How to Stay Out of the Weeds with Your Boss

Posted 11.20.2012

The big idea behind my book, The Next Level, is that to get different results, leaders take to different actions. That usually involves picking up some new skills and mindsets and letting go of others even if they used to work for you in the past. For instance, one of the nine pick up and let go distinctions in the book is pick up accountability for many results and let go of responsibility for a few results. It’s the difference between owning it and doing it.

A lot of leaders struggle with this one because it calls for letting go of a personal mastery of all the details and focusing instead on putting the systems and processes in place that allow them to monitor progress without being deep into all the weeds themselves.

A question I often get from the high potentials in our Next Level Leadership® group coaching program is “I’d like to let go of the details, but my boss is always asking for them. How do I handle it?” The answer, like so many things in life, is it depends. Last week, while conducting a panel discussion for a client company, I had the opportunity to ask a corporate vice president how he handles this issue with his boss.

His answer had a lot of wisdom in it. He told the audience that “how much detail you give you boss is directly proportional to the level of detail your boss’s boss needs.” He went on to share a few tips about how to get in tune with those needs. Here they are:

Establish a process – Take time to set up a process with your boss for how and when you’re going to communicate. Identify what needs to be covered on a regular basis. Talk about the kinds of issues that always need to be flagged outside of the regular rhythm.  Get clear about your boss’s preferred communications channels.

Understand the metrics – Make sure you know and understand the metrics that your boss’s boss pays the most attention to. Be proactive in providing your boss information on performance against those metrics. Highlight what’s going well. Flag any potential problems and what you and your team are doing to mitigate them. Remember, business leaders almost never like surprises.

Think “as if” – Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. Think as if you were them. What conversations is she likely to have with her boss? (By the way, just about every leader has a boss no matter how high they are on the org chart.) What does her boss care most about? Reverse engineer back from your boss’s boss perspective to make sure you get the details your boss needs.

What all three of these tips have in common is they call for proactive rather than reactive behavior. If you wait to be asked for the details, you’re almost always going to feel like you’re behind the curve. Figure out what’s important to your boss’s boss and get ahead of the game.

What are your best tips for staying out of the weeds with your boss?