For managers, it means to be on guard. You can do so in three ways.
Question assumptions. Look for what is propping up your arguments. Is it valid? Has it been tested by others?
Look for skeptics. Surround yourself with people who will disagree with you. Make it safe for them to push back. Challenge them to examine your assumptions.
Ask for feedback. Invite people to let you know how you are doing. Encourage them to be specific. Good managers create feedback loops where there is continuous discussion about what happened, is happening and will happen next.
Overconfidence may be part of management today but savvy managers are those to keep it in check.
Gratitude is the grease that makes working with others easier; it dampens the sparks that occur when co-workers rub each other the wrong way.
Gratitude comes in two parts: external and internal.
Let’s take external because I think it is the easier of the two to master. Why? Because it is action-oriented.
Show direct and frank appreciation. Make it known how much you value an individual’s contributions. Be as specific as possible. Delineate what the individual has done to receive a thank you and tell him or her how much their work is appreciated. Simple words certainly, but they go a long way. All of us cherish moments of authentic recognition.
The second part of gratitude may be trickier to master because it deals with our inner selves.
Gratitude is the recognition that you have something to offer the world and the world has something to offer you. Gratitude is the capacity to care.
From that recognition comes the thanks you need to be grateful — for who you are and what you have.
Dysfunction is prevalent across many organizations and so management responds with an increase in training.
Yet holding team-building activities when management is in flux, standards are declining and behaviors are eroding is akin to selling life insurance policies as the Titanic is sinking — meaningless.
What makes a team is defined by common purpose, and if there is no common purpose, then teamwork is superfluous. When lack of focus is endemic, responsibility falls at the feet of those in charge.
Building teams is a perennial effort in organizations — so much so that when we use the term “team building,” many employees roll their eyes. They also do a mental checklist of all the team building exercises they have experienced — “radioactive contamination” exercises, trust falls, whitewater-rafting trips and backyard ropes courses.
Dysfunction stems from lack of trust. The way to build trust is through commitment that emerges from listening to employees to determine the problems.
Members of dysfunctional teams live lives of daily misery because their ability to make improvements is disregarded by their bosses, who know only how to make things worse.
Savvy managers challenge individuals to solve problems and empower them to put those remedies into action.
They help typically shape an individual’s career by sharing their expertise as well as sharing the wisdom necessary to master not simply the job, but a career.
The lessons revolve around what’s happening in the business as well as what’s necessary to learn in order to become more effective.
So, how do great managers do this?
Invite questions. Implicit in teaching one-on-one is the notion of questioning. Curiosity is essential to learning so good managers make it known they welcome questions. Questioning reveals two important things: 1. What students already know; 2. What they need to know to become better.
Reveal insights. Back-and-forth questioning is good, but it is good for the manager to share what he or she knows. This sharing can be in the form of an explicit lesson, or it can be in the form of a story.
Question assumptions. Teaching employees to be skeptical of easy answers is good practice. When employees are expected to push back on what they have learned, they demonstrate that they have learned.
Their challenge then is to prove their new learning. Sometimes it will affirm what already is known. Other times it will open new avenues of discussion and learning.
There is something else good teachers do: instill confidence in those they teach.
“One of the things the great teachers do is prepare you for their absence,” writes Diana Geotsch. “They give you confidence, they give you your life, and, by doing so, they make themselves obsolete.”
There is a lot of literature about how to get to the top of your profession. By comparison, there is scant information about how to be a good middle manager.
The term “middle management” is an amorphous term. It can be someone who manages two people as well as an SVP who manages a global workforce. “Middle” does not adequately describe the range of responsibility such a manager has.
Managing from the middle is a balancing act. You want to do your best by helping the team and the boss succeed.
Good middle managers do these things well:
Understand the big picture — where the organization is headed
Root out problems — find way around or through obstacles that derail lesser teams
Work with colleagues — live by the mantra: from me to we
Speak the truth
Good middle managers are not yes people. They gain credence through their competence, diligence and conscience.
Before you climb a mountain, you want to do some exercises first.
Obvious advice for any would-be alpinist, but the same applies to anyone working in a dysfunctional organization.
The problems facing the organization may seem as impossible to solve as it would be for a out-of-shape couch potato to climb Mount Everest. And when that feeling sets in, change seems impossible and so people disengage.
Just the opposite may be necessary. You need to decide how you will respond to the challenge.
Tolerate. Not every problem requires your personal involvement. You only become involved when the situation demands an intervention from you. To do otherwise what we call meddling.
Leave. Intolerable situations demand irrevocable decisions. If the problem is so great — and truly beyond your control — you may have to exit the situation. No shame in leaving an organization that you cannot change and, as a result, is making you unhappy.
Act. This is the choice for leaders. Seldom if ever can a leader say, “not my problem.” She must confront the problem and deal with it realistically. She must find ways to mobilize others to take action to find solutions. Leadership requires active intervention.
The bottom line is that none of us can control events. We may be able to influence outcomes, but not determine them. What we can control is how we react to such events.
The concept of “think time” is sound. I would prefer the term “reflection time,” but call it what you will. it should be regularly scheduled because if it’s not, it will not occur. That’s a lesson I learned from the late Skip LeFauve, former senior executive at General Motors and president of Saturn. He said that, if you don’t put reflection time on your schedule, you will not do it.
Reflection, as Skip noted, does not need to be done alone. In fact, he would use the time to converse with a trusted aide to hash out issues of the day. Reflection by its nature is an echoing process, that is you are bouncing thoughts around, or words around if you are with another.
The challenge for executives is to make the time to reflect. But many with whom I have worked make the effort. They instruct their administrative assistants to schedule reflection time every week or at least twice weekly, for up to a half day at a time.
The challenge for anyone is to sift through what is being communicated for nuggets that can be integrated into useful knowledge.
Studying the issues is critical. Reflection is a time for such processing.
Reflection time is think time, and that’s something all of us could us more of.
Better for me means being a more supportive friend, relative or colleague. Being there without being asked. That is, where there is a need to pitch in without being asked. Do things to make people happier.
It could be as simple as smiling more, or offering to hold the door for someone.
Do so in a spirit of openness, not obligation.
You might define better as involvement. Pick your topic and put yourself into it. For example, look at your job. If you are deficit in an area, bone up on it, either through study or by asking others for help.
In your community, look around you at areas of need. What could you do to make things better for just one person?
Adding steel to the spine of better, let’s include the admonition: no whinging. It’s a term the Brits use for whining. I saw the two words paired together in something I read recently that made me think, yes that’s a good thought.
Notably, we will fail many times this year, either at being better or at something else, but it we focus on a positive like “better,” we will be pointing ourselves in the right direction.