Add this to your holiday wish list: Clarity

Middle managers, here’s an early holiday gift suggestion for you, one you can give yourself.

Go get some clarity. You really need it -- more than books, sweaters or even that new iPad mini.

Your need struck me (again) earlier this month. Standing before a room of 40 managers -- most of them non-journalists -- I asked how many had been given additional responsibilities since the day they accepted their current job.

Nearly everyone raised a hand.

Then I asked how many had talked with the boss about how the additional responsibilities affected the boss’s expectations for the manager.

In a room of 40 managers, only five hands went up.

Middle managers, you need clarity.

Why? Because as your job continues to evolve -- mostly with additional responsibilities and no additional (perhaps fewer) resources -- you are wasting precious time guessing how to manage your staff. Which stories to chase. Which photo requests to assign. Which ideas to take a chance on, and which to pass on.

You’re engaging in triage, making assumptions about what the boss expects of you. You’ve tried convincing yourself that if the boss isn’t saying anything to you, things must be okay. But that’s not working. You’re feeling more and more pressure, and frankly, it’s wearing you down.

That’s not fair. It’s also not good management.

Now, let’s be clear: You can march into your boss’s office today and ask for the additional staffers you need to carry out your responsibilities. And we both can predict how that will go, can’t we?

But additional staff is not the only response that will give you clarity. What if the boss and you talk about how you are managing the resources you have, and how you are using them? What if you share the priorities you are using to make assigning decisions? What if you propose shifting some of your resources to make better use of the staff’s strengths and minimize weaknesses?

And what if, at the end of the conversation, the boss says:

“Okay, I agree with you. Let’s do it.”

You didn’t get additional resources -- but you did get clarity. You also got support. And we all know how much better we manage when we know the boss has our back.

With that kind of support, we make assumptions based on something real, not on our worst fears. We act with confidence. We take chances. We focus on the work in front of us, instead of on the office that’s over our shoulder.

So here’s my pitch: As 2012 nears an end, think back to how much your job has changed since the year began. Think about whether you and your boss are in synch about what exactly you are responsible for, and how you are managing those responsibilities. Make an appointment to find out.

Think, too, about starting the New Year by meeting with the boss regularly -- once a week? -- so you can keep those expectations up to date. A weekly meeting that lasts 15 minutes can save you hours of uncertainty and painful triage.

Oh, and while we’re talking about getting clarity, how about asking yourself whether you need to give some, too? Are there members of your staff who might be unclear about your expectations?

If so, they might be wasting a lot of time and energy guessing what you want.


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