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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The Most Important Question You Can Ask Your Boss Today

The best employees are often the ones who make their boss’ lives noticeably easier. But sometimes it can be hard for managers to realize exactly how much the work you’re doing is helping them out.

Want a surefire way to be seen this way (especially with performance review season on the horizon)? Ask your boss what he or she needs.

It sounds simple, but let’s check it out in practice. The other day I was in the middle of a pretty stressful day of a pretty stressful week when one of my direct reports approached me to see if we could talk for a second. She then asked me, “What are some essential but boring tasks that you dread?” Figuring she was looking to learn a little more about my day-to-day, I responded with a couple things that I was tired of doing.

But then she followed up with the ringer: “Can I take them off your plate?”

I suddenly felt my stress noticeably lighten. While some of the things on my list (erm, email), my employee could do nothing about, there was one task in particular that she was in fact perfect for, but that I hadn’t thought of giving her because she already had so much on her plate.

By asking this question, she showed me that, not only was she managing her workload in a way that afforded her more time, she wasn’t taking that time for herself. Instead, she was looking for ways to use it to help me—and help the company. It showed that she was willing to step up and take one for the team when it came to stuff that needed to get done. And it showed that she was really someone who could take on growing responsibilities at the company.

Now that’s the kind of person I’d want to promote.

While obviously you don’t want to do this if you’re overloaded at work (don’t let your core work suffer in hopes of helping your boss), if you have some extra bandwidth, consider posing this question to your manager. I promise, she’ll seriously appreciate it (and probably brag about it to her superiors).

Photo of question marks courtesy of Shutterstock.