update from the manager whose employee didn’t want to take on a new task

Remember the manager wondering how to get a reluctant employee to take minutes at a board meeting, when the employee was resisting taking it on? Here’s the update.

I want to thank you for your very helpful advice. After reading your response, and the responses of many helpful commenters, I tried a different approach. I began by telling her again why I thought she was the best person to help me with this task. Then I asked her to tell me what her reservations were. I listened. Then I explained what I would do to help her though it: giving her electronic copies of previous minutes to go by, giving her a detailed agenda ahead of time, providing her with a digital recorder, and assuring her that we would work together on editing the minutes afterward. I also explained that there would be no repercussions if it turned out that she wasn’t right for the job, and that I didn’t expect perfection from the get-go.

She agreed to do it, and she covered her first board meeting last week. She was hesitant at first, but her draft minutes were great, just as I knew they would be!

Some people pointed out that as the boss, I should expect to be able to assign work without being told, “Thanks, but no thanks.” And, yes, I am the boss and have every right to do that. But I think there’s a difference between delegating and dictating, and I want to make sure I fall on the right side of the line. So, by following your advice, I was able to get her to take on this task without resentment, and I didn’t have to resort to saying, “Do it because I said so!,” which is good for no one.

Thanks again, for helping me be the kind of boss I’d want to have.

{ 42 comments… read them below }

  1. CollegeAdmin

    I think there’s a difference between delegating and dictating, and I want to make sure I fall on the right side of the line.

    A+ and well done. You sound like a wonderful boss!

    1. Vicki

      I agree. Thanks so much for understanding that “Do it because I said so!,” is good for no one.

      Bossy bosses account for too many letters here!

    2. Jessica (the celt)

      I appreciate this difference as an employee. Even though she and I both know that I will do something that my boss asks me to do, it’s still nice to be asked instead of told. The end result is always the same, but we both feel better about the “transaction”. ;)

  2. the gold digger

    Some people pointed out that as the boss, I should expect to be able to assign work without being told, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

    My dad was a career air force officer. I told him once that his job was easy because his airmen had to do what he told them because he was their superior officer. He said that really good leaders make people want to follow them.

    1. Jessica (the celt)

      Definitely! It’s called “respect,” which goes a lot further than being a dictator ever will.

    2. Jessa

      It’s also called knowing the skills of your subordinates. OP totally rocked this because the big point was acknowledging that the employee really didn’t feel they know how to do something. Really good leaders do like your dad, they make people want to follow them and they don’t ask people to do things they can’t do.

      Telling someone “do it cause I said so,” does nobody any good if the employee fails at it because they don’t know how to do it, don’t have the confidence, etc. If an employee is usually pretty good with doing what they’re asked I think it takes a lot of guts to say “no,” to your boss.

  3. Rich

    Great job in resolving the issue! Respect is a two-way street, and you’ve earned the respect of your subordinate because you respected her. Keep up the great work!

  4. kat

    Sounds like this turned out well for both the employee and the OP. However, this struck a chord with me because the employee is female and I’m currently reading Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office – which recommends that ambitious women avoid offering/don’t accept typically lower-level tasks like taking minutes, making coffee, making copies etc so that they avoid being profiled as that person. Sounds like the person in this scenario was reluctant for a different reason and was already in a role that would typically take on these duties, but it’s something to think about.

    1. A Jane

      This just struck a cord with me. I’m having a meeting with my boss tomorrow about my role and the direction I want to go. Recently, I’ve been pretty unhappy with the direction my position is going and part of the reason is that my day-to-day tasks are far more administrative that either of us anticipated. They brought me over from the previous job where I was in a much more managerial and a key player in decision making.

    2. AdminAnon

      That’s an interesting point, but–in my office, at least–taking minutes at Board meetings is considered to be a very high-level task and one that has to be earned. Of course, in my case, Board meetings are not open to staff (with the exception of the CEO and the person taking the minutes), so maybe that is not typical.

    3. The Other Dawn

      I agree overall with what you’re saying, but I wouldn’t consider taking minutes to be a lower-level task. It’s a very important, detail-oriented task. Meeting minutes are very important and are looked at by regulatory bodies, auditors, etc. Organized, detailed minutes can mean the difference between a short review and a full-blown audit. If the minute taker makes a mistake and omits from the minutes an action that was taken by the Board, that can imply to the reviewer that the board members aren’t doing their job. If it’s not in the minutes, it wasn’t discussed.

      1. Not So NewReader

        Probably the exact reason she did not want the task. It’s amazing what people will agree to do if they know they have good support. She went from “no way” to “okay”. Awesome boss.

    4. Jen

      I could see that. I used to have to take minutes and I honestly hated it. It was a low-level duty and highly administrative. It was always the most recently hired/youngest female in every group that had to do it and then by default you were seen as the secretary for the meeting.

      1. Jamie

        We only take minutes in one meeting, where it’s required by an outside governing body, and it’s a big deal. It’s a confidential meeting so I wish we had someone to pull in. As it is it’s me or one of the owners of my company who try to type and talk at the same time.

        FYI – I suck at it but I have a great memory so as soon as it’s over I flesh out my nonsense code with real words. It’s an art to be good at that kind of thing.

        1. Jessa

          In cases like those it might be better to get a recording device in the meeting and then take minutes from it. You can make ancillary notes by looking at the counter on the recorder and writing down the number – just make sure to zero it first. Thus:

          105- Stan starts speaking – include x y z, 190 Sue interrupts…or whatever you need.

    5. fposte

      I think that’s really contextual and cultural, though. You don’t want to become the office mommy, sure, but you also don’t want to be the “not my job/I never volunteer for unsexy tasks” person, because that will kill your career too. So I think that’s more a case-by-case call than an overall rule.

      However, from a supervisor standpoint, you want to make sure you’re not falling into the habit of asking or leaning on women disproportionately for such tasks, so I think that’s something managers should be aware of as well.

  5. AB

    Joining the chorus of “well done” here. I’d just add that this is precisely what’s recommended by good management practices: you don’t use your “position power” when you can use your “influence power” to make your employee feel like he/she had a say on the decision. Sometimes it’s easier to just dictate, but the side-effects are never good: demotivation, frustration, a feeling that your opinion doesn’t count. Much better to be a leader who inspires and influences rather than a manager who just give orders.

    1. Lacey

      Excellent point, I really like the idea of “influence power” rather than “position power”. Thanks for that.

      And well done OP, thats a brilliant outcome.

    2. FD

      Exactly. Sometimes, you have to use position power, such as when it’s a matter of following a policy even if you personally think the policy’s stupid (for example, dumb policies handed down from corporate). But influence power is just plain more effective, especially because when you use it, people are more likely to keep doing what they should when you’re not around.

  6. D

    Awesome update! I think part of managing is giving people the confidence to take on more tasks or to take initiative. Developing great team members is part of our job.

  7. Elizabeth West

    What a great update. I like that the OP addressed the employee’s concerns–I might have had similar ones, because I’ve never taken minutes or used the recorder (just never had to, so no one ever taught me). Best of all, I liked that she had an out for her if it turned out to be misery. And yay for the employee for trying something new!

    1. JessB

      I agree, it seems that the employee was reluctant to take on the task because she wasn’t confident she could do it well,, the fact that the OP spoke to her about her concerns and mitigated them seems to have really helped.

      As someone who has occasionally been thrown in the deep end with little to no explanation or support, I think the OP sounds like a great boss!

  8. Lily in NYC

    OP, now you just need to figure out how to clone yourself so everyone can have a boss like you!

  9. Allison (not AAM)

    I loved your last comment, “Thanks again, for helping me be the kind of boss I’d want to have.” I wish all bosses felt that way!

  10. Anonymous

    This is my favorite update so far.

    OP took the advice to heart, applied it carefully and thoughtfully, and received a successful outcome for all involved.

  11. HR Competent

    Excellent to hear, great job on your part.

    I do want to echo that I don’t see minute taking as a menial task, I’d only entrust a competent and capable employee.

  12. Not So NewReader

    The one who does the minutes holds a lot of power. A good worker can remember details that can make or break a discussion point. Also the one who takes the minutes can add clarity just by asking for a review of key points to type into the minutes.

    No boss is perfect and I don’t believe employees are looking for a perfect boss. But your actions here, OP, are exemplary. You keep on this way and you are going to find you have a team that really rocks.

  13. Jazzy Red

    Kudos to you for setting her up to succeed at this! One of the worst working days of my life was being told to take minutes at a meeting (which I had never done before) at a new company, with people whose names I didn’t know, speaking corporate jargon that I wasn’t familiar with. And they wanted everything they said written down. I failed miserably and felt completely humiliated by that.

    A good manager knows how to help her employees grow and succeed.

  14. Mary the worker

    You’re the kind of boss that will get the very best out of his employees. Caring about the way you handle interactions will in turn, elicit the same from those who work for you.

    Many bosses say: Do it, just cause!

    Thanks for being a good boss.

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