What do you want me to do? “Ask and you shall receive.” – Anonymous

Recently, I asked an associate to help me plan an event that would take place later in the day. It was a relatively simple task, so the two of us quickly came to an understanding of the steps needed to reach the future desired state. We did not define roles and responsibilities, as I knew either one of us could do it. Later in the day, I called the associate and explained that my morning was busy, but it was now time to review our agreed-upon approach and implement our plan. The associate then asked, “What do you want me to do?”

Great question! It took me a moment, but after hearing my response, the associate chuckled, then took it upon themselves to get the job done!

“What do you want me to do?” is a question leaders hear a lot. There’s no single right answer, just the answer that’s right for the individual who asks it.  Individuals must learn to apply knowledge and experience.  Some fail to gain knowledge, some fail to learn through experience, and some lack the application.  You must tailor your response based upon these areas.

Employees who are new to the workforce or to their job should feel comfortable asking “What do you want me to do?”. A new assignment can be daunting, and a little scary. But by not asking, they miss out on an opportunity to learn and apply new found knowledge, then swinging into action and getting the job done. 

Sometimes employees simply lack confidence in their ability, even after experiencing success. In that event, I suggest modifying their question to “This is what I think we should do.  Do you agree?”  They’ve put a plan forward offering a solution and are seeking guidance.  Most times their plan will be the plan since they’ll be expected to make it work. And they’ll learn a valuable secret: a plan that is highly collaborative, and well-implemented need not be perfect to show the value you bring to the organization.

Then there are the star employees, the truly talented. They have the ability to know what to do and how to get it done.  They understand when to collaborate or ask questions.  Most importantly, they project what they have learned to develop insights into planning and problem solving.  When they ask questions, it is because they have exhausted all possibilities and truly recognized that the collective may have better insights.  They understand their limitations, but continue to learn, absorbing knowledge with the application of getting things done.  They expand their responsibilities by proactively seizing the initiative. These employees become leaders.

More often, you’ll come upon employees who have not yet learned what to do. While it’s possible to bring value to the organization by getting things done, unfortunately they will never advance. Their professional life will be built on reacting to the plans of others and they will never be in a position to proactively balance their workload or career.

Far worse are employees who have yet to figure it out. They fail to ask the question at all. These employees sit idle until they are worked out of the organization. Others falsely move forward, thinking they know what to do and actually cause damage within the organization.  Once an employee has been given ample time but fails to learn and stops asking questions to be productive they must be separated.  Do not fall in this category!

Becoming a leader doesn’t happen overnight. With wisdom and an eagerness to advance, over time you will learn what to do and will have identified yourself as someone who wants to accomplish things.  This naturally leads to career growth and added responsibilities. You’ll be known as a person who can be trusted to get things done.

Now, as for what I told my associate mentioned earlier? When they asked “What do you want me to do?” I responded with, “You know what to do, and I know what to do.  I would rather do it or you can do it than answer that question.”  They laughed and pulled off the task without a hitch.

This has been another article in our “From the desk of” series, special content created just for you, from our CEO Brad Eller. Share it as you wish, in the form of a link, or informally. The intent is to help your people align their career goals with the everyday needs of the organization, creating value.

Although this is the first in our leadership series, you can enjoy more articles in our blog:

Click Here