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What to do When Your Manager Asks for Advice

Wednesday, 24 Aug 2011 | 2:05 PM ET

The other day a manager called for some advice. She wanted her employees to take more initiative and be more resourceful, but for some reason, they didn't get it.

Her problem reminded me of getting lost one day in Paris, while looking for the Seine River.

I asked a few people for direction. "Où est La Seine?" I said.

No one had any idea. Apparently, they'd never heard of the Seine, or else they'd heard of it but just didn't want to discuss it.

I admit my French is terrible, and it may have sounded like I was saying, "Excuse me. I can't speak your language at all, not a single word—so just shoot me. Then throw me in 'La Seine.'"

Eventually, I found the Seine on my own.

Do you ever feel lost at work?

Tony Anderson | Taxi | Getty Images

You probably know people who can't tolerate being lost, even for a second. They ask for help as soon they feel frustrated, or unsure what to do next.

Other people probably should ask for help, but seem content to nibble a croissant, sip a café au lait, and wander around in circles.

What's your expectation about when to ask for direction?

What's your manager's?

Some managers get locked into a default style. They always give too much, or too little, direction, regardless of the employee or the project.

But if you've got an exceptional manager, she'll flex her style based on your capabilities.

Here's a good question to ask your manager, early on: "What sorts of problems do you expect to be consulted on, and which ones do you expect me to handle?"

Tip: If you're a manager, don't assume your expectations are clear. They probably aren't.

And if you're an employee, figure out the expectations.

And if you're going to Paris, get a map.

Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (www.expresspotential.com), Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

Comments? Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com

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