Two Questions to Ask When Your Boss is Piling It On

Two Questions to Ask When Your Boss is Piling It On
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read

When I was a kid, I loved going to my grandma’s for dinner.  She was a great cook.  TOO good.  She would prepare my plate, and almost always put way more on it than I could eat. 

But when I tried to protest, she'd reply, “Nonsense–you are a growing boy and need to eat.”

Ever have a boss who keeps piling the potatoes on your plate?

Recently I worked with a client who was killing it.

She was organized, effective, and accomplished.  It seemed everything her boss threw at her, she could handle.

So he threw more.  And more.  She became his Go To.

Often in meetings, an idea or solution to a problem would pop up in his mind.  And he would go to his “Go To,” and say, “Can you add that to your plate?”

And she didn’t want to say no, even though that meant she was in for a day of rescheduling, reorganizing, and working late into the night to get it done.

Have you been there?  You want to do a great job with what’s on your plate, but your boss keeps piling on those potatoes.

How can you lead up?  How can you serve your boss by helping them use you well, keeping you focused on who and what matters most?

Here are two clarifying questions that I give to employees to help them when that boss starts to pile it up:

“Clarifying Question #1: "Here is what is on my plate right now.  Can you help me prioritize what to say yes to and what to say no to?”

This is a great question because first of all, you are communicating that you DO want to do everything that your boss sees as important. It is a “yes,” not a “no.”  It also communicates that because your plate is finite, there needs to be some “workplace triage” so you can do what is MOST important.

In my experience (and unfortunately, in my own practice), bosses often think higher level, and so don’t always see what the details of an assignment will cost.  They don;t know that the quick, “Can you take care of that” that pops out of their mouth could result in hours of work.

So this question is a reality check to help them re-prioritize your schedule.  Giving you permission to focus on who and what matters most.

But what if they say, “All of it is important?”

Try this follow up question:

“Clarifying Question #2: “What greater goal is this work tied to?”  

This forces your boss to connect your work to the bigger picture.  Honestly, they may have simply been in “problem solving mode” or "vision mode" and not stepped back to see how their request ties back in to agreed upon purposes and goals.

One of the best ways you can “lead from the second chair,” is to respectfully ask clarifying questions that give you permission and focus your attention.

And that gives you more room on your plate for what serves your boss (and your team) the most.

Thomas helps leaders navigate what’s next.  If he can serve you in this, reach out to him HERE

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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