. This does not happen over night but really put leadership abilities to the test to lead upwards. That wil gain alot of respect and building better relationship that opens communication channels for the future that create opportunity for more difficult and robust conversations. Leadership is a journey that starts with you not you boss.
Love this! I always enjoy reading how to improve myself and asking my boss is great. I aspire to do the best I can always and any suggestions given to me good or bad helps me modify my actions to the positive. I just need to change the questions I’ve been asking.