Stay in your laneI’ve been in management for a long time. I’m a student of leadership. One of the things I most want to understand is what motivates a team to do excellent work. Actually, I always want my team to go “Above and Beyond,” so much so that we even have an award with incentives by that name.

Not too long ago, I saw an exchange between a manager and his direct report. The manager had no idea the direct report had gone off to initiate a project without any input or communication with the manager. The manager was understandably upset. The employee, who had been a star player on the team, lost a tremendous amount of credibility and trust in the eyes of the manager. I’m not sure that person will ever be trusted again.

It made me think about an article I came across recently. There’s a particular story in that piece that I’m going to relay here because it’s such an important lesson to remember.

If you know me, you’ll know I typically say “stay in your lane.” By that, I often mean to keep to what you’re good at doing.

But, I also mean know your place.

Whatever your role within a team, keep to it. Become the best at what you do. You can aspire to be a leader and even be a leader, even if you’re the most junior person on the team. But always let your boss be the boss and give him what he needs from you by staying in your lane.

There is such a thing as “managing up.” And that means understanding where your manager or boss is coming from and making sure he is successful. It means knowing how to anticipate his needs and delivering more than what he expects. It means understanding his motivations and aligning your work to it for the best possible outcomes. It means communication and it means knowing your place.

The Genie and the Manager’s Wish

A sales rep, an assistant and their manager are walking to lunch when they find an antique oil lamp. They rub it and a Genie comes out.

The Genie says, “I’ll give each of you just one wish.”

“Me first!” says the assistant. “I want to be in the Bahamas, driving a speedboat, without a care in the world.”

Poof! She’s gone.

“Me next!” says the sales rep. “I want to be in Hawaii, relaxing on the beach with my personal masseuse, an endless supply of piña coladas and the love of my life.”

Poof! He’s gone.

“OK, you’re up,” the Genie says to the manager. The manager says, “I want those two back in the office after lunch.”

Moral: Always let your boss have the first say.

I think this is important to remember. We live in a world where we are encouraged and empowered to do things. People want more autonomy and responsibility at work. That’s all well and good. But there’s still someone you’re working for. There’s still someone you’re getting your paychecks from. Someone still has the ultimate responsibility and accountability on his desk.

One of the most important things to remember in this empowered world is that your boss still has to have the first say, even if that say is he wants to hear your opinion or wants you to take the ball and run with it.

Remember, stay in your lane.


Author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: Grip & Rip Leadership for Social Impact” (Free Digital Download)

© 2016 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.