“What would you like to see me do more of? Less of? Anything I should be doing to be more effective?”

Basically – “How am I doing?”

How many times have you asked your boss these questions, and how often? How about your subordinates asking you?

If it’s not at least once a month, it’s not enough!

I spend a lot of time speaking with hiring managers who need to replace executives that have become less effective than they need to be in their jobs, as well as executives that have been asked to leave companies. I hear all kinds of stories, but from the companies’ perspective, if its performance related, many of the reasons could have been dealt with if the executives asked the simple questions above.

Now often, the company will need a manager with different experiences, or the manager could have tried everything within their comfort zone, but couldn’t achieve the results demanded by their bosses or the Board. In those cases, it just might be time to go. If a job was eliminated and there truly were no other opportunities for you in the company, or they offered you another job but in a different location, again, there might not have been anything you can do.

But what about when it’s not that case?

When recently interviewing an executive, it became apparent that we knew someone in common that had worked for them in the past. When I asked what they thought of so and so, the executive raved about the subordinate, however they were let go in a round of layoffs awhile ago. Not one to miss an opportunity to dig, I asked if there were no other positions in the company for this person to take since they were so good, and the truth was that the person did not get along well with the bigger boss, who had the power to “clean house” when the timing was right.

This shocks me. I don’t want people to act as pushovers or “yes” people, however I still don’t understand how people don’t get the boss/subordinate relationship. I guess I’m old school, but I go back to the concept of “the boss calls the shots”. If your opinion is asked, give it, but when a decision is made by the boss, get behind it. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else, but in the meantime, don’t fight it because you will lose. And, if you find a new job before you’re asked to leave, you never have to say you were let go, and you can go with class and never have a senior executive telling other senior executives (and potential employers) that you were someone they couldn’t get along with.

I’ve done some informal surveying lately, and most hiring managers I know say that these questions only get addressed in the annual performance review process. Or, that if they are discussed outside of this process, it’s because the supervisor (or Board) feels the need to point out a deficiency to a subordinate that is keeping them from success. When this happens, you’ve probably already done something bad to your brand, even though it’s hopefully repairable.

I recently had lunch with a CEO who was having some trouble with their Board. Some of the members were losing confidence as the company was battling a tough economy and a very competitive marketplace, and some felt the CEO had made some strategic mistakes. This executive continued to make political mistakes because they didn’t know first-hand how the individual Board members felt about their performance. When I asked the question – what do you think they would say if you asked, “What should I do more of, or do less of, to be more effective,” this CEO didn’t have an answer. That’s not a good position to be in, for a CEO or for anyone with a boss.

My wife (a.k.a. my boss) would like me to ask this question more often too, and I think it works in just about every work or life situation. I advise people to ask these questions of anyone that might have an impact on their future success once a month. If you don’t ask the question, you don’t really know what your boss(es) thinks, and you might be developing a blind-spot that ultimately causes you to crash. You are the owner of your career so make sure you know how those that affect your upward mobility, or job security, feel about how you’re doing.

If you don’t like your boss, or the direction your company is taking, start looking for a new job, but still ask these questions so YOU don’t get caught by surprise.

Feel free to let me know what your thoughts are or if you’ve had an experience you’d like to share.