The top 3 phrases great bosses love to hear

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Great bosses are a pleasure to work with as an employee. There isn’t much management by intimidation or fear, but instead a collaborative and focused push to reach the business goals. Great bosses are also different from ones that aren’t so great. Lousy bosses blame employees, don’t want to hear bad news and don’t want to be bothered by all those pesky details.

Try these phrases with your boss. If you get a great response, consider yourself lucky. If you don’t, be wary.

1. I’ve done one section of this work, can we take a look at it?

No one gets how something should be done because the person asking for it usually has a bunch of unrealized requirements in their head about the output of your work. So waiting until the very last day to turn in your entirely spiffy new whiz presentation because your poor boss says it is okay is simply asking for disaster.

Great bosses want to look at a prototype of your work. They know they don’t have all the answers and when you show a completed portion of the output to them, it is a chance for you and your manager to make the final product better. Plus uncover most of those hidden requirements you never knew (oh…I wanted this in Word, not PowerPoint; it is part of a document dump. Oops…).

Poor bosses wait until the end. Like when I worked for a week on a team to create a presentation for the President of our division. The leader of the team, scared of the President, proudly presented our completed presentation the day before it was to be given only to be told by the President that it was all wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Need to change this and this and this. A great all-night party that one was. Not. Prototype your work. Please.

2. Here’s a heads-up

You know heads-up stuff right? The kind where you let your boss know that there is a potential issue the boss will get called upon to discuss with those higher up managers or customers so they can prepare.

Great bosses love hearing about possible problems, even if they don’t happen or happen in a different way then you presented to them. It lets them know that you care enough about the team and, frankly, the boss, that there was some confrontation coming. Your boss can be ready. Thank you.

Unlike poor managers who take the heads up and blame the messenger. Like my manager’s boss I had who I gave a heads up to about a CIO coming to discuss an issue with him and I got blamed for bringing it up to him (the problem was brought up in a meeting by someone else in a different department; I just reported).

I was apparently all “negative” about the department, my direct manager was told, because I brought up something to his manager that could be bad. Hey, buddy, it wasn’t my ass I was trying to help; it was yours. You don’t think I ever gave him another heads-up again, do you? Naw, I just let him swing in the wind. Darn.

3. We could attack this three different ways

Problems are problems. Great bosses want to hear the problems, but they also want to hear potential solutions. Even better would be a comparative analysis of the solutions so the boss knows you know your stuff. Great managers know they don’t have all the answers. They know they have part of the answer, but pay their team for their business judgment and expertise to fill in the rest.

Unlike the poor manager I had who said he wanted answers to the problems walking in the door, but then criticized me for “having all the answers with no input from me” during my performance review. Next time there was a problem, I went in and said that I had been thinking and thinking of what to do about this problem, but just couldn’t come up with a solution — could he help?

You’d have thought the world had finally exploded with joy, he was so happy to pontificate various solutions and debate himself to the right one. You know…the one I already knew was the answer coming into the office but didn’t offer. Needless to say, my reviews began to reflect what a great employee I was and how I listened so well. Of course, he lost all of my thoughts, missed out on the pitfalls and several ways to make a solution better, but, hey, I followed his directions well.

It’s not what managers say, it is what they do

Great managers are different then poor managers and it isn’t just about their personalities clicking with ours. Good managers dig up their own mud. They work on problems before they become big problems. They work with their employees to make good stuff better.

Managers have a choice about how they manage, of course. But ask these three questions and watch what your manager does. Great? Or not?

  • A good question. The key in these phrases is that *great* managers love to hear them — they are looking for issues in the department to solve and want to know about them early. But, there are a lot of bosses who don't like hearing bad news or possible bad news. They blame the messenger…you. I'd run a couple of these by your manager and see what the reaction is before going big with this approach.

    Having said that, yes, if you set SMART goals up the right way and can consistently go back and show your measured results, it gets the conversation around meeting goals, not your performance. If you can prototype your work, it is more collaborative than just dumping a completed project on her desk and have it not be what she was looking for because she didn't know you were doing the project this way.

    Generally, the more you can talk about your results – achieving them, asking for help with them, pointing out roadblocks to achieving them – the more you are working in collaboration and asking for specifics from your manager.

    Then you can tell how much the manager knows, how much the manager can help you, and what type of manager your are working with.

  • Scot,
    By setting SMART Goals, and going to your boss with these phrases, do you believe you can train your boss to be better? In a sense manage up to get the results in your favor.

    So if your boss is lousy you can get her to realize and open up to better strategies.

  • In the title it says “great” bosses like to hear these phrases. Lousy bosses…not so much as it is threatening to what they do.

    And….hilarious. Thanks for making the comment!

  • Hey, I like it, its all so true but some 'bosses' will never change. I hope some of them read this and use the 'Viagra for the eyes' approach – Take a long hard look at themselves.

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