Boss TaskDoes this sound like your job description?

Meet with my boss once or twice per week, write down all the things she would like me to do, then try to get them done before our next meeting.

I think a lot of us feel this way on some level. Recently, I worked with a client who was very unsatisfied with his job and we boiled it down to one primary factor – his day was spent trying to complete the tasks his boss gave him. He didn’t have a purpose behind the task, just the task steps. He felt disconnected from his boss’ overall vision and viewed most of the tasks as “boring”. He wasn’t fulfilled and didn’t feel empowered.

Based on this, we came up with two ideas for him to try:

  • Ask his boss to explain her vision and the big items on her plate.
  • Never hesitate to ask for the background on a task, even if it was something he should know already.

After 3 conversations with his boss, something remarkable happened: my client became very excited about the tasks! Here’s how it happened.

What’s the purpose behind the task?

My client first realized that he wasn’t asking for the purpose – he wasn’t seeking it. He just wanted the details of what he was to deliver. One of the consequences was that he became stuck when the task morphed or headed into an unexpected direction. He had to wait until his next meeting with his boss to explain the situation and get her direction.

Second, it turns out that his boss was very stressed out and was concerned with very real problems. His boss was, in fact, happy to explain the background and lay out the reason behind the task she assigned to him.

Once his boss started explaining the course of events that led to the task, my client finally began to see her vision of the situation – the problems she saw and the reasons why she handed him these tasks.

See what your boss sees

What’s amazing is what happened next. After the second call with his boss, my client sat down and started to list the problems his boss mentioned as well as the problems he felt were already on the table or would arise very soon. With that vision, my client got very excited about working on such big problems. He looked at his tasks in a whole new light – the way to solve problems at his company.

In fact, he went back to his boss with the following:

  • A list of the issues they were currently facing
  • A list of issues they might soon have
  • Suggestions for solving all those issues
  • A revised overarching strategy for his boss’ entire department

The job became fun again. Understanding the context of the problems helped him appreciate the tasks his boss gave him as well as the new tasks he proposed.

Who knows the best strategy?

Another interesting conclusion from this career development work was the following: oftentimes the person with the best strategy is the one who is doing the work. Your boss may have an excellent perspective on the desired business outcome but her vision for achieving that outcome may be inadequate.

Don’t limit yourself to being a project manager and simply executing the tasks you are given. Put yourself in your boss’ shoes. Adopt her problems as your own. Solve them for her and your boss will start to view you differently and come to you for strategy, not just tasks!

Help your boss succeed

This brings me to the next steps for my client:

  • Continue feeding strategic ideas to your boss while also completing the tasks to implement your ideas.
  • Show your boss the progress you’ve made towards the plan. Let her know that you can execute this plan – give her a concrete list along with delivery dates.
  • Let your boss know how much more productive you could be with an additional team member. Show the additional goals you would achieve and the compressed time frame you could deliver them in.
  • Ask her to give you a raise/promotion if you execute on your plan and reach the targets you jointly set.

This is ambitious and more easily said than done but you can see how my client can get 1) a promotion, 2) a bigger team to lead and 3) a lot more job satisfaction all while making his boss look good too.