How to Know What Your Boss Really Wants from You

Wouldn’t it be great if you could read someone else’s mind? More specifically, wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could read your boss’s mind so you would know what it is he wants from you? Sometimes it can be difficult to determine if you are doing a good job, or if your boss expects more. Perhaps you hate your boss and you fear you might get so frustrated that you will lose your temper someday. Or maybe you like your boss, but you just can’t figure out what what will make him happy. It can be tricky to figure out what a boss requires, but there are ways to at least get an idea. Here are a few career tips to try.

1. Ask your boss directly

meeting at work with the boss

Meeting with the boss | Source: iStock

It sounds scary, but asking your boss what they really want from you might be the most direct and easiest way to find out. This doesn’t mean you should march into your boss’s office and demand to know what he “really wants.” Instead, schedule a meeting and have specific, concrete questions. If you are confused about a project, then ask for clarification. If you want to move up in the company but you have been stagnant for a long time, go ahead and ask how you can improve.

If your concern is more about the fact you feel your boss says he wants one thing, but then never seems satisfied, then you might need to provide examples. Don’t attack your boss or say he’s wrong; just ask for clarification in a respectful way, and mention wanting to improve or learn more next time. If you phrase your concern in a non-threatening way, you will probably have more luck. Also, it can be a good idea to schedule regular one-on-ones with your boss in order to foster communication.

2. Investigate

man circling a social network icon on a screen

Studying the office | Source: iStock

If you are still feeling stuck or unsure, then try determing who in your department seems to be succeeding. Many employees worry that their boss has favorites, and probably some do. If your boss shows a clear preference for someone, try to figure out why. While brown nosing probably isn’t the best answer, if you notice specific skills or a positive attitude that your co-worker displays, then you can try to show more of those skills or a specific attitude yourself.

This doesn’t mean you need to copy your co-worker, and you certainly shouldn’t try to steal his or her work or credit for what they are doing, but you can definitely attempt to emulate their positive attributes. If your boss is cranky or doesn’t seem to like anyone, then you may need to spend more time learning about your boss. Even someone who has no people skills will show a preference for certain types of work or behavior; you just have to watch and learn. Consider your boss’s non-verbal cues if he isn’t telling you anything with his words, avoid distractions when you are talking, and make sure you are asking the right questions.

3. Know ahead of time

Not all bosses want the same thing, but many bosses do expect and want certain attributes and behaviors from their employees. According to Robert M. Galford, managing partner of the Center for Leading Organizations, some of the things your boss wants you to be able to do include the ability to complete your projects in a timely and responsible fashion, be aware of what projects are important to your boss and notify them if anything goes wrong, consider where the business is going, notice and problem-solve issues, and interact well with your boss and co-workers.

If you are able to achieve these objectives, your boss will certainly notice and be pleased. Also, there’s a good chance that your boss expects you to have a positive attitude, to show interest and dedication to your work, and of course to avoid causing any serious problems for him or the company you work for.

4. Try something else

office work

Work | Source: iStock

If you are uncomfortable with your boss or confrontation, you haven’t learned anything from your co-workers, or a one-on-one meeting didn’t yield any positive results, then you may need to try some other tactics. Try keeping a log of the different projects you have completed, and writing notes about the way your boss reacts to your work. Over time, you will be able to see his or her likes or dislikes. Also, if you are comfortable, ask a co-worker who you trust what they think your boss wants. As you learn more, be open to trying new things. If your work is fantastic, but you know that you won’t move up unless you take a class or earn a certification, then you may need to find the time to do so.

Also, show loyalty to your boss and your company, and also show interest. Attend conferences in your field, show respect to important customers or contacts, and find answers to complicated problems. The more you can do these things, the better you will look as an employee even if you never know exactly what your boss wants.

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