The importance of immediate action, even when it's a scary convo with your boss

Andrew Badham 2018-11-21 11:38:04

There’s a simple question I like to ask students at the end of a class, “What’s one action you’ll do tomorrow to move towards your goal?” It seems like a mundane question, but it’s rather important. When people decide to make a change but fail to take any substantive actions to effect that change, they might actually further entrench their old behaviours, according to The JournaI of Personality and Social Psychology. For example, if you decided to be less lazy but didn’t set an early alarm or reorganise your calendar or something, you’d probably end up lazier than when you started. And so, when training a group of young interns on the subject of self-mastery, I made sure to ask them that very question, “What will you do starting tomorrow?”

Self-Mastery is not a subject that easily lends itself to concrete actions, but it is – of course – doable, else we would not teach it. And, the fact that the subject is by its nature shrouded in abstraction, means that it is even more important to stress taking physical action. Nevertheless, it is understandable if some of the responses require a little guidance. For example, many of the responses would be along the lines of “I want to make sure I’m punctual” or “I want to make sure I get through my workload.” These are all noble pursuits, but they lack an actionable step. From those statements, I have absolutely no idea what they intend to do to achieve those goals. We as a class needed to drill down and figure out what to actually do to reach those goals.

Thankfully, they were a good class and were eager to workshop with their peers to find solutions. For punctuality, there were suggestions of setting an earlier alarm, trying different routes for public transport, investing in private transport etc. For the second goal, that of getting through a laborious workload, there were fewer suggestions. And naturally so, because there are few solutions which come to mind when one is simply not getting through the tasks for the day. As an intern, there is not necessarily even the option to delegate. To whom do you delegate when you are on the bottom the rung?

In our collective brainstorm the question “Have you told your manager you’re not coping?” came up. Many of the other interns murmured disapprovingly, and the person to whom the question was directed almost paled at the idea. How could you admit failure or incompetence, surely that would cripple you? Surely that would be the reason you would be one of the interns not making it to full employment? Well, probably not.

You see, one of the complaints we hear on a regular basis from managers is that their employees don’t let them know what’s going on until it’s much too late. If a manager knows what’s going wrong sooner rather than later, they can help fix it. Sure, they might look annoyed when you ask them for help – after all, who doesn’t get frustrated by distractions – but they will be far more annoyed when they found out that you knew about a growing problem and did nothing about it. Moreover, if you’re in front of your manager’s face asking for help, you’re communicating one all-important quality, initiative. Managers love initiative.

Of course, you might not have a manager with quite so rational a disposition. You might face the criticism of being incompetent or lazy. They might question why you couldn’t keep up with the workload or meet the deadlines they set for you. Yet again, the same questions need to be asked, “What specific actions should I take?” “What should I do tomorrow to achieve these goals?” After all, part of their role as a manager is to help you achieve your goals, so get them to fulfil their roles. And, should you feel their expectations are unfair, there is one question you must ask, “how did you come to those expectations?” What metrics are they using? In the same way, there should be objective, measurable steps in your goal setting, so should there be in the setting of their expectations.

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