In my experience, people who truly excel in their careers are always self-managing. They accomplish more, they discover more opportunities for themselves, and (as Verne Harnish says in Scaling Up) they’re the sort of people that smart organizations hire and rely on.
But while self-management embraces autonomy and personal responsibility, it doesn’t mean never asking a manager for help. Your manager is generally an awesome resource who can help you tackle problems you’re facing. Working with him or her helps foster a team-first mentality, builds a strong working relationship, and provides an excellent mentorship opportunity.
Self-Managing People Manage Conversations
What self-managing people don’t do is bury their managers with details and no concrete ask. Instead, spend a little more time identifying what you need before approaching your manager. This process will help focus your ask, make you look smarter, and simplify your manager’s life by contextualizing your ask so he or she understands how to help.
Fortunately, there are only a few types of asks. Here are some of the common ones I’ve experienced, along with suggestions for effectively introducing them to your manager.
Help me identify a problem.
Something is not quite right. I’ve observed the following concrete things, and I sense an issue but am having a hard time putting my finger on it. I’m looking to leverage your experience to help me identify the problem.
Help me frame the problem.
I’m looking to solve the following problem. I’m inexperienced when it comes to framing possible options, and I could use your help.
Ideally, you’d take the initial crack at this one. This blog post describes a simple technique. If it’s your first time or you’re really struggling, ask for help.
Review my analysis.
I’m looking to solve the following problem. I’ve spent some time framing possible solutions. I’d like to discuss the options with you and hear your critical feedback so that I can improve the options and make an informed recommendation.
Sanity-check my choice.
I’m looking to solve the following problem. I’ve developed a few options and identified my preferred path forward. I’d like you to sanity-check my preferred path.
I just wanted to give you a quick heads-up. I’ve made the following decision and am planning on implementing it on the following date.
I need to vent about something. I don’t need anything solved for me, just a sympathetic ear.
I’ve realized that this line of thinking is good for both managers and employees. Employees certainly wow their managers by coming with concrete asks. Managers are also well served by working with employees to help them identify what they need before jumping right into problem-solving mode.
You don’t want to imply, “Please take this problem away from me.” You’re saying, “I need some input or advice so I can go out and crush it.”
The smartest and most talented people don’t have all the right answers. They just excel at asking the right questions to the right people. Identifying the challenge where you need help enables more collaborative work and less “managerial” effort from your manager. It also helps you wow the team with your ability to drive greater output.