So, you have something to get done. It’s not exactly a normal task, but we can call it normal-ish, so you decide to get to it. In the back of your head, you think to yourself, “maybe I should ask my manager if he or she wants me to do this.”
And then, just as quickly, you decide that any like-minded, rational person would want this done, and want you to do it, likely right this minute. Again, you get to it, whistling while you work. And, just like clockwork, in comes the boss. You can probably see this coming, but let’s just push forward.
Boss: “What are you doing?”
You: “I’m doing this normal-ish task that needs to be done, that any rational, like-minded person would agree I should be doing.”
Boss: “Did you ask permission to do that? It’s not as normal as you think.”
You: “… no…?”
Boss: “Well, stop doing it. You don’t have permission.”
Here’s a fun lesson I’ve learned the hard way, which I need to be reminded of more often than I’d like to admit. If there’s a new or different task that needs to be done, and any reasonable like-minded manager would want you to do it, then ask. Once you’ve explained what it is and why it’s important, that manager will likely say yes.
Believe it or not, your boss wants you to be successful, wants to help, and wants to see you meet your goals. Bosses and managers want a chance to say yes as much as anyone else, so take a minute to ask. You’ll get some perspective, some buy-in, and maybe a connection to make it all easier. Communicating and giving the people above you a chance to participate in some way, even if it’s just by saying yes and making sure you have some resources, is good for everyone.
What if you don’t ask?
Well, some managers will come find you once they hear you’re starting a project that you didn’t discuss with them. Like the quasi-hypothetical situation at the start, they’ll make a point to say no. It seems to be the gut reaction, and I think all of us in leadership positions have had the urge to say no just to prove a point of who is in charge.
The boss would have said yes if you’d asked, but since you didn’t, the answer is now a definitive no. I’m not saying you have to agree with it, and I’m not defending it. I’m just stating it clearly as another one of those inconvenient truths in our lives so we can talk about it. I wish I’d at least seen this for what it was earlier in my life.
Just like your boss needs to know that there’s no need to make a decision every minute, that there’s time, he or she also needs some easy wins. The sky doesn’t always need to be falling, and I can say from experience that it’s nice when someone comes into my office with a task that needs to be done and a plan to do it. Saying yes to good ideas is a privilege when everything else seems complicated. Give your boss that opportunity.
When you do this, the manager gets an easy win in a chance to say yes. You get to be the person who arrived with a task and a plan, and who knew enough to communicate it upwards.
Many times, that normal-ish task is more complicated than you thought, and the answer would have honestly been no even if you had asked. That’s probably better to know before you’ve invested energy in the wrong direction. When that little voice in the back of your head says, “hey, maybe we should ask for permission,” do it. The whole ‘it’s better to ask forgiveness’ line isn’t usually the way to go.
– Have you ever had the urge to say no when you would have said yes, just because you weren’t asked?
– When the boss has said no, how can you work back towards yes if it’s still the right thing to do?
– How many times have you asked for that easy yes just to learn that the situation wasn’t as simple as it looked?
Have a great week out there.