While someone can become a C-level executive and lead teams in the double-digits, they likely don’t know every function of every role. Or more to the point: you may feel like your boss couldn’t perform the job you’re paid to do day-in and day-out. While that may be true, it’s also part of being an employee with a manager, and it’s important to navigate the tricky dynamic professionally.
Hopefully, given your skill set, your leader is respectful of what you need to perform your job effectively and happily, but there may be times when you need to put on your teaching hat and clue them in. When this happens, consider these strategies for explaining your function—and helping to make them, and thus, the company— that much stronger.
Make it a teachable moment
You have likely spent your career dedicating yourself to your craft. In addition to getting a degree and having plenty of on-the-job training, you also attend conferences, speak at events and even take classes to keep your skills modern. So, when your manager attempts to explain something and to put it lightly, they’re getting it all wrong, it’s tempting to pipe up and correct them.
Rather than making him or her feel bad, or embarrassing them in front of colleagues or direct reports, career expert Wendi Weiner encourages professionals to create a teachable moment. One way to do this is to think of yourself as part of your manager’s team, and to take on the ‘we’ mentality, so the emphasis is on everyone succeeding—not just you showcasing your know-how.
“If you’re in a situation where you know more about a topic or how to solve a problem with a better approach, use this as an opportunity to have your boss defer work to you,” she explains. “This helps your boss maintain his/her confidence while also enabling you to make it a teachable moment. Be sure to give your boss consistent updates on this project: this will make him/her feel informed every step of the way, and also allow your boss to educate himself/herself in the process.”
Describe your work meaningfully
Sometimes when a company restructures, they bring in another person to lead an existing team. This is always a rocky transition, and it requires patience on both the newbies and the OGs. As you are getting to know your new boss, it becomes clear they aren’t familiar with your role and responsibility, and they’d like you to explain it to him or her.
This is when career expert Amanda Augstine suggests taking a step back, and speaking to your new manager as you would a friend. “It’s important to describe your work in jargon-free terms your target audience can appreciate. Your boss may never grasp the nuances of your work, but they should understand the basic principles and recognize the value you bring to the team,” she explains.
Highlight core job functions during regular check-ins
When you and your boss doesn’t have the same background, consistent check-ins are even more important. You will need time to adjust to how they like to work, and they will need extra minutes to fully digest your role. During these weekly meetings, leadership development and career expert Elizabeth Whittaker-Walker suggests adding headers from your job functions or description to the agenda you create. Under each of these, make sure you have an update about what you’re working on, and how it ties to one of your responsibilities. “This will not only familiarize your boss with your core functions, but it will also help them to see the progress and impact you’re making in each area,” she adds.
For the current project in question, you are taking the lead because you have all of the skills necessary to execute on the nitty-gritty details. However, there are certain aspects that you aren’t 100 percent confident you can perform. Who might know the best approach? Your boss. As Weiner explains, just because your boss doesn’t know exactly what you do, chances are high you don’t know exactly what they do, either.
That’s why it’s important to keep the dialogue open and a two-way street. As much as you can, bring him or her into the updates, and seek their guidance so they know you’re still part of the team. “This way, you are putting the ball in your boss’ court and leaning on him/her for support and advice. You are taking the lead on the project, yet still deferring to your boss on a project’s direction,” she explains.
Connect your work with the “big-picture” goals
If you’re lucky, you are part of an office culture that celebrates autonomy, and lets various experts take the lead. Having freedom to execute in your own working style has numerous benefits, and it’s an excellent way to build morale. Even with this open environment, your manager will still want to see your progress.
Not only is this warranted, but it’s helps to keep deadlines rolling and teams cohesive. So when you’re asked to give an update? Augustine says to be prepared to explain how your efforts are contributing to the company’s overall goals. She suggest answering these questions before a meeting: If your project is successful, what type of return should your boss expect to make from the investment? How do these efforts help your manager achieve his or her goals?
One way to set up this report is via a two-pronged approach. Augustine says to first, create a topline dashboard report that presents the most important takeaways your boss needs to know in a succinct and digestible format. She recommends one-line summaries and visual aids.
Secondly, also have a detailed report on hand that explains what you did, how you did it and why you did it. “The CliffsNotes version gives your boss the information they need in terms they’ll understand, while the deep-dive version is comprehensive and ensures your boss will appreciate the complexity of your work,” she explains.