I received this same advice from a senior auditor in a performance review four years ago. It is some of the best career advice I’ve ever received.
When you’re not sure what to do or how to proceed, don’t start with a blank slate and ask for help. Instead, start with what you do know, state your intended direction (and rationale behind it) and then get the buy-in or feedback of your manager. I’ve suggested this before, but here’s an example of how it could work:
Meet Jonathan, a young analyst at an accounting firm. Jonathan was working on building out financial projections for a start-up business and he was stumped. Jonathan didn’t have good information for making revenue growth or profit margin assumptions. It would be easy for Jonathan to get frustrated and just call up his boss and ask him what to do.
But if I’m Jonathan’s boss, I don’t want to do the legwork for him to figure out what he should do. I want him to come to me with an opinion. I want him to put a stake in the ground and give me an idea of what he thinks he should do. I want him to lay out his argument for or against going in a certain direction or using a certain set of assumptions, and then get my feedback or opinion on whether that’s the right course of action.