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A helping hand...

by Douglas E. Welch

May 26, 2000

© 2000, Douglas E. Welch

A common refrain among many workers goes like this, "If only I was in charge everything would be better." While this might be true in some cases you should always be thinking about how you would run an operation regardless of your current position. "Putting yourself in your managers shoes" can prepare you for a future management role or, if you don't aspire to management, help you understand how to work with management to meet your work and career goals.

Offering a helping hand

It may seem hard to believe, but inside of every manager is someone who wishes you would help to make their life easier. Sure, you show up on time, complete your assigned tasks and generally stay out of trouble, but that is expected of any employee. What your manager really needs are solutions to their most pressing business problems, whether that means which networking topology to install or how to prove to the VP of Finance that there really is a need for wireless technology throughout the company.

Thinking like a manager can help you to provide a helping hand to your manager. Perhaps he or she needs backup research on the various wireless initiatives. If you are interested in this topic or, even better, already researching it on your own, volunteer the information you have gathered. You might even be able to write a report on the subject that your boss could submit to upper management. This can really help to increase your visibility with your bosses' boss, a helpful boost when annual reviews come around.

Be sure that your name appears on anything you prepare, though. It doesn't happen often, but there are less than scrupulous managers who might pass off your work as their own. Your goal is to help your manager and yourself, not give away the farm.

Whenever you see your manager faced with a problem, offer a helping hand. Yes, it will mean more work for you, but it can help to expand your career and, in some cases, it can be more fulfilling work than what you normally do. We are all happier working on something that challenges our skills and interests us deeply.

One example

In my own experience I have used opportunities such as this to rise above the daily drudgery of my work. I turned one of my first jobs into a high-tech position by doing just that. I was waiting for my wedding day to arrive so my wife and I could move to California and start our new lives. To make some money I took a job in the box office of a large, live theater organization in Cleveland, Ohio. My degree was in theater and I had experience in theater operations so it seemed a good fit for a short time. After a few weeks of answering the phones and taking ticket orders I was terribly bored. The manager of the box office mentioned one day that he needed some statistics but had no way to combine the data from 3 un-related systems. Since I had developed my computer skills in college and liked working with computers I told him how I could combine all the data and give him the reports he needed. From that day on I was freed from answering the phones in all but the busiest times and had created a completely new position for myself.

I can't guarantee that taking the initiative will always have such dramatic results, but it certainly presents opportunities to rise above the crowd and demonstrate your special skills. Granted, getting ahead does require non-authoritarian management that welcomes new ideas and solutions. Management that doesn't allow you to be the best worker possible is a sign that you are working for the wrong people.

One of the best ways to improve your career is to provide solutions for those problems that weigh most heavily on your manager's mind. Like anyone else, most managers are just looking for some way to make their job a little easier. In most cases, you can reap substantial rewards by offering a helping hand, especially when the going gets tough.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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