We’ve all been there before…you show up, do your job, but you’re not sure where things are going. You ask your boss about his vision and it leads to an awkward conversation that makes it clear that he is just as lost as your are. “Vision? My vision is for you to get back to work!”. Not exactly inspiring, right? Well, there is a vision there, even if she doesn’t want to admit it. Here’s how to get it out in the open…
First, let’s start by admitting that the word “vision” is one of those over-used, over-hyped terms that has a certain amount of “cheese” to it, unfortunately. It’s still vital to success, but buyer beware; asking your boss for his or her vision can lead to rolling eyes, a tilted head, or even being laughed at. I’ve seen it happen!
With that in mind, it may be easier to describe what you are looking for in different terms: The future. The path to profits. The direction. The way to win. The secret sauce for success. Whatever get’s the conversation going.
So stop complaining that your boss sucks at giving direction, can’t lead their way out of a paper bag, and has the leadership skills of a turtle. You didn’t say that? Oh, good!
Getting Inside Their Head
Whatever you do, if you find yourself in a foggy vision situation and intend on approaching your boss for some big picture direction, here are the steps to take:
- Setup a meeting
- Come prepared
- Offer to help rally the team
- Don’t argue
- Write it down!
- Set time aside for a follow up discussion
Just keep in mind that your boss’s vision is creeping around inside his or her head even if they aren’t good at saying it. It’s your mission to bring it out of them! Now let’s get into the details on how to do just that…
1.) Set Up a Meeting
This is a pretty simple step, but put some thought into it. If you want to really get the most out of your time with a leader, you want their full undivided attention. That means you need to ask them when that would be possible. Only they know their schedule and when they will be able to let their guard down. That might even mean that the time and location of the discussion needs to be offsite.
Popping into your boss’s office and saying, “I want to know your vision for this place…when can we do that?”, can only lead to distance. Instead, approach with humility and patience by saying, “I know you are super busy, and I respect that. I’m wondering if we could set aside some time, maybe 30 minutes, to discuss your vision for the team. Can we do something like that next week?”.
Keep in mind, more often than not, your boss will be caught off guard. He won’t be prepared for this, so it may take some time for him to warm up to the idea. Be patient if she doesn’t respond right away. It may take a few weeks and a couple of conversations to actually set the time up to have the discussion.
Something else may happen though…what if she says, YES, let’s do it now! Go to step 2…
2.) Come Prepared
If you want to have a professional conversation and have it produce fruit, you need to be prepared. I know what you are thinking, “why should I prepare to hear my boss’s vision?”. Since your boss is clearly not great at communicating this so called vision, it only makes sense that you may need to help with that.
Start by asking yourself what questions will lead to a productive (and not defensive discussion). Here are some ideas:
- Where do you see this team going in the next year? Next five years?
- How can we develop this team to be more efficient & effective?
- How can we better serve our customers?
- How can I better serve the team?
Part of being prepared also means walking in like a boss. What boss do you know that doesn’t carry a notebook and take notes? Almost none. So, bring a notebook and use it. Enough said!
The last part of being prepared is to ask yourself the question, “do I have a vision for this team?”. You may get asked this question, so you’ll want to think about too. Be critical of yourself and be realistic. Put yourself in your boss’s shoes, with his or her resources, time, and money. What would you do? Be careful in offering this up if they don’t ask though…
Now, for some context around the questions above:
“Where do you see this team going in the next year? Next five years?”
First off, don’t be frustrated if the leader you are talking with doesn’t know. It’s actually quite normal. That said, having a one or five year vision sets your team apart. This may be a journey towards that. Think of as no place to go but up, if there is no future vision. Even by asking the question, you are influencing the leadership thinking process. Be merciful and fearless at the same time!
“How can we develop this team to be more efficient and effective?”
I chose these words carefully. Efficient meaning, we don’t waste time. Effective meaning we get it done. Develop meaning investing in our people and process. Let the question marinate…if your boss is not sure how to do this, but interested in figuring it out, then offer to get feedback from the team for ideas.
“How Can We Better Serve Our Customers?”
No business runs without customers. And if you are not in a business (Church, Charity, etc) you still have people you are serving. Asking the question, “how can we better serve our customers”, may sound cheesy, but it’s where the real value of the work is! Taking a step back, humbling yourself, and reflecting on this is never a waste of time!
Asking your boss this question only elevates the team. Either your Manager will already know off of the top of her head, or she will have to think. Again, win / win!
Just be prepared, this kind of reflection is like asking a restaurant guest if they liked their dinner…they may say no it was bad. Any time you open yourself up to criticism, be ready to receive it. Don’t get defensive, listen, and look for ways to be better!
“How Can I Better Serve The Team?”
I’m a big fan of Servant Leadership. Being humble enough to serve the people around you almost always gains you respect AND it’s just the right thing to do.
Asking this question to someone who has authority and responsibility, is literally music to their ears. They want you and your team to be successful. They see the things holding you back (as you see the things holding them back). By you being open to this sort of feedback, you are actually showing them what good looks like. If you practice this habit, you’d be surprised at how often you’ll have a chance to share feedback right back to them. I know it’s circular, but that’s life!
Another word of caution here is the word, “I”. There is no “I” in team, right? Well, sort of. I’m suggesting you use the word “I” so that YOU can receive feedback. Most of us are not as self-aware as we believe. This is one of the reasons, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND YOU TAKE A PERSONALITY PROFILE, LIKE THE MBTI (Meyers Briggs Type Indicator). You will hear things that sting. And if you don’t, people probably aren’t being honest with you. Know this and work on it!
3.) Don’t Argue
Arguing because you want to be right is immature. We all do it to a certain extent, so I’m not casting stones here. You just have to know your place in this situation. You are trying to help your team by learning from and influencing your boss. Arguing a point usually only puts the other person in a defensive position. Once that happens, you’ve already lost. Asking good questions that lead to better conclusions is the way to go.
If you find yourself getting defensive, stop. Take a breath. Remember, you are here to learn and influence, not win a court case.
4.) Offer To Help Rally The Team
Supervisors, Managers, Directors all have one thing in common. They have a team and they want that team to be successful towards a goal. Any help they can get in which the team is striving towards that goal is more often than not, welcomed! So, let’s assume that you have a great conversation about the future and you learned some things that you didn’t already know.
The good news is that now you have this information and you have notes on it. Fantastic! However, you shouldn’t want to keep this information secret. You want your team to get in the loop ASAP. Why not ask your boss if you can share it with the team…
Your Supervisor might say yes or she might say, which is a WIN! However, he may say, “NO! I think that should stay between us.” Now that’s a pickle…
My suggestion in this case is to simply to let her know that this information was really valuable to you and helped you see things differently. Ask the question another way…”how can we help the team see your vision as clearly as I do now?”
Typically, this will at least get your boss thinking about how she can communicate those things better going forward.
6.) Set Up a Time For a Follow Up Discussion
Any good sales call ends with one of two things. A signed contract or a second meeting (or maybe both). In this case, there really isn’t a signed contract (maybe a handshake), so some actions and a follow up discussion is likely your best outcome. The point here is simple, you don’t get it if you don’t ask for it.
Be polite, be respectful and go for the close here. “Can we get back together in a month or so to see how things are progressing?”. Or maybe another way would be, “how can we follow up on this regularly to make sure we are advancing your vision?”. Either question works as long as you get a clear answer…
Where To Go From Here…
Well, if you’ve followed these steps, then it’s likely that you’ve made some progress. Hopefully, you are inspired, bonded with your team, and everyone is now rowing the boat in the same direction. Or maybe you’re not inspired, you’re more frustrated, and everything is more disjointed than ever. In my opinion, there is progress either way!
My point here is that you now have a choice. Do you continue to invest in the team you have or do you look for a new one?
But Bob, that is SO binary, and I’m not in a binary position. I get it, trust me. I’ve been there. That said, you are always in that position, whether you believe it or not! My old Mentor used to say,
“I will never be a hostage of my job” -Luc Morrissette
The point here is not to let yourself be in the “victim” position. Do something, not nothing…don’t stay status quo. You have control over yourself, influence on your boss and your team…learn how to use all of that!!!!!
In the continuous improvement world, we use a method called PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Adjust). It’s almost identical to the scientific method. You make a plan, you do something with that plan, check your results, and adjust the plan for the next cycle of PDCA. This helps you to learn and always improve your position. Team building is the same way.
Bottom line here is that vision is an important part of being on a successful team. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t exist currently. Don’t be afraid to use your influence to cultivate it. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you’ve given it your all and can’t see a path forward. No matter what, Learn from it, Grow from it, and Become a better version of yourself!
Question: Do you know your boss’s vision? Does your boss know your vision?