'To ask a manager about specific tasks which she/he assigns to a subordinate comes as an unfamiliar experience for most - and the managers find replying equally strange and awkward until they get used to it.'
The first thing:
Find out your boss's Widget.
Ask your boss: 'What do you have to do, and by when?' (That's her Widget.)
Then ask: 'What are you relying on me to do and by when for you to do it?' (That's your Widget.)
(If her answer is the same as what's in your employment agreement or duty statement, that's a bonus.)
Then ask: 'What does your boss want you to do and by when?' (That's what your boss really cares about and therefore you should care about it too.)
Go away and think about your boss's answers. (If Elliott Jacques is right, you may need to give your boss some time to answer.)
If there's anything stopping you from giving your boss what she wants - tell her.
Then make your Widget.
Do your job.
It's that simple.
You've also made your first good decision.
You've undertaken a deliberate process of inquiry that has advanced you towards where you want to be.
You don't know where you want to be?...
Perhaps that was the First Thing you should have decided? - where do you want to be?
(It was still a good decision - it prompted you towards deciding where you want to be.)
What if you do all of that, make your Widget, and your boss isn't happy? Then you've misunderstood your boss. Your decision has helped you to readjust your understanding about what the boss wants. The sooner you start making Widget decisions, the sooner you'll learn whether you're making what your boss wants.
The boss is always right.
If you're someone's boss, invite them to have the same 'What do you need to do by when' conversation with you. Including inviting them to define for themselves where they want to be.
If you, your boss, or your workers have not had any of these conversations - then there's the source of every problem.
This conversation rarely happens.
It's all assumed.
Which is a lot of the reason why 81% of Australian workers are not engaged.
It's not too late.