The night before my first day of work in the “real world,” I called my dad.
Dad: “Big day tomorrow, Dan. Excited?”
Me: “Yup. Very.”
Dad: “Want some advice?”
Dad: “During your first week, your manager will sit you down and hand you a piece of paper that lists what he expects of you. Read that list, ask questions, identify the highest priorities and commit yourself to outperforming your objectives.
Now turn over the sheet of paper, and imagine that your boss is having the same discussion with his boss… discussing his own list. Figure out what’s on his list and write it down.
Now let’s be clear which side is more important.”
Understanding the other side of the paper
My dad’s advice has become one of the most valuable perspectives in my career. Here are four reasons why.
1. Preparing for the Next Job
Understanding my manager’s objectives (after I had my own under control) enabled me to proactively offer assistance on higher-level tasks. It was a win-win for me and my manager… I was excited to take on new responsibilities, and he was excited to delegate parts of his workload.
My current job at LinkedIn was catalyzed by a side project for my boss. He was asked to develop a strategy for a nascent business line focused on helping companies recruit talent. When I found out, I jumped at the chance to help. Despite the fact that I worked in a separate business unit, I led the project for him as a side responsibility, which gave me great exposure to the executive team and gave me the opportunity to learn about an exciting area for the company. When my boss was promoted to a larger role, it positioned me well to help lead this business… an opportunity I probably would not have gotten otherwise.
If you want to get the next job, start doing pieces of it today. Then when that job opens up, you’ll be a natural choice.
2. The Power of Context
Here’s a secret: Your manager deals with a wider and more complex range of issues than you know. Why should you care? Because understanding your manager’s world provides broader context that you can leverage to make better decisions. As a manager, I wish all my team members understood my context, or better yet, our CEO’s context. We’d all make better decisions as a result.
While at Bain, I joined a calibration session where a recent graduate received high praise from her manager: “She thought like a partner from the day she arrived.” Unlike most recent graduates who focus only on the analysis given to them, she considered the full range of issues at play. Are we focusing on the right areas? Are we conscious of the client dynamic? How important is this client relationship to our industry practice? How do we help the client execute our recommendations? By thinking with the ‘big hat,’ she made better decisions, and thereby demonstrated that she was ready to manage more challenging situations over time.
The broader your context, the better your decisions.
3. Successful Boss = Growth
One popular piece of advice is to join a high-growth company because growth creates opportunity. The same applies to managers. Successful managers get greater responsibilities. When they get promoted, new opportunities emerge. Plus, successful managers have the trust of their organizations, and that trust often flows downstream. Every boss has blind spots and weaknesses. Identify how you can fuel your manager’s success by helping them achieve their objectives alongside your own.
Make it your job to be on the lookout for gaps (or opportunities) in your manager’s strategy or execution.
4. My Goals Don’t Align with my Boss’
Occasionally your goals won’t align with your manager’s. This dissonance can lead to choices that seem right from your perspective but are bad for their company. I find that one of the most enduring qualities of high performers is that they often sacrifice their objectives for the betterment of the whole. They can do that because they understand the broader context. They can say, “My objectives suggest I do X, but in this case I’d be negatively impacting your broader goals, so it appears that I should do Y. Can you confirm I’m thinking about this correctly?”
The ability to identify disconnects in incentives is an early precursor to leadership aptitude. It’s music to a manager’s ears (and to an HR leader thinking about succession planning).
Dad, thanks for the advice. It’s probably 1 of 1000 you’ve given me. This one has served me very well.