When I first entered the professional world, I held the belief that managers were intimidating beings, and their time too precious to be “wasted” with my numerous queries or doubts.
In fact, till today, I'm guilty of cautioning people from not wasting others' time and being considerate and cognizant of the other person's workload. But for the really sincere folks, this advice can sometimes backfire, as they can really hold themselves back from communicating with their managers.
In my own case, I thought that being proactive was about exhausting all possibilities before seeking guidance. However, as I navigated my way up the corporate ladder, I realized just how flawed this mindset was.
Let me pull back the curtain on this, from the perspective of a manager.
A significant part of effective management involves developing accurate models of what team members know and don't know, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they utilize their time. If you constantly keep me in the dark about these aspects, it creates an additional layer of work for me. I find myself guessing rather than knowing, making assumptions rather than informed decisions.
So, whether you're a newbie in the professional world or a seasoned pro:
Being proactive doesn't mean going at it alone. It's about engaging in active communication, regardless of your role or seniority level.
While newer employees are often encouraged and expected to ask questions, as they accumulate experience within a company, there's a growing sense that they should just “know” things, reducing the frequency with which they surface their doubts or misunderstandings.
This mindset is problematic for several reasons.
First, no one is omniscient — we all continue learning no matter how long we're in a role. Second, each project is unique, often requiring new approaches and tools which can naturally engender questions. Therefore, experience should not be equated to infallibility or omniscience.
As a fresh employee, it's natural, even expected, for you to pepper your seniors with questions. But even when you're more experienced, don't hesitate to ask, to clarify, to discuss. Each project has its unique nuances and requirements, and there's absolutely no harm in seeking to understand them better. Remember, not all wisdom comes with experience, and even the most seasoned professionals don't know everything.
It's through your questions that I gain insight into your understanding, which helps me guide you better. Voluntarily update me about your progress without waiting for me to ask. I love hearing something like,
“Hey, here's what I understood from our conversation today. If there's anything else you think I should be focusing on, let me know. Otherwise, I'll continue with what I understand.”
It gives me instant insight into what's going on in your head and allows me to offer timely guidance or re-instruct if needed.
And remember, taking initiative is gold. In the past, I would look at a project and think,
“This seems like a good fit for me, but no one's asked me to help. Maybe they think I'm not suited for it.”
But here's the truth:
Managers are juggling a lot, and they can't always connect every person-project dot. If you see a project that seems like a good fit for you, speak up. Chances are, they'll be relieved and grateful that you're helping lighten their load.
Another fallacy many of us buy into is the manager-as-adversary myth.
It's disheartening that many see their managers as adversaries or taskmasters rather than mentors and advocates. This issue is multi-dimensional: part of it is about how the managers position themselves, and part of it is how employees perceive them.
From my experience, I can tell you this is as far from the truth as can be, but I also acknowledge that this, unfortunately, may not be such a myth in many of India's large corporate autocracies.
As a manager, I find myself as much a mentor and advocate as I am a supervisor. My goal is not just to assign tasks, but to help you navigate your professional growth journey. Regular check-ins, open feedback sessions, and a standing invitation for communication — these aren't just best practices, they're non-negotiables in my management style.
A good manager helps you upskill.
In fact, that is any good manager's primary duty to you: to mentor you in your growth. Don't treat them as an adversary or shy away from communicating a lack of know-how or confusion around something.
But due to prevailing bad practices, the vast majority of employees see their managers as adversarial entities who are only responsible for giving them tasks and keeping them accountable, not as coaches or mentors. The managers also treat the position as holding more power over their subordinates and do not make themselves approachable.
Consequently, whenever a young professional in the country thinks of upskilling, they're likely to resort to courses and programs outside their company. Approaching their manager is a thought that seldom strikes anyone.
But change is a two-way street.
Just as managers must make themselves approachable and open to questions, you, as an employee, should also feel empowered to communicate your thoughts, doubts, and ideas.
As an employee, you too need to refactor your perception. Yes, your manager is there to oversee your work, but this doesn't make them an adversary. You need to understand that your success is your manager's success as well; it is in their best interest to ensure their team members grow, excel, and feel fulfilled in their roles.
So, don't shy away from expressing what's on your mind. Your questions, feedback, and ideas are not interruptions or inconveniences, but valuable inputs that can help you grow.
It's about time we banish the antiquated notion of the manager as a strict overseer and embrace the idea of the manager as a supportive mentor.
And if you see that this isn't the case, it is high time you find yourself a good manager, for once. Trust me, it's a 10x improvement in your quality of life and well-being.
Personally, if I was an employee who was unhappy with my current job, my goal with the next one would be to first work with a great set of people, more than seeking a higher paycheck — simply because I had convinced myself that finding a good manager is a lost cause.
In fact, I see many careerists do exactly this.
Being unsuccessful at finding the right teams and orgs to work at, they make making money their whole mission. Jaded, they start seeing the employee-employer relationship as always adversarial.
Naturally, it ends up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy for them. These are those folks online who are perpetually sour about their relationship with their employers and think everything always revolves around politics and optics.
A meaty paycheck can solve many problems, sure, but if you're giving 50 precious hours a week of your life at work, that money isn't going to help you much except make you long for an escape on the weekend. And I'd rather focus on making work enjoyable first because that's where I'm spending a huge chunk of my life.