Go the Extra Mile (Without Putting in Extra Hours)

Nobody likes to be micromanaged, right? Yet, so many of us expect to be trusted without proving we deserve the reigns.

Traditional leadership training preaches that good managers should set clear expectations for employees. Many experts even suggest creating detailed checklists of specific tasks direct reports are expected to accomplish – with firm deadlines. While I agree that good managers provide continuous guidance and, as Bruce Tulgan suggests in a recent video, “Make Expectations Clear Every Step of the Way,” I also know that a good employee takes initiative. Ambitious and focused contributors – those who get noticed and promoted – know the importance of ownership.

If you were in your boss’s shoes, which would most impress you?

a. “What exactly is it you want me to do? And when is this due again?”

b. “I understand that you need me to do X, Y and Z. Here’s exactly how I plan to accomplish these tasks. Also, what do you think about doing X to take it to the next level?”

You’d value the team members who are attentive, ask for clarification (not repetition) and take initiative. Yes, some managers are threatened by such clear communication, in which case I advocate for finding a new manager. Your career counts on your ability to step up. And that’s a good thing. Wouldn’t you prefer that your career development rest in the hands of someone you know you can count on – yourself?

Ready to take ownership of your career? Consider the following simple but powerful tactics for earning the reputation of a dedicated team player:

Take notes. I will always remember the young man who came into my office for an interview with no pen or paper in hand. When offered, he graciously accepted but still took no notes. I was not surprise when he e-mailed me later, asking questions I’d answered during the interview. Taking notes when someone is talking shows you’re listening and want to follow through – ultimately creating trust. When leaders see that you’re on top of it, they’re more likely to let go of the reigns and give you a chance to make it happen. (No more micromanaging!)

Ensure your understanding. If you want your manager to place trust in your abilities, prove you understand his or her needs and expectations. Use the following as a framework for gaining clarification: “Just to be sure I understand correctly, the following is what you want me to do. Did I get it? Is there more?”

Follow through. Once you’ve completed your task, follow up to let your manager know what you did and the results, and to ask questions. (Just do it efficiently with a short, to-the-point e-mail at the end of the day. It is possible to over-communicate.) Becoming a strong communicator helps you build the credibility necessary for more visible, challenging opportunities.

Offer ideas. Show your leadership potential by continuously suggesting innovative ideas and offering to be responsible for generating results. Once you’ve built credibility by following these first three tips, you’ll be perfectly positioned to get your ideas heard. You may have to take dozens of chances before one of your ideas gets implemented. Keep thinking and offering suggestions; doing so demonstrates initiative and genuine interest in the success of your team, department and company.

Imagine the results teams can create when managers and employees do their part to ensure open and clear communication – when strong leadership is combined with committed team players. And imagine the impact on your career!

Offered with respect,

Misti Burmeister, Washington Post best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers

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