Dear Boss: 8 Things I Want You to Know (But Won’t Tell You)

UPDATED: June 14, 2019
PUBLISHED: October 16, 2015

Leading isn’t easy.

Regardless of your title as a leader or a boss or a manager, you have to get work done through other people. You ask yourself things like: What do I need from them? What do they need from me? How do I keep everyone motivated?

You can start by making sure small decisions and habits don’t turn into big mistakes and obstacles. How? By looking from the outside in. Here are the things your team wants you to know (but won’t tell you):

Dear Boss,

I have some advice. Please don’t take this the wrong way—I know that managing our team isn’t easy. But to help you get better and to keep all of us on board, here are a few tips from me to you:

1. Don’t make up answers.

It’s OK to tell me “I don’t know” or “I don’t know yet.” When you start guessing, it causes me to waste time. I do my work assuming your answer was accurate and that you meant it. So just be honest. Tell me what you know for sure and what you don’t. Then we can sort out what to do until the direction is clear.

2. Don’t talk about other team members to us.

At first it can feel good to hear you talk about how other team members aren’t doing their jobs, because that must mean that I’m doing great! But then I think, What do you say about me when I’m not here? And I can’t do anything about other team members. I have to collaborate with them to get my work done. This venting might make you feel better, but it puts me in an awkward position and makes me lose trust in you.

3. Tell us what the strategy and vision mean for us (in plain English, please).

It’s great hearing about the big company strategy and our new direction. And it’s great having the new posters and signs on the wall, too. But strategy and vision mean more when you share the impact on our group. Please translate those bigger plans, however you can, otherwise it’s hard to know what to do with it.

4. Stop procrastinating, because we pay the price.

When you put off big decisions and plans until the last minute, guess who pays the price? We all do. Yes, the information is due Friday morning, but when you wait until late Thursday afternoon before you tell us about it or give us needed information to prepare it, then we must scramble to get it done. When we do our work with unrealistic deadlines, it increases chances for errors and not getting it right. You will be disappointed when we don’t deliver our best work, and yet this situation could have been prevented.

5. Listen more than you talk.

We definitely like to hear from you on what’s going on and the new priorities. But when you never ask, “What do you think?” “How can we make this work?” or “What questions do you have?” you live in a pretend world where everything is perfect. If you talk with us and let us ask questions, we can prevent problems later.

6. Don’t forget what you told me in our last conversation.

In our last meeting, you gave me direction and shared the outcomes you expected. I listened, took notes and acted upon them. In fact I have been working every day since to deliver. It is very inefficient (and frustrating) when I meet with you just a week later and it’s as if the first conversation never happened. I’m not sure if you can’t decide, can’t remember or just like to change your mind, but this is unproductive. If you aren’t sure, please wait to get us started or give us one small piece and then we’ll check in with you as you know more.

7. Be clear if you are giving ideas or direction.

We love new ideas, too. Please make it clear if you are thinking out loud or brainstorming, or if it’s something you need us to act on. This clear understanding helps us know what to do with the conversation.

8. Tell me how I’m doing along the way—even if it’s not good.

I never want to be surprised in my performance review or in a discussion about salary decisions.  Please don’t tell me three months later that I’m not working closely enough with Sales or that my priorities aren’t aligned with yours. The biggest gift you can give me is helping me learn and get better every week. Don’t forget that giving me real-time feedback is an important part of your job—and it makes a big difference in mine.

Thanks, Boss for all you do. Please talk straight and keep me informed and involved. Then I can help you be really successful. And you can help me, too.

All great leaders keep working on themselves until they become effective. Learn 7 personality traits of a great leader, according to Jim Rohn.

Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times,NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at