Seven Questions that Will Get Your Boss to Love You

Looking For a Fast Track to Career Success? Ask yourself these questions to increase your chances for promotion and recognition. It might even make a difference in the size of your next raise.

By Ruby Newell-Legner

A dear friend and colleague once shared a secret to his success with me. Upon waking each morning, Ed Oakley asks himself, "What question should I be running on today?" Ed uses that simple question to trigger his mind to reflect on his potential and frame his thoughts for the day ahead.

In my work as a performance consultant to the top executives in the leisure industry, I've seen first hand how a simple tool, like asking the right questions, can help put you in the right mindset to master the challenges ahead and to take the reins on your future – to become the kind of employee that gets noticed and rewarded on the job.

What questions should you ask to increase your chances for promotion and recognition? The following will help you to begin thinking about how you can put your career on the fast track to success.

  1. Do I take responsibility for my mistakes? When something doesn't go as planned on the job, admit your mistakes to your boss immediately and own up to the slip-ups. Try saying, "In retrospect, I think I should have done this differently." or "Here's how I can make the project better next time." Your boss will appreciate your honesty and focus more quickly on what you've learned – instead of dwelling on what you did wrong.

  2. Do I know what drives my boss's decisions? Before asking your boss for input, think about what information she or he will need to make a decision. If your boss is a numbers person, bring the data with you to the meeting. If your boss bases her or his decisions on people, know the key players. If she or he is most concerned about the number of complaints you've received on a certain issue, have those numbers and specific concerns available. In other words, help your boss to help you!

    After working with a new boss for a few months, I realised that every time I sought approval for a special project she would ask me, "Is it in the budget?" It finally occurred to me to come to the meeting prepared with the budget printouts in hand. This time, when she asked me, "Is it in the budget?" I was ready to answer her question intelligently and give her the information she needed to make an informed decision.

  3. What can I do to be more proactive? Avoid going to your boss with a problem until you've first spent some time thinking about possible solutions. That way you can foster an environment that allows you to offer suggestions for review. For instance, try saying, "I've been thinking about (the problem) and have an idea. What would you think about…?" You can create positive and powerful perceptions about your capabilities by providing ideas that can help your boss easily resolve the issue at hand. Just be sure you've outlined the pros and cons of each so that you can demonstrate that you've thoroughly considered each option.

  4. How can I manage my boss's expectations? To get your plan approved, it has to be well received. And that means considering carefully how, when, and where to suggest a new idea to your boss. Ask yourself: In the past, what approach, situation, location and timing has elicited the best response? How can I use this approach for the same success? Depending on the issue, you may want to schedule a meeting, discuss the topic over lunch or add it to the agenda at your next staff meeting. The key is to choose the right delivery time and location to make sure your idea gets heard.

  5. What can I do to further my organization's missions? One of the traits common to most fast-trackers within an organisation is their ability to make their boss look good. They understand that sometimes the best way to be cast in a positive light is to be a team player who pitches in for the department's benefit. Ask yourself: How can I make sure everyone benefits from my thought or idea? Then follow through. Your boss will appreciate the initiative you take to create solutions to your department's problems.

  6. Am I giving my boss what he or she needs to succeed? As a young manager, I frequently found myself working side-by-side with my staff at the front counter. It was a very comfortable place for me and, because I hated paperwork, I preferred serving customers to completing reports. One day, however, my boss called me into his office and came unglued. A report I was responsible for was long overdue. My response? "The front desk staff needed me. Aren't our customers more important than a report?"

    But here's the thing: I hadn't considered how my procrastination impacted everyone up the chain of command, starting with my boss. He needed the information in my report for his boss who was preparing a bigger report for the Executive Director who needed it for a Board meeting later that week. Customer service was important in this case … internal customer service.

  7. What image am I projecting? Gaining visibility is crucial to getting ahead. And that means maintaining a professional image at all times. Ask yourself: What kind of image am I projecting? Are you viewed as a team player or a loner? Someone who works behind the scenes or is a self-promoter? A person who solves problems or someone who creates them?

    The impression you create on the job can have far reaching effects-a hard lesson I fortunately learned early in my career. Here's what happened: A colleague and I were competing for the same promotion. When she got the job, I became her subordinate. Chalk it up to youthful ignorance, but I had the misguided notion that if I made her look bad, the decision-makers would realise what a mistake they had made in choosing her over me. For three long years I made her life miserable. I talked behind her back. Criticised her every decision. Mocked her to my colleagues. Finally, I had enough; I decided to move on. I applied for eight jobs outside the organisation, got a few second interviews, but no offers. Years later, I had the biggest "Ah Ha" of my career; I finally realised that all of the people who had been in a position to recruit me were the same people who I had been complaining to about my boss. It didn't matter that I had talent; they had seen me at my worst. Not surprisingly, none of them wanted to take me on. Well, I wouldn't hire me!

    We all need to let off some steam occasionally. But when you engage in boss-bashing and complaining, everyone will notice. Pick and choose your battles carefully and always maintain a professional image. Remember, what you say about others says more about you than it does about them!

As you think about your plans for the future, ask yourself "what question should I be running on today?" When you focus on putting your best foot forward, you'll quickly find the fast track to career success.

Ruby Newell-Legner, CSP, draws on her 25 years of experience in the leisure industry to offer staff-development programs that promote better relationships from front-line employees to customers, from colleague to colleague, and from managers to the employees they manage.

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