Ask for Directions


“Why do I ask for directions? Because I hate wasting time.”
–Harrison Ford

One item I read this morning, and an event from later in the day, connected in a way that I would not have predicted at the start of the day.  Here’s what happened.

Today was the first briefing of the team’s revised strategy under the new set of guidance we received following the original briefing two weeks ago.  The team worked hard to put together the new plan on a very short timetable.  The briefing today was, well, amazingly brief and smooth.  Yet at the end I was asked a question that I didn’t expect – one that I was not prepared to answer.  It bothered me deeply that I didn’t have an answer to what was a critical and fundamental question: “How are you going to do [X]?”  Why was it fundamental?  For that, I need to take you back earlier in the day.

This morning was quite calm.  The team felt prepared, as did I.  The briefing was not until 1:30 PM, so I had some time on my hands which I used to catch up on reading.  One item I read was a recent blog entry by executive coach Scott Eblin entitled, “How to Influence Your New Boss, Part II.” In it he provided three tips for anyone who wants to influence a new boss, which I summarize here:

1) Ask for Directions. In particular, ask your boss this question:  “If we were to be completely successful on this project, what would you expect to see six months or a year from now?”

2) Ask How Your Boss Wants to be Kept in the Loop. When you get a new boss, ask her how she wants to be kept informed and how often.

3) Put Yourself in Your Boss’s Shoes. Do this by asking yourself the questions following questions:  What am I thinking? How am I feeling?  What do I want?

Nice!  Without realizing it, I asked these fundamental questions when I started this project eight months ago.  The answers I got, which I’ll call The Boss’s Expectations, were considerations in the creation of the original strategic approach we briefed in DC two weeks ago.

Uh oh.  (You can probably see where this is going.)

Flash forward to my uncomfortable moment of today.  “How are you going to do [X]?” was tied directly to the most important element of the answer to, “If we were to be completely successful on this project…”  I realized that in leading the revisions to our strategy, I was so focused on moving the team forward quickly that I didn’t take the time to double check against The Boss’s Expectations.  Therefore, I felt unprepared for the question when it came up today.

If you’ve gathered it, I’m big on preparation.  Conversely, I hate not being prepared.  Call it my Boy Scout background, or my time in Mission Control, whatever – I hate not being prepared.  Part of being a leader is asking the right questions at the right time.  The time was right since our new strategy was ready.  I already had the questions, since they were given to me eight months ago.  Therefore, this one was a freebie, yet I somehow did not think to recheck against The Boss’s Expectations.  I also place high importance in appearing as a competent leader in the eyes of the boss, so that when I’m finished with my upcoming assignment, I’ll be considered for another key leadership role.  Yeah, when I write that it appears silly to be concerned about something like that, yet that very thought was flashing through my mind today.

When the question was asked today, I certainly didn’t want to give an impromptu response (a BS answer is worse than no answer – another lesson learned from Mission Control), so I turned to one of my experts who provided an answer.  Afterwards, I consulted with a number of people and reflected on the question, and felt better on how we handled the situation in real time.  My feelings that I was unprepared or incompetent relative to The Boss’s Expectations were an overreaction.  The strategic plan is sound.

So, what did I learn today?

Again I learned that I set high expectations for myself.  Writing this entry is helping me realize that I was being too hard on myself today.  I also have a great team, and what more can a leader want?

As a reference for the future, I’ll keep this in mind: when changing course, check against the facts and expectations established in the beginning.  It’s good preparation, and common sense.

Setting aside the self evaluation, today’s events reaffirm for me that the universe is connected in interesting and amazing ways.  Who would have thought that a blog article I read first thing this morning would have a bearing on the day’s events?  Some may call this a coincidence, and that’s fine.  I see deeper meaning in the connection – that it reveals something about how the universe works.  The connections of one event to another, and of one person with another, tell me that we have an important role to play in the unfolding of the universe through our choices and participation.  How magnificent is that!

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Ask for Directions