Accepting Boundaries

On a movie for television I once worked on, I was asked to hire the wife of the producer's friend (who also happened to be a producer) to assist me. After having established a career in another business, she had taken several years off to stay home and raise her children. This was her first job back in the work force, and she was more than eager to jump into the thick of things. Let's call her Jane. Anyway, Jane was a take-charge kind of person used to making decisions and giving orders, which turned out to be much more problematic than helpful since her position rarely allowed her to make any major decisions. She found it extremely restrictive to have to check with me first before giving out certain types of information, but as I kept explaining to her—what may seem obvious isn't always the case. She didn't yet have the experience, nor did she usually have all the facts to make an informed decision. While checking with me first was not an unreasonable request, Jane strove for some autonomy and paid little attention to my directions.

Every day when Jane's kids arrived home from school, they called her at the office to check in, and I'd hear her ask them if they'd done their homework and chores. When one of them would argue with her or question what he had just been asked to do, she would emphatically reply, "because I said so, and I'm the mom!" Well, one afternoon when I wasn't in the office, Jane gave out some information without checking with me first, and as it happens, the information was incorrect. Not only that, but it was a costly mistake that got both of us in trouble. Once the dust settled, I sat her down and simply said, "Jane ... in this office-i'm the mom." She got it—finally.

Being resourceful, reliable and indispensable are all things you should strive for, but don't go too far by overstepping your bounds, even if you think you're ready. You have to know who your "mom" is and when to defer to the guidelines imposed by others. If you're working for someone you're comfortable with, it's perfectly okay for you to ask if you might take on a task that falls outside your sphere of responsibility or to ask for an explanation as to why a specific decision was made (so you can learn). But don't just assume it's okay for you to make decisions or give out vital information without checking with your supervisor first—even if you are bright, talented and bursting to have more authority, because as I said to Jane, you may not be aware of all the facts that have to be taken into consideration before decisions are made or certain info is released.

Also keep in mind that even if you are aware of all the facts and have the experience to make a well-informed decision, don't usurp your supervisor's authority. For no other reason, respect your chain of command, which even on teams, does exist. And whether your instincts are right or wrong, you'll always win the trust of your supervisors if you keep them in the loop.

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