A: Why don't we do a little role play?
Q: Jeez, here you go again with the roles thing. Is this going to hurt?
A: Only if you don't want to play your Manager.
Q: Do I get his salary too?
But really, how do I know what he's thinking? Not knowing that is what got us here.
A: Sure; but we can try some different possibilities and see how things work out. You be him, and I'll be you. Here we go:
Hey, thanks for asking me to “lead the group”! I'm always up for a new challenge and appreciate your faith in me.
Q: Whoa! That's already too much sucking up – let's get serious. I would never say that!
A: Hmmm; too bad. If you don't show some sort of appreciation then you shouldn't expect to be asked again. And if you really don't want the challenge then you should say so right away.
Anyway, my next question (as you) to you (as your manager) is:
What exactly would you like me to do to lead the group?
Q: But this is the problem with this playing roles thing: I don't know what he – er, me – wants.
A: You are having a bad day, aren't you. Will you imagine what he might say? There's lots of choices – just start with one.
I want you to take charge of the group to get this project completed on time. And under budget. And make me look good, too.
A: Good one! Now you're in the spirit of this. And then I say:
Completed on time, under budget – anything else?
Q: Er... not right now. I'll probably dream up some other stuff in a while.
A: OK. Is this a formal appointment, that is a change in job?
Q: Uh... No, I'd like you to try it out, see how you do, see if you've got the right stuff, show us what you've got, carry the ball down the field and make the big slapshot, go for gold!
A: (Easy tiger, don't get crazy on me.)
Alright. What are my boundaries? For example, am I supervising the work, or managing the group?
Q: How about you manage the group?
A: Got it; that means to me that I will be doing your functions of
- directing, and
Q: (Ooooh. You just pulled the Manager's essentials out – cute. Now I see why those are good to know. So how do I play that shot?)
A: (Great observation – that is why they are good to know! And for your reply, imagine what your manager would say)
Q: Ah, well... er... not staffing. You can't hire or fire people because we're just trying this out.
A: OK. So if the project needs more people to be done on time, I need to come to you for your help on that?
Q: Uh... sure (I think) (This making manager's decisions is getting tricky – what if I mess up?)
A: (Yeah, interesting isn't it? If it makes you feel better it's OK to be wrong. Your boss will usually be happy if you at least get things right more often than you are wrong. Actually, the most important question is what you do when you are wrong.
For our role play you can be as right or as wrong as you like. We can always rewind and try again.)
Q: (Good! This is kinda neat being able to see things from the other side. I guess all that management office politics I complained about before was out of line.
Let's keep going.)
A: So far I understand you want me to manage the group but without authority for staffing. That means I am accountable for planning, organizing, directing, and controlling – right?
Q: Sounds fine.
A: OK. Then I can re-plan the project? Re-organize people's assignments? Direct their daily work tasks? Measure their results to control their productivity and quality?
Q: Uncle! Stop. Can I be someone else now? I don't know how to answer all those questions. How does my manager know?
A: Fine – we can stop. I think you got a sense of how this might play out.
The key is knowing the definitions – the essential elements – of the manager's job and recognizing that words like “leading”, “supervising”, “directing” need explanation.
The best thing one can do is ask: “What exactly do you mean when you say...”, and to not make assumptions. That's why we have spent so much time on the words and the details – there's just too much at stake for confusion.
Q: Yeah, and you really nailed me with your questions. I was feeling really pinned down.
A: Exactly. When you have thought about the essentials, and you have a list handy, then you are better able to ask the strong questions that clarify the requirements and the boundaries.
It's often most helpful to ask what is not included – what are the exceptions. For example, the staffing element in our role play.
Q: OK. I know you are a big fan of Ask for Help, and I can see why. And why you like to be clear on the words used.
But you didn't answer the question about how does a manager get to know this stuff?
A: Right. :)