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The other day a manager called for some advice. She wanted her employees to take more initiative and be more resourceful, but for some reason, they didn't get it.

Her problem reminded me of getting lost one day in Paris, while looking for the Seine River.

I asked a few people for direction. "Où est La Seine?" I said.

No one had any idea. Apparently, they'd never heard of the Seine, or else they'd heard of it but just didn't want to discuss it.

I admit my French is terrible. "Pardon me," they might have thought I was saying, "I obviously can't speak a word of your language—so just shoot me. Then throw me in 'La Seine.'"

Eventually, I found the Seine on my own. It's 486 miles long, so it wasn't exactly hiding.

Do you ever feel lost at work?

You probably know people who can't tolerate being lost, even for a second. They ask their manager for help as soon they feel frustrated, or unsure what to do next.

Other people probably should ask for help, but seem content to nibble a croissant, sip a café au lait, and wander around in circles.

What's your expectation about when to ask for direction? What's your manager's?

Some managers get locked into a default style. They always give too much, or too little, direction, regardless of the employee or the project.

But if you've got an exceptional manager, she'll flex her style based on your capabilities.

Here's a good question to ask your manager, early on: "What sorts of problems do you expect to be consulted on, and which ones do you expect me to handle?"

Tip: If you're a manager, don't assume your expectations are clear. They probably aren't.

And if you're an employee, figure out the expectations.

And if you're going to Paris, get a map.

© Copyright 2011 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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