Are you working really hard, achieving exceptional things, and yet still somehow failing to move forward in your organization as quickly as you would like? It may be that what you’re delivering isn’t what your boss, or other senior leaders, are really looking for. Employees hoping to get ahead in the workplace often fail to deliver in ways that resonate with their managers and organizational leaders. Here’s a look at what you may be missing and what your boss really wants from you.
Your Boss Wants You to Deliver Value
“Too many employees mistake hard work for delivering value,” says Amanda Daering, CEO of talent services firm Newance. “You can be exceeding your goals and putting in long hours but if the work isn’t in support of the business goals it will go either unnoticed or worse be seen as a distraction.” Understanding business goals is critical and the best way to do this, she says, is through a thorough understanding of how your company makes money.
That is, she says: “Much more nuanced than what your company sells.” It involves, she says understanding “what lines of business or clients are the most important and what leaders are aiming to do next.” Then, she recommends: “Think about how your skills and role can provide value. Some goals might be strictly financial, and some may be in support of the financials. But those are where you should target your efforts.”
A good place to start—get your hands on your company’s strategic plan and find out what its goals and objectives are. Then sit down with your boss to understand how your division, department and personal actions can help impact the achievement of those goals and objectives.
Your Boss Wants You to Work Well With, and Through, Others
If you’re not able to effectively influence other people toward mutual goals, you’re not likely to be viewed as effective by your boss.
“A boss wants you to accept and recognize people’s differences, relish their perspectives, and establish a ‘village’ where people feel valued, and trusted,” says Dr. Susan Smith Kuczmarski, co-founder of Kuczmarski Innovation and the author of Lifting People Up: The Power of Recognition (Book Ends Publishing, 2018). She recommends:
- Listening deeply.
- Using lots of specific and enthusiastic praise.
- Reaching out to another person.
- Beginning a legacy of giving and service.
- Treating others with kindness.
Communication is critical, agrees, Katie Horgan, co-founder and VP of business development with Giving Assistant. Not only with colleagues but also, importantly, with the boss. “The single best advice I can give to an employee is to anticipate the needs of your manager,” she says. “Communicate your plan and deliverables—your boss is not a mind reader. Then, deliver the work before the manager has time to ask for it.” Doing this, she says, illustrates to managers that you are proactive and that you take ownership; it builds trust. “Personally, I would much rather have a worker who is incredibly reliable than a ‘rockstar’ who I have to constantly chase because they never deliver on their promises.”
Your Boss Wants You to Be Willing to Say “I Don’t Know”
“One of the secret weapons of satisfying your boss is being proactive in communicating what you don’t know or understand,” says Rick Snyder, CEO of Invisible Edge™. “So often, we think that we need to be experts in our field or craft, and that asking for help or not knowing something is a weakness,” he says. “What leadership actually respects are staff who are willing to be transparent and forthright with what they know and what they don’t.” They respect those who actively seek solutions.
“Taking full ownership of your shortcomings and what you don’t know is counterintuitively one of the fastest paths toward advancement,” Snyder says.
Your Boss Wants You to Make Him/Her Look Good
“The best employees make their bosses look good and make their work lives easier,” says Wendy Silver, founder of Beyond the Workplace, LLC. What does this look like? She gives an example: “When your boss asks for some information you not only provide the conclusions but include the links and data to support your position that they, in turn, can use if needed. It also means raising your hand to take on a task that you know needs to be done and can get done quickly. Bosses want team players who they can trust to get things done, and done well, without having to worry or check every detail—even if they do.”
While all of this advice is sound, Dr. Jeff Hester, a speaker and coach, points out that: “Asking what will resonate well with a leader or a manager is a lot like asking what kind of meal your dinner guests would enjoy. There is no one right answer and guessing can lead to disaster.”
His advice: “If you want to better understand what your boss is looking for in a good employee, get proactive about finding out.” There are a variety of ways to do that, he says. One important first step? Ask! “Walk in and say, ‘I want to be certain that I understand what you need from me and would like your feedback on how I can improve’,” Hester recommends. “Be sincere about the question, listen to what your boss has to say, ask for clarification as needed, and then put what you learn into practice.”