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.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.