skip to Main Content

Give Praise That Isn’t Patronizing

Praise usually seems much easier than criticism, but a lot of people actually hesitate to give praise. They worry about coming across as patronizing, pandering, or just insincere. We think that praise is even more important than criticism, so we want to help people learn to give it the right way.

Here’s a question we got from one of our podcast listeners:

I am a new manager of two administrative employees. Their day-to-day tasks are important to my team. Most of the time, the employees do a good job and keep our operations running smoothly.

However, I find myself only giving them negative feedback when something goes wrong. It feels patronizing to give praise when the employees do a good job since their tasks are not tied to specific projects. Do you have any tips for how I might give positive feedback and show appreciation?

Thank you for the great question! First, check out episode 3 of our podcast. We talk with Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter, about “Ruinously Empathetic Praise.” There are some great nuggets about what good praise looks like, and the summary is this: good praise is specific and sincere.

Focus on the Good Stuff

Here’s my core piece of advice: You have to really try to look for the good stuff. Many times, we’ve just trained ourselves to be “blind” to all the great little things people do every day because, frankly, we’ve decided “that’s just their job.” Yeah, it is, and it’s ok to convey to people when they are doing their job well, even if that’s what’s expected. Reinforce the good behaviors and the good work, and don’t take for granted that it will just continue forever.

You have to really try to look for the good stuff.

If you really try, I’m sure you’ll see a ton of good stuff that people are doing… And regardless of whether these things are tied to specific projects, you can still give praise in a non-patronizing way.

Be Specific and Share Why It Matters

Remember that the purpose of praise is to help people understand what to do more of, what success looks like, and what is valued.

Whether managing an administrative person or anyone else, I’ve found it helpful to make sure that the person and I were on the same page about the nature – or objective – of their job, and to give praise that made reference to that shared understanding.

Let me give an example for one of my favorite Administrative Assistants, Lauren, that might help you think about this for your situation. So the nature of Lauren’s job was to help me be more effective and efficient with my time, which in turn allowed me to lead my organization better, which in turn helped the organization succeed.

This objective – and our shared clarity of the objective of her role – drove my praise of Lauren. By telling her specifically what she had done, and how it helped fulfill that objective, I was able to make it clear why her work mattered and help her repeat this success. And when you do that, it’s very hard to come across as patronizing.

Here are some examples:

  • Lauren would regularly anticipate a scheduling anomaly and set me up for success by budgeting in travel time or finding opportunities to schedule events that were close to my home at the end of the day to reduce my commute. These are specific things that made my life better, more efficient and led to greater efficacy. I would regularly call out those specifics to her, express my appreciation, and talk about why those things she did were so helpful.
  • Lauren was also my “eyes and ears” – At the time, I had a ~750 person global team, and it was hard to know what was going on all the time. I relied on many sources of information to know the heartbeat of my org, but Lauren was an extremely important one because for a variety of reasons, people would readily confide in her. Many times, she helped me get out in front of an employee relations SNAFU by putting things on my radar.

Clarify Your Thinking with Notes

If you’re having concerns about coming across as patronizing, try this exercise. Go lock yourself in a room right now and don’t come out until you’ve written down 5 good things each person you want to praise has done in the past 7 days. For each thing, write down specifically what the person did, and make a couple of notes of why it mattered. How did it positively impact you, the team, the company, the project? I bet you’ll discover that there is PLENTY of non-patronizing stuff to call out.

Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter!

How to Turn Feedback into Something You Can Act On

Hopefully you’re out there asking for and getting feedback regularly. That’s great! Now, if you’re getting a lot of feedback, we can pretty much guarantee that it won’t all be high quality, actionable stuff. We’ve said before, “Don’t criticize the criticism,” and we’ve talked about what to do if you disagree with the feedback. But what about feedback that you’re not sure what it means, or how to act on? What do you do with that?

We recently got this question from one of our podcast listeners:

When your boss tells you during your performance review that you need to develop a sense of urgency (as I was recently told) what kind of suggestions would you have for the employee

Let me tell you what I would do if I got this specific feedback, and hopefully you can apply these steps to your own situation, whatever the hard-to-understand feedback is.

Ok, so the boss told me “you need to develop a sense of urgency.” Huh. A sense of urgency. Does that mean the boss doesn’t think I work hard enough? That I don’t put in enough hours? If that’s the case, then maybe what the boss wants me to do is spend more time at the office.

The thing is, it’s very hard to know if that is in fact what the boss wants, based on the “sense of urgency” feedback. So step 1 is to try to unpack the actual shortcoming that my boss is seeing.

Ask the person to say more

Of course, I’m not a mind-reader (and you probably aren’t either), so I can’t assume really anything about what the boss means. The first order of business is to ask my boss, “Can you say more?” In doing this, I want to manifest as curious and not defensive. The open question is a good way to encourage the other person to continue talking, without responding or making it more difficult for them by, say, asking for examples.

While my boss responds, I’ll take notes and really try to understand her view. My goal is to try to elucidate everything in the boss’ head around my “lack of a sense of urgency.”

This feedback can mean soooooooooooo many things, and I shouldn’t guess, so I’m going to make it a priority to really understand what the boss thinks here.

Figure out what success looks like

We say all the time that repeating success is easier than fixing problems. In this case, I haven’t had success, but I can still try to understand what it looks like so that it’s easier to achieve. So step 2 is to try to understand what would signal to my boss that I have the proper sense of urgency.

One way I might do this is by asking my boss, “Who here has an appropriate sense of urgency? I’d like to think of them as a possible model.”

Or I might ask, “In your mind, what does a perfect sense of urgency look like?”

With either of these options, I can hopefully tease out some of the behaviors or specific work products that my boss wants to see from me.

Tie it back to your objectives

Once I have a better understanding of my boss’ perspective and what she’s looking for, I’m going to think a little bit more about the root cause of this feedback, and how I can show progress towards it in the future. I’ll leave the conversation and spend some time on my own thinking about this feedback, and I’ll take the additional step of thinking about the feedback in the context of my objectives.

Let’s say I had been pursuing clear, measurable goals, rooted in clear team priorities every week/month/quarter. If I were missing the deadlines for my goals, then “lacking a sense of urgency” might be a good root cause analysis. Maybe this is what led my boss to give this particular feedback. So I would come back to my boss and ask, “I missed some deadlines this quarter. Would you say that’s a key area where I needed more of a sense of urgency?”

On the other hand, oftentimes non-specific feedback like this manifests in situations where there are not clear objectives and timing for those objectives. This could mean that the objectives didn’t exist, or that the other person was not on the same page with respect to those objectives.

If the goals didn’t exist, I would now push to have individual and team goals, something to clearly measure my “sense of urgency” against in the future. If there were goals, but varying ideas about priority, timelines, etc., could any of that lack of clarity have been the root of my “lacking a sense of urgency”? Maybe I can think of some ways I could have behaved differently to better show a sense of urgency, and I would run those ideas by my boss.

I think it can be extremely helpful to do this thinking and then continue the conversation with the person who gave you the feedback. You’ll be able to double check your analysis and set yourself up to show progress in this area in the future.

———

Hopefully these three steps can help you turn any feedback into something you can act on and improve as a result of. How do they work for non-specific feedback you’ve received? Send us your examples in the comments, and we’ll try to help customize for your situation.

Are you an Absentee Manager, a Micromanager, or a Thought Partner?

In Episode 13 of our podcast we talked about the dreaded micromanager boss and how to work towards a better relationship with them. As a part of that discussion, we briefly talked about a few ‘modes’ a manager might fall into based on how close they are to the team’s work.

We call managers who have low, almost non-existent involvement in their team’s work absentee managers. Those with extremely (maybe excruciatingly) close involvement are micromanagers. And in between those are the thought partners, the ones who empower, enable, and encourage their teams to do the best work of their lives.

How can you determine where you fall on this spectrum and how to move in the right direction? We’ll talk about both absentee and micromanagers — how they come to be and how to recognize the signs — and then offer some tips on how to become the thought partner your team deserves and wants.

The Absentee Manager

Flavors of Absentee Management

Absentee managers come in two flavors. First is the manager who is truly absent. You ever had that manager where everyone wonders where he is for half the day? Ever had that manager who routinely skips your 1:1s? That’s a conscious absentee manager.

CONSCIOUS ABSENTEE MANAGER

A woman that I mentor recently grabbed me to talk career – she was thinking about her next step. We of course framed things up around Career Conversations, but also around the concept of “what you are running from” and “what you are running to.” Often, I believe, people make the mistake of moving too quickly because they are running from a crappy situation but lack clarity on what they want next. She was describing several of the things she is “running from,” and one of them was an absentee manager.

She described having gone weeks without a 1:1 with her boss, and generally inclined to see the good in people, she just assumed the guy was extremely busy and that the lack of 1:1 meetings was an accidental by-product of his jam-packed schedule.

She took on the burden of scheduling and rescheduling via his assistant, and she finally managed to get into his office for a 1:1. She sat down, a meaty agenda in hand, and the first thing her boss said to her was, “How did you get on my calendar?”

What the actual f*%^&!

She was flabbergasted because with that one simple question, he made it clear he’d been actively avoiding her 1:1s for months. This is shameful in my opinion.

She needed to meet with him, and he was actively avoiding her. I’ve learned in my last year of working with companies at Candor that this kind of absentee manager is all too common.

UNCONSCIOUS ABSENTEE MANAGER

The second flavor of absentee manager is the unconscious absentee manager. These folks are quite different from the conscious ones in that they actually care about their teams and about doing a good job as a leader.

Well-meaning managers accidentally fall into absentee management, too. I certainly have at specific times in my career and with specific employees. The unconscious absentee manager comes from a place of wishing to grant the people on their teams autonomy. So far, so good, but the execution of that autonomy-granting can be highly variable. It’s not enough just to back away from their work. Ever heard someone say, “My philosophy is to hire great people and leave them alone?” That’s the kind of rhetoric / conventional wisdom that can easily land you squarely in the unconscious absentee manager bucket.

It’s worth noting that this “hire great people and then leave them alone” idea doesn’t really happen at the highest levels of any profession. Let’s take an example of professional sports: The National Football League (NFL).

Every spring, the NFL holds the draft, which is a multi-day process in which each team gets approximately 7 turns to choose the best players coming out of college football that year. There are 32 teams, so if you do the math, the NFL in aggregate is drafting approximately 250 fresh players each year. This is a pretty small number, especially when you consider the funnel to get there.

It’s one of the steepest hiring funnels I can think of – each year in the United States approximately 1.25 million kids play youth football, about 1 million play in high school, about 75,000 play in college, and each year about 250 people get drafted into the NFL; this is .02% of the youth football playing population. It has to be one of the most selective employment scenarios in the world.

Thinking about “hire great people and leave them alone,” with a .02% NFL selection rate, we can put a big giant green check mark next to the “hire great people” portion of that idea. What about this “and leave them alone” part, though? There are two really big problems with this.

First, the players need to be developed – the best 250 players should be ready to go, right? Some are, of course, highly productive immediately, but it’s usually a very small number, low double digits in any single draft class. The players need to be developed and they must adapt to the professional game. The experience and expertise of their coaches and teammates enables them to do that. These players spend hours on the practice field, in the weight room, and in the film room learning, studying, training, all under the watchful eyes of their coaches.

Second, the players must fit into a team and scheme. The other major reason, besides player development, that the great people hired into the NFL are not “just left alone,” is because they have to fit into a team.

A football team is 11 people, working in a synchronicity that few organizations can achieve. Football plays are pretty complex and require coordination between many, if not all, members of the team. Everyone on the team needs to learn how to do their piece of the play and needs to trust that the other team members will also be executing their piece of the play.


Credit: footballplaydiagrams.blogspot.com

I hope you get the point. This play would be a human train wreck if this team just “hired the best people and left them alone.” The team you are managing, of course, is almost certainly not an NFL offense, but the idea still holds. A team of people needs to be nurtured and developed and also coordinated and deconflicted, and that’s not likely to occur without some focus and effort from the manager.

Top Signs You Might Be an Absentee Manager

Wondering if you might be coming across as an absentee manager to your team? Check yourself against this list to find out, especially if you’ve worked hard not to be a micromanager!

  1. You have missed a 1:1 with one of your reports for more than two weeks.
  2. You recently espoused your brilliant theory about “hiring great people and letting them do their thing.”
  3. You regularly feel out-of-touch with your employees’ work, projects, achievements, and failures.
  4. You are often surprised to learn about things – good or bad – happening in your organization or team.
  5. Your employees are bumping into each other, left hand unsure of what the right hand is doing.
  6. You gravitate more towards managing up, tackling high visibility projects, or focusing on your own success than investing that time in your team’s success.

 

The Micromanager

Flavors of Micromanagement

As we discussed in Episode 13 of our podcast, the micromanager falls into two broad categories: is too prescriptive about ‘what to do’ and/or too prescriptive about ‘how to do it.’ First, a bit on those who are too prescriptive about ‘what to do.’

‘WHAT TO DO’ MICROMANAGER

Telling people what to do doesn’t work. Of course as a leader of a team, you are responsible for making sure that people are working on things that support the company’s objectives, but it’s just not going to be effective long-term to prescribe exactly what those things should be.

Of course, there could be a need to make a final decision, break a tie, push people toward some discomfort, but saying to a person or group of people, “here are our/your objectives” not only feels awful for those people, but those objectives will not have considered critical perspective from the people closest to the work.

If you find yourself using the phrase, “you need to,” then you might be micromanaging. “You need to do this or do that.”

I once worked for a guy who was extremely prescriptive in the KPIs he wanted my team to pursue. Out of a sense of duty, I brought his input to my team to try to find some merit in the thinking and see if there was something useful we could take. Instead, my team was left wondering if the guy had any idea what we were doing or why we existed. I ended up having to push back very hard on him. For a variety of reasons, including his rather delicate ego, this strained our relationship. So not only did this micromanagement make it more difficult for us to work together, but he also caused me to spend time on work that wasn’t relevant to our business and caused the whole team to feel less motivated towards the right goals.

All of this could have been solved with a more collaborative approach. If he cared enough to prescribe, why not care enough to spend time working directly with me or even my team to think through more relevant objectives?

‘HOW TO DO IT’ MICROMANAGER

The second flavor of micromanagement is telling people ‘how to do it.’ This is about telling people how to go about achieving an objective or key result, prescribing an approach to getting something done. It’s worth clarifying that teaching, however, is a pretty good catchall for the kind of “telling people how to do something” that’s entirely appropriate. If you have some experience to share, of course, share it.

With that in mind – and I don’t know a simpler way to say this – prescribing every approach for people can be demoralizing. If you allow people to develop their own courses of action, their own approaches, and you allow them to make mistakes along the way, they will grow into stronger employees capable of far more over time.

By telling people exactly how to do something, you will simultaneously take away their autonomy and also waste their unique context, unique skill, and their creativity that could be used to solve issues or make progress. They don’t grow. They become automatons executing your commands and incapable of operating without you around.

Top Signs You Might Be a Micromanager

If the situations I described above sound like ones you find yourself in, take a close look at this list. If one or more apply, you may be sliding into micromanagement.

  1. You think some version of “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”
  2. You believe your team member(s) will fail if you aren’t heavily involved in their work.
  3. You regularly shift priorities on your people and actively direct people’s work day-to-day.
  4. You feel like you don’t fully trust your team to get the job done.
  5. Your team is very regularly producing all kinds of slides and updates for the primary purpose of quenching your thirst for details and informing your context.

 

Don’t Despair…

If you find yourself identifying with either the absentee manager or the micromanager, don’t worry! Both of these modes are extremely common — I hear about them all the time when talking with users of the Candor Coach iOS app, listeners of our podcast, and attendees of our workshops. The good news is that knowledge is half the battle! Now that you know where you fall or partially fall, you’ll be more likely to move in the right direction. Plus, I’m of course going to give you some killer tips.

 

Become a Thought Partner

What does it mean to be a thought partner to the people on your team? Thought partners fall somewhere between micromanagers and absentee managers, but not in a Nebraska sort of way. Thought partners are highly engaged, whereas absentee managers are not engaged. Thought partners enable, empower, encourage, and inspire, whereas micromanagers drive and direct.

  • A thought partner thinks of herself as someone who is alongside her employee listening, advising, helping.
  • A micromanager thinks of himself as someone who is above his employees, saving the day.
  • An absentee manager thinks of herself as someone who is out of the way of her employees, leaving them entirely to their own devices.

I was chatting recently with a friend and colleague, Amarpreet Singh, and he told me a story about his former boss, Francoise Brougher, that for me crystallized what it means to be a thought partner.

First, Amarpreet made it clear that the first thing Francoise did as a manager was “extract the fear.” She made it safe for people to come in vulnerable, confused, and not in possession of all the answers. “That was huge because I never felt like I had to position things, hide, or guard what I said.”

With that as context, Amarpreet described that he would walk into Francoise’s office, maybe in his regular 1:1, and he would say, “I’m not nailing this thing I’m working on, and I need some help.” He would go in with the mindset of improving and learning and not worry about being judged or penalized for not knowing all the answers.

Francoise would metaphorically clear her desk, roll up her sleeves, and say, “OK, let’s dig in.”

He was careful to note that she never wrested control of a decision, never told him what to do. “I will give you my input, but this is your call.” Something she told him quite literally in his first week after he made a decision that went against her advice.

Key Activities of Thought Partners

To become like Francoise, to become a thought partner to your team, think about these goals for yourself:

Extract the Fear

Do you ever say, “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions?” Please stop. The first key to engaging your people as a thought partner is to have them think of you as a thought partner. For sure, if you penalize them for trying to engage you that way – by insisting they bring you solutions to problems only – they will never see you as a thought partner, as someone who they can work through problems with. It needs to be ok for people to come to you dazed and confused. You don’t have to provide all the answers, of course, but what have you done to remove fear and enable your people to be vulnerable? If you have no idea how to do that, well, a great place to start is by asking for feedback.

Help people sharpen their ideas

I love the GE “Ideas Are Scary” commercial because it makes two really important points about a new idea. First, a new idea is fragile, like a baby, and second a new idea is often ugly (like most babies? ;). It’s far easier to shoot down and crush new ideas, and frankly, many ideas ultimately deserve it. But we don’t want to great ideas to suffer the same fate – they must be nurtured into something beautiful and impactful, and this is a role a manager can play on the team. Thought partners nurture the new idea. Micromanagers crush it or steal it. Absentee managers find out about the idea weeks later if at all.

Remove obstacles

Obstacles in the workplace are everywhere, and whether real or perceived, they are real to the people on your team. Also whether real or perceived, you have a role to play to help remove the obstacle. Some obstacles need to be gently pushed aside, like a door that is swinging in your path, and some obstacles need to be blown up like Wile E. Coyote and his ACME gear. As a manager you have to help people through the real and perceived obstacles and help determine whether you need ACME explosives or a gentle nudge in the right direction. A thought partner actively engages to help with obstacle removal. A micromanager tells their employee exactly how to work through or around the obstacle. The absentee manager says implicitly or explicitly “that’s your problem, go figure it out.”

Help syndicate ideas and initiatives

Colonel Boggs, a Marine Colonel I used to work for, used to say to his officers “What do you know and who are you telling?” This was meant to inspire you to realize you have information that likely others need, and you need to constantly remind yourself to share that information. Important and impactful ideas and initiatives will usually require cross-team coordination and buy-in. As a thought partner, you can help your team identify and gain the attention of the people they need to talk to in order to advance impactful ideas. Thought partners work hard to make sure that everyone has the same information they have. A micromanager (whether for selfish reasons or possibly thinking they are providing a service) hoards information, doesn’t share regularly, “pinch hits”, and takes on syndication his/herself. An absentee manager leaves an employee to their own devices to build consensus and syndicate ideas across teams.

As a thought partner, you can help your team identify and gain the attention of the people they need to talk to in order to advance impactful ideas.

With those goals in mind, realize that you have a lot going for you that can help you achieve these for your team. Leverage these assets to become a thought partner:

Your context

As a boss, you almost certainly have more context than your employees. They will likely have more details, but you will likely have more, or at least different, context. Abide by Colonel Boggs’ rule here and help inform your employees’ context.

Your experience

Your experience is valuable in helping people sharpen ideas and in helping them find their way around obstacles and other big time wasters. Share your experiences when relevant, helpful, and welcome. Sometimes, you will not have as much experience as others. That’s ok. Surely you must have some experience to bring to the table, and if not, focus on and emphasize the other assets listed here.

Your clarification skills

Asking people to expose their logic can be enormously helpful to both of you. Often, something feels much clearer in someone’s head than it is in reality. By having someone explain ‘why’ he is thinking a certain way, you can help him sharpen his ideas. It can also help you get comfortable that he is thinking through things in a lot of detail.

Your boss’ context

Your boss will have questions, which, by the way, are often a function of your boss’ unique context! If you know your boss well, sometimes you can anticipate what your boss will ask and help your employee by sharing your boss’ perspective, too. Though be careful not to over-rotate on the boss’ perspective or questions. This is a great way to thrash your team. Just be aware that your people probably wouldn’t readily have your boss’ context.

Understand Your Risk Areas

I think it’s important to be thoughtful and self-aware enough to understand your tendencies — do you naturally trend toward micromanager or absentee manager? Are there certain circumstances in which you might trend towards micromanagement or towards absentee management? For example, in a high stress situation, do you start barking orders and surge toward micromanagement or do you retreat to your safe space and trend toward absentee management?

When you identify tendencies like this, flag them for your team. Just let them know that you have a inclination in that area — this will help set their expectations and give you a chance to invite their feedback.

If you have trouble identifying these proclivities for yourself, I took a crack at articulating in the below 2×2 where I’m more likely to to be a thought partner, more likely to be a micromanager and so on. But it’s worth noting that this is my 2×2, and it may not be yours. The most important thing is to become conscious about your tendencies and be able to recognize when you are in danger of sliding away from thought partner and towards one of the other modes.

The axes describe areas in which you, the manager, have high skill/low skill and high interest/low interest.

This thinking works for me – I know that if I’m not super interested in the content area, I will struggle to invest the right amount of mental energy to be a quality thought partner. I also know that if it’s an area that I have a lot of skill in that I am more likely to be prescriptive with my directs and manifest for them as a micromanager. This doesn’t mean that high skill = micromanagement. It simply means that I’d be more at risk of micromanaging and would want to guard against it. Your results might vary, of course, but I’d encourage you to think a little bit about what will bring out the best and worst in you.

You can also think about this when hiring and putting together your team. Like any normal human being, there are things that I’m good at and things that I’m bad at. It’s not a crazy idea to try to construct a team that gives you the best shot of being a good thought partner. I’ve tried, for example, to hire people that could be pretty autonomous, who could figure out and articulate what they need from me, and who valued being able to run their business with a lot of autonomy. These are qualities that set me up well to be a thought partner. There may be another set of qualities that work best for you.

Let Your Team Tell You How You Are Doing

When talking about feedback specifically, we say all the time that it is not measured at the speaker’s mouth, but at the listener’s ear. This means that no matter how clear you think you are… no matter how Radically Candid you think you are… it doesn’t matter, really, at all. What matters far more is how clear your direct report found you because the purpose of feedback is to help people have more success, and the only way someone can have more success is if they fully understood your feedback.

This thinking applies well beyond feedback. Whether you are achieving ‘thought partner’ status with each of your directs is not really something that you can or should assess on your own. You should ask.

What matters is how much your direct reports think of you as a thought partner.

Why not, for example, share this article, and say, “I want to be a thought partner with you, and I want to avoid absentee manager/micromanager status. How am I doing along those lines?” This is a good “Solicit feedback” moment, and in collaboration with your direct reports, you can get on a path to being a quality thought partner with each of them.

Good luck! And let us know how it goes…write in with your stories and challenges in the comments below, on Twitter, or here.

Are You An Interrupter?

We talked about one of the most frustrating meeting habits in episode 12 of our podcast — interrupting! Kim and I gave some tips about how to handle being interrupted in meetings, and Kim explained some of the reasons that cause people to interrupt. Several listeners wrote in to commiserate about being interrupters and asked for our advice on how to stop.

I just listened to Episode 12 of the podcast, and it really struck a chord. I have been working on my bad interruption habit for years, and I still leave conversations feeling guilty about potentially having railroaded a more soft-spoken colleague or friend. I would love any tips you can give me to help me to keep my enthusiasm in check!
— Enthusiastic interrupter

Enthusiastic, thanks a lot for reaching out and for listening!

I think it’s great that you have this focus on improving yourself. Well done — you will get there.

You can’t change the interrupting behavior overnight, but saying “Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off,” is actually a critical first step. By doing that, you are signaling that you recognize the bad habit and want to improve the behavior.

If you start by catching yourself after you interrupt, it is only a matter of time before you start to catch yourself beforehand and build a better habit.

Kim had this idea years ago to wear a rubber band on her wrist and ask people to snap it on her wrist every time she interrupted. I personally couldn’t do it — it felt too mean — but it’s a great way to bring up your consciousness around interruption. She says some other folks were happy to snap it. :)

As Kim mentioned in the podcast, she also realized that her reason for interrupting was her enthusiasm for what people are saying. While this isn’t an excuse that makes interrupting suddenly ok, or even necessarily the reason most people interrupt, it may be helpful to hear how she acted on that realization. Once she was aware that her enthusiasm manifested in ways that shut down the other person, she looked for alternate means of expressing that enthusiasm. Instead of quickly responding with “Yeah! …” or “Right! …”, she looked for nonverbal ways to show her agreement. She smiled and nodded in agreement or otherwise showed her enthusiasm through her body language, instead of jumping to speak. So instead of thinking about how to keep your enthusiasm in check, think about other ways you can express it.

If enthusiasm for the conversation isn’t the reason you interrupt, think about why you’re doing it and if there are other, less frustrating ways to manifest that.

As with anything, though, the first step is awareness/consciousness of the tendency, and then correcting in the moment… after awhile, you will start to make the corrections before the transgression instead of after. Promise.

Radical Candor is Not About Labeling People

The Radical Candor vocabulary can be very useful for creating shared context and a shared standard around feedback. However, there are some good ways and some not-so-good ways to use this vocabulary.

When used within a company, it can be tempting to label people using the 4 Radical Candor quadrants. “Oh, yeah, Obnoxious Aggression – that’s totally Ted!” Or people walking around making the letter “M” with their fingers to identify certain co-workers as Manipulatively Insincere (oh, that doesn’t happen in your office?). Let’s not do that!

These words are meant to be used to evaluate and analyze certain interactions, and not used like Myers-Briggs or another personality test. We all behave in different ways in different interactions, and most of us probably spend time in each of the four quadrants. We would like to encourage people that are trying to build a culture of Radical Candor not to use these terms as labels for people but to evaluate and analyze interactions.

Here are some guidelines for getting the most out of the Radical Candor vocabulary in your organization and remembering not to label people.

Focus on the axes, not the quadrants

The quadrants are handy two-word phrases that are often memorable and relatable. Heck, they are even kind of fun. But they are meaningless without the axes. To analyze or evaluate an interaction, don’t focus so much on the words “Obnoxious” or “Manipulative”, but rather, evaluate an interaction based on whether there was a high Direct Challenge (CD) or whether there was high Care Personally (CP). This is important because it’s possible to act with Empathy in a certain interaction and still achieve Radical Candor (high CD, high CP). It is also possible to act Aggressively in an interaction and still show up Manipulatively Insincere (low CP, low CD) in that interaction.

One of my favorite examples of this is something that happens in every workplace. If you are talking about someone and not to someone, you are clearly not Challenging them Directly, and you’re not demonstrating Personal Care because you’re not really making any investment in that person or that relationship, you’re doing little to help them improve, etc. This can easily be considered Aggressive behavior and some might argue a bit on the Obnoxious side, too. Obnoxious Aggression, right? No – by Radical Candor standards (Radical Candards?), you are behaving with textbook Manipulative Insincerity. And this proves my point that the more meaningful way to look at the interaction is through the lens of the axes, not the quadrant names.

Would you label yourself?

As with many things in Radical Candor, it can be useful to turn things inward first, before trying to apply the ideas to a co-worker. Thinking about the example above, almost no one thinks of themselves as Manipulatively Insincere. I know this because I teach people how to run our workshops and as part of the process, they have to come up with a story of a time in which they were Manipulatively Insincere, and this story is always an absolute struggle for people. “I’m just not that kind of person, Russ.” Yet, whenever we make the decision – conscious or unconscious – to talk about someone and not to someone, we’re operating with textbook Manipulative Insincerity. Many of you reading have done this and many of you reading would not consider yourselves Manipulatively Insincere, right? We wouldn’t either, because these are labels for interactions, not for people.

Another example: Most people would not call themselves Obnoxiously Aggressive (high Challenge Directly, low Care Personally). I know this because in the workshops that I run, I usually ask! But, let me run down a scenario. Imagine you’re in the passing lane on the highway during rush hour traffic, and a dude in a nice sports car cuts you off, narrowly missing your vehicle with his. How do you react? Correct answers include: speed up and tailgate, give him the middle finger, yell obscenities at him. In all of these cases, there is a pretty clear Direct Challenge. And based on some of the horrible things we are willing to say about our fellow man when he cuts us off in traffic, it’s safe to say we’re really low on the Care Personally axis. In this interaction, we are acting Obnoxiously Aggressive toward our fellow citizens. So remember that we’re all susceptible. Just like you wouldn’t label yourself as Obnoxiously Aggressive based on one interaction, don’t jump to a label for another person either.

 

Acknowledge the complicated set of variables

Remember that how you intend to show up on a given day may not be how you actually show up that day. For example, imagine an interaction in which you are fresh off a big win and your co-worker is fresh off a big loss. Or what if your child kept you up last night? What if you are hungover? What if you had a great night sleep and got to the gym? Got breakfast? Got some bad news at home? Got some great news from home? And now ask these same questions, rhetorically, about this theoretical interaction with a co-worker. All of these variables can manifest and make what you think is a Radically Candid interaction feel much more like an Obnoxiously Aggressive one to the other person, and of course, vice versa. Remembering how these outside factors can affect you in a given interaction will help you be mindful that the other person is also influenced by variables that you aren’t aware of. Hopefully this will make you less likely to label their personality rather than the interaction.

 

 

We hope these guidelines will help you remember to use the Radical Candor framework to guide your interactions, not to label people. Let us know what you think, and tell us what your challenges are!

What It Means to Care Personally About Your Team

Most of us have experienced a bad boss, and unfortunately, those experiences can create lasting effects. Here’s a story and question we got from a listener after she listened to the first episode of the Radical Candor podcast — it describes a common challenge that bosses have with balancing authority and Caring Personally and with building relationships with their direct reports.

Hi Kim and Russ,

Just listened to the first episode and wanted to share several of my previous “horrible boss” experiences with you.

I’ve been working about 13 years now. At my first real job out of college I worked at a newspaper in PA in the advertising department. The department head was an older man who I can now accurately describe as a misogynist. I was young and after one particularly hard experience (I can’t recall the details), I cried in his office. A year later, I was promoted from assistant to junior ad sales rep and while I was given the good news he also added something along the lines of “as long as there is no more crying.” Toward the end of my time there, an African American woman was hired in a position over him and he quit 2 months later. That’s when I really understood how the workplace can be for women.

I moved to NYC 10 years ago and started working in the ad agency world. At one of my earlier jobs I had a particularly crazy female boss who has shaped me in ways I still need help recovering from.

This boss was not much older than me, maybe 4 years. I was in my late twenties and she must have been early thirties. Her mood swings were incredible – one day she said hi in the morning and wanted to chat, other days she would ignore me for half of the day and then ask me to stay late working on projects with her that could have been done much earlier. She spoke harshly at times, but also praised me. Complete confusion.

The worst experiences were when she wanted to talk about her personal life. On multiple occasions she would ask if I was busy, then pull me into conference room to tell me about her relationship problems with her boyfriend. There was cheating, there was verbal abuse, they got engaged and then she took the ring off and “didn’t want to talk about it”. In addition to the in person talking, she would IM me and talk about it. I never had any idea what to say or what she was looking for me to do. All I wanted to do was work so I could leave on time!

This has had a lasting effect on me where I have a very hard time building relationships with the people I manage at work. I even had one employee tell me that she had a problem with it a few years back. I think I’m afraid of over-sharing and being thought of the way I thought of my old boss. How can I build a healthy relationship with my employees where we get to know each other and they respect my authority?

Thanks,
Struggling to connect

Struggling,
This is incredible. THANK YOU so much for sharing. Wow – I feel really bad for 22-year-old Struggling and 25-year-old Struggling, but feel very happy for you, 35-year-old Struggling, because you will be a great boss having been shaped by seemingly incompetent bosses and because you’re self-aware enough to ask how to build these relationships the right way.

I have a couple thoughts, and interestingly some of my answers lie in your experiences.

Showing You Care Personally

Let’s take your ad agency boss… What was it about her behavior that was so bad? Sharing inappropriate personal details? Maybe. Hot and cold communication? Meh. What she systematically did was put her needs ahead of yours. Every single example you gave, she put her own needs ahead of yours. For my money, this is at the core of Care Personally, one of the two dimensions of Radical Candor.

Caring Personally means demonstrating that you “give a damn” about the people you work with. Most people do care, but fall down simply because they fail to demonstrate it. Ad Agency Crazy-Person is different, though. She’s SELFISH. Caring Personally is about caring about others, about their needs and priorities. She was focused solely on her needs, her priorities.

Tip: Ask Questions

The first step to Caring Personally is deciding that your job is to enable the success of your team. Put their needs FIRST, above yours.

One thing you can do is to make a practice of asking a basket of questions to your team, maybe at the end of each week, or in your 1:1 meetings. For example:

  • How happy are are you right now?
  • How productive were you this week?
  • What’s in your way?
  • How can I help remove any blockers?
  • What else can I do to enable your success?
  • What opportunities are we missing around here?

I think it’s pretty clear that these are questions that demonstrate that you give a damn about the people on your team. Note that there’s not a bunch of sappy, schmoozing type stuff that’s required to do this. Of course, it’s very important to really want to hear the answers. Don’t just “check the box” and ask…

When you ask these questions, you probably will need to stop by the Thick Skin Store and buckle up because you might hear some uncomfortable stuff. Remind yourself constantly, “Don’t get mad, get curious.

Listen and Serve

Caring Personally, for my money, is about listening to people more than anything else. Of course, listen to their hopes, their fears, their dreams, but also listen to their ideas for improving the team, the work, the environment. All the answers are there on the team. You just have to ask.

A couple resources for you:

I will argue that by thinking about Caring Personally this way, you will ENHANCE your authority, not jeopardize it. It’s been my experience and not to put words in her mouth, but it’s been Kim’s, too. Your authority is absolutely not derived from your title or position. I promise you that. On paper, maybe, but in real life, no one on your team gives a hoot about your title. This was as true in the Marines as it was for Google. Authority was earned, not granted, and I’ve found in my career that it’s been earned far more by giving a damn about people than by knowing a lot of stuff or having a lot of ideas.

Authority is earned, not granted, and I’ve found in my career that it’s been earned far more by giving a damn about people than by knowing a lot of stuff or having a lot of ideas.

A note from Kim:

+ 1 to everything Russ said!

There is a huge difference between Caring Personally and Oversharing Personally!!

I feel your pain on the crying thing too. I had a boss who said I absolutely could not cry in front of him, and that just ensured I cried all the damn time. It was terrible! I find it helpful to remind men who say stuff like that to me that 1) men cry too and 2) if you tell me I can’t cry, it just makes it more likely I’ll cry. Let’s come up with another way to help you cope with tears if they happen.

 

I hope this is a helpful start.

Cheers!

So You’re Younger Than Your Direct Reports…

We frequently talk to managers who find it challenging to have direct reports who are older or more experienced than they are. We’re taught from a young age to “respect our elders,” which actually means to defer to them. With this kind of conditioning, it can feel awkward to be in a position of authority over these folks.

Here’s a question one of our podcast listeners sent in along these lines:

I’m a young startup CEO, and both my Director of Operations and Production Manager are 20 years (+/-) older than me. I know this is not abnormal, however I will note that my Director of Ops is also an investor in the company so the dynamic can be challenging. I try to approach these relationships with the mindset that I am learning from them, while at the same time leading the company’s direction. What advice do you have on managing employees and partners who are older than you?

First and most important, thanks for listening and thanks for giving us a chance to be helpful. Kim and I got in this business for that reason: to be helpful, so we’re excited when those opportunities present!

Now let’s get into your question.

When I was in the Marines, on day one I was managing a 40 person organization, which included one or two crusty, roughneck guys with a lot more experience than me. Worse, it’s traditional in the Marines for the enlisted guys to gently mock new lieutenants with wonderful nicknames like “butter bars” and “boot.” In fact, to this day, my Marines will once in awhile make a “boot” joke at my expense on Facebook. Of course, I love it — it’s now a term of endearment.

Anyway, my point is that I have very direct experience with this.

I am pretty sure there have been other stops in my career in which I have had to manage people older than me, but I’m not sure, and that’s really my first piece of advice: You have to let the age or experience difference go. Ignore it. Pretend it’s not there. The more this is featured in your brain, the more you are likely to manifest as apologetic or an imposter.

I admire your humility in wanting to learn from your reports. We give this advice to every manager, irrespective of any age dynamics at play. Good managers routinely ask their people for feedback, routinely learn from those people. It’s generally more a function of the fact that those folks are “closer to the facts” than that they have more experience, but the outcome is the same. Good leaders listen carefully to their teams and learn from them. Well done.

 

In the end, you, as a manager, have to

1. give feedback

2. build a great team

both in service to

3. driving results

The ages of your direct reports have no bearing on whether they are achieving results. If you focus your conversations on the objectives and key results of your company and the objectives and key results of your Director of Ops and Production Manager, you’ll see exactly how quickly your age becomes irrelevant.

Having a direct report as an investor is tricky. However, I’m just going to guess that he/she doesn’t own a huge portion of the equity and is not on the board, in which case, he/she is a shareholder just like any other employee. In managing the day-to-day operations of the business, the position of your Director of Ops as an investor has no bearing on your expectations of him/her and the results he/she is expected to attain.

So, to summarize the advice here… As much as possible, stop thinking about the fact that these direct reports are older or more experienced than you are. Instead, focus on communicating clear expectations for results, evaluating those results, and creating accountability for the results. This is what really matters, and it will hopefully help relieve the tension you feel.

Let us know how it goes!

Candor’s “Give Feedback” Playbook

We’ve been so excited about all the engagement we’ve gotten from our podcast listeners. We are getting great, thoughtful questions after each episode, and we know they’re questions that others have as well! So we’ll be sharing some of the advice we’re giving to individual listeners here on the blog.

Here’s a question from Kathryn:

My question relates to how one can challenge directly regarding inflexibility. I have a staff member that really struggles with his daily responsibilities I think due to being inflexible. He appears to not be able to break the habit of black and white thinking, be open to change in process or suggestions on how to be more efficient. Anytime a request is made or even a suggestion for improvement is made there seems to be a wall that goes up or there are a million questions (about a simple task) or he is agreeable but then I receive a super long resistant email. Is it possible to be candid about this behavior in order to assist this individual to achieving his true potential within the organization?

I penned a response to Kathryn and realized we have lots of advice about giving feedback in a few places, and I wanted to bring them together to help Kathryn solve her specific problem. I then realized that this is probably a pretty darn useful “playbook” to help you think about giving feedback.

TLDR for Kathryn: You can and must give this guy the feedback and you really should do it ASAP. This behavior is clearly getting in his way, and the longer you wait to offer him critical feedback, the longer he continues to confound his own success.

And I’ll go one step further: I’ll bet anything that this guy has faced this problem at his other jobs, and I’ll bet previous managers and peers never bothered to give him the feedback – perhaps they’ve been worn down by the behavior, perhaps they’ve feared an adverse response, perhaps they didn’t care. Someone has to help this guy, no matter how painful and difficult it is. Kathryn, you can be the one to end the cycle for him and help get him on the right track for today and for the rest of his career.

This is, in my view, a five-alarm feedback situation.

I think some helpful framing for the feedback and the conversation is the Center for Creative Leadership’s SBI Model. SBI means:

  • Situation: context or a specific situation in which a behavior manifested
  • Behavior: the behavior you are seeing that is not ideal (in this case) or the behavior you are seeing that is leading to success (in the case of praise)
  • Impact: the articulation of the Impact of the behavior

For future reference, we also espouse a derivative of the SBI model that we invented, which is the SWI Model, which is Situation, Work, Impact. It means:

  • Situation: context or a specific situation in which work was performed
  • Work: the specific work product, project, deliverable, performance goal, etc.
  • Impact: the articulation of the impact of the work product or specific performance

In Kathryn’s case, we’re talking about mostly behaviors, so we’ll stick primarily with SBI. A simple, clarifying practice can be to quickly write down the feedback. How this might look in Kathryn’s notebook:

SBI example

Kathryn will of course have to do the hard work of thinking through all of this, but you get the idea. One small execution detail: Kathryn should certainly be armed with a couple examples, but I recommend withholding the examples until after she’s discussed the impact of the behaviors. It’s a nuance, but I think it can be a bit easier for someone to hear the examples in the context of the impact of the behavior.

 

Candor's Give Feedback Playbook

The Playbook

When you’ve got feedback to give, follow these guidelines to give it as kindly and clearly as possible.

1. Write your feedback down

Write down what you want to say – it helps clarify. Also, write down your objectives. Being clear about what you want to happen as a result of the conversation makes it more likely the conversation will be helpful. You don’t need to write a federal case, just enough to clarify your thinking.

2. Practice

Find a peer or an HRBP (Human Resources Business Partner) type and practice actually giving the feedback. We often think we are much clearer in our heads than we are in actuality when we speak. Tell this person “I want you to help me refine and clarify this message.” Recognize that as a human being you are naturally predisposed to the following: the more difficult the message, the less clear you will be. Practicing on someone helps you hold the line and remain clear.

3. Be HHIIPP

Think about these six ways to be kind and clear: helpful, humble, immediate, in person, public praise/private criticism, not about personality. If these ideas of HHIIPP are new to you, it can be useful to just focus on one or two HHIIPP principles at once, until you master them. I think “Humble” is often difficult and important to practice early on.

4. You don’t need to have all the answers

All too often, managers hold off on giving important feedback because they think they need to be “solutions oriented” which gets defined in their heads as “I can’t just bring a problem, I need to bring a solution.” That’s an impossibly high bar. Instead, offer to work with the other person to figure out how to help them improve in this area. In Kathryn’s case, this might mean providing resources to help this person be more open to feedback, like this article about taking feedback well.

5. Carefully assess emotions

You cannot control someone’s emotions, and if they become emotional – angry, crying, defensive… this does ***not*** mean you did something wrong. In Kathryn’s example, there is a decent chance the guy’s brain will move into threat zone given his regular behavior. How you react when someone is emotional is what matters far more than whether they’ve become emotional: Recognize they are not in a “teachable moment” if they are emotional or defensive. If you see this, you have some options.

  1. You can ask simple questions to move the person out of the limbic system/threat zone, such as “tell me how you are feeling right now,” or “how would you like to proceed?” These have the effect of helping someone move out of threat response and into problem solving.
  2. Be prepared to give the person a bottle of water and a :15 minute break (or even a break until the next day) to make sure you can have a discussion.
  3. There is a solid chance the person will only have heard a fraction of what you said, so you will need to check to see that your feedback landed (Gauge your feedback) to make sure you both are seeing this thing similarly.
  4. Be sure to fully understand their perspective, too – this is really what give it “humbly” means.

That’s it for the Give Feedback playbook. Remember – giving feedback – especially critical feedback – is hard, but that doesn’t mean we get to skip it. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet that if you say it in just the right way or just the right time, the other person will magically, certainly be able to hear it well. Use the tips above to get to good outcomes – delivering feedback that is kind and clear in the case of criticism and specific and sincere in the case or praise.

6 Key Lessons for Every New Manager

CONGRATULATIONS! You’re now a manager! You’ve worked hard, done well and been promoted to lead a team. That in and of itself is a HUGE accomplishment. But it’s only the beginning. Because now you need to figure out how the heck you’re going to actually be a successful, inspirational, motivational leader. That, my friend, is no small task. In fact, I am not sure that there exists a more jarring transition than the transition from individual contributor to manager.

I tend to summarize the issue very bluntly: The activities that made you a successful individual contributor yesterday LOOK NOTHING LIKE the activities that will make you successful as a manager today. I mean that exactly as written.

The problem, of course, is that we tend to promote people into management roles because they were one of the top, if not the top individual contributor. Based on my blunt summary (AKA my blummary), this would be an extremely arbitrary criteria since the activities that made you successful yesterday are not the same ones that will make you successful now.

This transition, then, also represents for so many an extremely specific example of the Peter Principle, selecting a candidate for a position based on their performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. This principle is exacerbated by the fact that very, very few companies invest enough to ramp up their new and mid-level managers.

Well lucky for you, Candor has come along to help. A good friend of mine, Dan Greene, shares a passion for getting involved with new managers and helping them find their footing. Like me, Dan started his leadership career as a Military officer. He spent a few years in the commercial aviation business after his 11 years in the Navy and then moved into the Tech world. Over the past decade, both Dan and I led large teams within the advertising businesses at Google and then Twitter. I turned to him to write this post with me so that we could produce the best handful of tips to help you succeed. This isn’t a comprehensive list of management how-to’s. It’s simply a description of the top 6 lessons that we feel any new manager should keep in mind as they ramp up in their first few days, weeks and months.

So here’s to you, new(ish) manager! We hope you’ll find these practical tips helpful.

Lesson #1 – You are not an individual contributor anymore

I asked one of our engineers, Matt Dailey, who made a transition from individual contributor to manager at Palantir, “Based on that transition at Palantir, what are your top two tips for new managers?” His answer was “First, I needed to ditch my individual contributor (IC) responsibilities.” Managing a team is a full-time job. If it’s not a full time job to manage a team, then there probably shouldn’t be a manager for that team.

Because you were likely the top individual contributor, it seems intuitive that you should retain some of that work. I think this is a very bad practice, and here’s why:

It doesn’t scale.

If you keep meaningful IC responsibilities instead of delegating, you will struggle to scale.

If you’re doing IC work, who is coaching Steve? Who is making sure the team is focused on the right priorities today (see below)? Who is helping remove obstacles and blockers to help folks on the team have more success? Who is reaching out to cross-functional partners to make sure teams are coordinating their efforts and operating in an aligned way?

I think you get my point.

It’s like robbing your team.

Something we believe deeply is that when you become a manager, you must prioritize your team’s growth, development, success, and needs above your own. Not in a lip-servicey kind of way, but truly in every fiber of your being. I personally take some cues from Service Leadership here, but this is really mostly a philosophy I brought with me out of the Marine Corps. It’s true that officers eat last. The insight here is that every single time you take on an important, complex, high impact deliverable, you are robbing people on your team from not only the growth and development that would come with them being front and center on that project, but also robbing them of a scarce high visibility opportunity. Sometimes people say, “well that’s just not realistic, those people are too busy” or “we have too much to do.” When I hear that, the first thing I think is “ok, then that team is most likely not prioritizing well.”

So here’s the tip: Look carefully at your IC responsibilities. Identify what is truly important, given the goals you just articulated, and identify what is not. Work with people on the team to distribute the important stuff to them, and work with them to trade-off other less important work that they might be pursuing.

Distribute the truly important individual contributor responsibilities to the people on your team.

Some companies follow the practice that new managers carry a lot of individual contributor responsibilities. My advice is for you to start to actively look for opportunities to delegate meaty opportunities to the folks on your team, start talking to your manager immediately about the risks of retaining too many IC responsibilities, and gradually work your way out of those responsibilities as time goes on. You *will* become a better manager. This is not easy to do, but that’s the mental model I recommend.

Lesson #2 – You have to truly care about your team(s)

It’s easy to use rank or positional authority to direct your teams and order people around, but that’s not leadership. To truly lead, you have to motivate and inspire, not direct. To motivate and inspire, you must earn your people’s trust. So, the question is, how do you earn someone’s trust?

Develop relationships

The first step is to develop relationships. People trust people that they know. So, take the time to get to know them. Engage with your team. Build connections with people. Get to know your people and let them get to know you. For example, find out what their hopes and dreams, goals and career objectives are. And make sure they know the same about you (relationships go both ways).

You can build these relationships through one on one sessions. You can build them informally by sitting with and working with your people. You can build them through hosting lunches and social events. You can use whatever works for you and your team and your culture. But no matter how you do it, get to know your people!

Show You Care Personally

The next step is to show your people that you care about them. People trust leaders when they know those leaders truly care about their best interests. This is no small task! Caring means that you put their needs first. You are in fact “in-service” to your own team… not the other way around. You can show you care by:

  • Helping them develop. Make time to coach and deliver strong and actionable feedback.
  • Helping them solve problems and removing obstacles for them.
  • Giving them credit and praise and making sure they shine whenever applicable.
  • Making time for them when you don’t have time to make!

Remember, this section is all about building trust with your teams by building relationships and showing them that you truly care. If you don’t care, they’ll know it. You cannot fake this! If they know you don’t care, they won’t trust you. If they don’t trust you, you can’t inspire them and if you can’t inspire, you cannot lead them. So if you don’t care, you can’t lead. Also remember that building strong relationships is the foundation for trust. People follow leaders that they trust. So build strong relationships to enable trust and unlock your leadership potential.

Lesson #3 – You gotta have a plan

Our engineer Matt’s second thought about his transition to becoming a manager was “I needed to clarify the team’s objectives.”

Of course, if you’ve transitioned into a management role recently – or are about to – you most likely inherited (will inherit) an operating team. This step, as Matt described it, is actually to try to understand “what the guy before me had the team working towards.” The team might be on the right path, but it also might not be. A few steps to follow:

Absolutely understand what the team thinks its objectives are

… by asking them. It might be tempting to think “oh, now that I’m a manager I’m supposed to know a lot of stuff, so I should know the team’s objectives.” Nonsense. A couple questions to ask individuals:

  • What are your goals for the quarter?
  • What do you believe our team’s goals are for the quarter?

Absolutely understand what key stakeholders think the team’s objectives should be

… by asking them. What does your new boss think the team should be achieving? What do your key cross-functional partners think the team should be achieving? What do the people ON THE TEAM think they should be achieving? A simple question for all of these people:

  • “I’m working through the team’s goals (OKRs, KPIs), and I am wondering, if you were setting the team’s goals for this/next quarter, what would your top 2 or 3 goals be?”

Rationalize what you learn and publish clear OKRs

As we’ve mentioned before, OKRs are “Objectives and Key Results” – or goals. Ultimately, you are responsible for the team’s delivery or lack of delivery, so the final OKRs will be your decision.

Having done your diligence by checking in with the team and stakeholders, you’re in a great place to paint a 360 degree picture of expectations of the team. But be wary of excessive compromise, ie the Nebraska Problem (you want to vacation in Vermont, your partner wants to vacation at Lake Tahoe, and to compromise, you settle on Nebraska, which is in between the two).

Good OKRs are measurable or binary, and they leave no ambiguity in the mind of the reader whether there was success or failure.

I like publishing OKRs in Google Spreadsheets with a description of the goal, a spot for notes, and a place to grade. Pretty simple. Distribute this sheet to the team so they know the team’s goals.

It’s also important that every person and every team has their own OKRs. So, not only should your team have clear goals, you and each individual also should have your own personal goals for the quarter. And we recommend listing and publishing all OKRs / Goals in a single doc so that everyone on the team knows and understands the focus areas, objectives and goals of all team members.

The final step – give your team visibility into your boss’ goals so they can see how their work supports a larger picture.

Lesson #4 – Ruthless Prioritization

Oftentimes, if you’ve just taken over a team, you’re freaking out a little. You think, incorrectly, that the path to success is to be able to show a mountain of awesome stuff your team accomplished. With this approach you will wear your team out, make them miserable, and while you might actually find a little bit of short-term success, you will not be able to sustain it.

The answer is to prioritize. If you have more than three priorities you have none. Just in case you’re thinking, “OK, Russ, but I can probably sneak in a 4th or 5th,” I’d say rethink.

One of our podcast listeners, Paige, wrote in and in our exchange mentioned, “Fun fact, the word ‘priorities’ is a modern word… before recently there was never a word that was the plural of priority – you only had ONE priority.” In other words, I think I’m being generous in giving you 3. :) Don’t let your insecure overachiever get the best of you. 3 priorities, no more.

How do you prioritize?

Great news! By carefully crafting your team’s goals, you have already taken the most important step toward prioritizing. In some ways, the team’s goals are the team’s priorities for the quarter, but I think priorities have to be actively traded each week and even each day. This is actually pretty hard to do. Prioritizing is a cognitively intensive process that people tend to naturally avoid. If you’re interested in learning the details, check out the “Prioritize Prioritizing” chapter in Your Brain at Work.

A very simple prescription is to hold a daily standup meeting. In this meeting, each person articulates their top 3 priorities for the day. A few pointers on this:

Take notes

Use a Google doc to capture and commemorate each person’s priorities. Ask folks to drop into this doc no more than 3 priorities for the day prior to the standup.

Avoid the arms race

The moment one person goes to 4 priorities, you’ve got yourself an arms race. “Oh, well Sally had 4 yesterday and now it looks like she is working harder than me, so I’ll put in 4 today.” If someone drops in 4 priorities, ask them, “What are your top 3?” and delete the 4th.

Be intentional about time of day

I recommend holding standup meetings at the earliest possible hour of the day, given your team’s working style. People have many different perspectives here, even in our own company, but the logic is that if you are prioritizing for the day, and part of the objective of the meeting is to provide transparency to all team members on each other’s priorities, then it makes the most sense to articulate and share those priorities first thing that day.

Monday is double duty

Consider using the Monday standup to articulate not only Monday’s priorities, but also the priorities for the week. Weekly priorities should have a clear tie to the quarterly goals — you only have 13 weeks in a quarter, so you can’t afford to let a whole week go by without progress towards your quarterly goals.

Lesson #5 – Don’t Be Soft on Crime

In episode 3 of our podcast, Dick Costolo, founder of Chorus.fit and former CEO of Twitter, says, “Managing by trying to be liked is the path to ruin.”

If there is one problem I have seen new managers make more than any other, it’s that they do not channel their inner McGruff The Crime Dog, and they are far too soft on crime.

Think about the best coaches and teachers that you had in school. Think about what made them truly great. Chances are you were motivated and inspired, but you were also challenged, you were pushed, and you learned a TON. No one wants a push-over for a coach or a teacher or a manager. They want someone that will set high standards, who help them grow and achieve more than they thought possible, and who will do all of that in a way that shows they care. That means being a great manager doesn’t necessarily mean being everyone’s best friend. It means you’re going have to be tough when tough is needed and you’re going to have deliver difficult and constructive feedback when called for.

Guess what? People sometimes struggle, and sometimes you need to criticize their work and their behavior. Guess what else? People sometimes fail to make the changes you think they need to make.

Both of these realities are very difficult for new managers to grasp for a few reasons:

Thinking you can save everyone

You were almost certainly a strong individual contributor. You think that if you can just get Jeff to do this thing like you did, he’ll be ok. Sometimes, you even do the work for Jeff. Wrong answer, folks! – See Lesson #1.

Lacking confidence to act

You’re new, you’re off balance, and you’re not sure if you can hold people’s feet to the fire. You must. The purpose of critical feedback is to help people improve. By not acting, you are not helping people become more successful, the most important thing you can do for the people on your team.

Wanting to be liked

Giving tough feedback and holding folks accountable is uncomfortable… for everyone. You fear an emotional response. You fear being complained about at the water cooler. Well, those things are part of the gig.

Not wanting to hurt morale

You think that by holding Jane’s feet to the fire, you’ll upset her and since the team likes Jane, upsetting her will hurt morale. This is almost always wrong. Popular as Jane is, usually the team is troubled by the fact that she’s coming up short. They’re having to pick up the slack, and you’re not doing anything about it. By not getting Jane what she needs, critical feedback, you are hurting morale far more.

And here’s the ugly truth, noob. Someday you will have to fire someone. I promise you that day will be the worst day of your career. Always remember that it’s not fair to that person or the rest of the team to allow someone to continue in a role and struggle. You have to intervene swiftly. To feel better prepared, take time early in your tenure to find someone in HR who can teach you about how the company thinks about this stuff. Usually this person is an “HRBP” – Human Resources Business Partner or someone with broad HR responsibilities.  It’s important to flag to this person your concerns and collaborate with them on next steps.

Lesson #6 – Set the pace, set the tempo, lead by example!

OK, this is the last tip. We promise! Leading by example. On the surface, it’s simple… always always always lead by example! Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find some complexity.

Part of leading effectively is having the respect of your team. It’s very hard to gain or maintain that respect if you don’t set the right example and lead from the front. What do we mean by that? It falls into a few categories:

Technical Competency

You have to know and understand as much as you can about what your people know and do! Know the product, know the roles, know the operations. You need to understand what your people are doing day to day and understand what you’re asking them to do at any given time. Don’t ever ask your people to do something you haven’t done or wouldn’t do. And whenever you can, roll your sleeves up and get your hands “into the work,” along with your people. Walk the walk and talk the talk! You’ll build a tremendous amount of respect from your teams by focusing your energy in this way.

Effort & Energy

The team is fueled by your energy and your mood. If you bring low energy and a bad mood to work, that’s what the team will feed on. And that’s the kind of performance you’ll get from them. The fact is, you lose the right to have a bad day when you pin on your manager stripes. You have to be able to compartmentalize your problems, and bring your enthusiastic “A game” each and every day. This isn’t an easy task by any stretch. But that’s why you get paid the big bucks, why you’ve been given the privilege to lead. So, suck it up and be mentally and emotionally tough. Leadership is HARD. Being a great leader is even harder. You have to accept and be comfortable with that fact. It takes a lot of energy and a lot of commitment to be a great leader.

Behaviors

Here’s something that all too many leaders forget or never actually understand: when you are in a position of leadership, everything you do is a leadership action. What you do, what you say, what you think, what people think you think and how they perceive you as a result — it all matters! Everything you do counts as a leadership action and you must set the right example as often as possible. That means you’re always setting an example, on the job and off. As a leader you’re never really off duty. What you do at home, out in town, off the job, or on the job — it all counts. And you’re always setting an example. If you want to maintain the respect of your team and as a result maintain your ability to lead and manage them, you need to set the right example all the time!

You can do this!

One article with 6 lessons and tips on how to lead certainly doesn’t cover the entire corpus of leadership. There’s no way we can teach you everything you need to know and understand in one article. What we’ve tried to do here is pull together the top 6 things we think every new manager MUST understand if they’re going to be remotely successful in their new jobs as leaders.

We encourage you to read through and think about everything we’ve written here. But, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Talk about these concepts with other more experienced managers that you know. See what they have to say about the most important things you need to know as you start your management career. Let us know what you think, what you learn, and what questions you have!

Leadership and management is an amazingly rewarding career path, but to do it right requires a tremendous amount of energy; a refined, robust and specific set of skills and knowledge; and a ton of practice.

———

This post was co-authored by Dan Greene.

Dan is currently an independent leadership consultant, writer, and speaker. Over the course of his career, he has held a variety of roles in general management, operations management, and sales & business leadership. Dan was previously the Vice President of U.S. Sales at Twitter, spent 6 years leading teams at Google, and was the VP of Business Operations for an aviation startup company. Dan graduated from the United States Naval Academy and spent the first 11 years of his career serving as a carrier-based Navy fighter pilot & operations director before earning his MBA from UCLA. He lives in Willow Glen, CA with his wife, Karen, his three kids, and his yellow lab “Scout”.

6 Tips for Taking Feedback Well

Have you ever noticed that when it rains, everyone shows up to work talking about how everyone else can’t drive in the rain? Have you noticed that no one is showing up saying they themselves can’t drive in the rain? I gotta believe that some of those complaining about others’ poor driving, must also be driving poorly and the target of others’ complaints.

Well, here at Candor’s Global Headquarters we get asked a lot some version of “how do you talk to people about accepting feedback better?” It reminds me a lot of people driving in the rain – they can see clearly when others are messing it up, but it’s sometimes a little bit harder to see it in ourselves.

Personally, I’m terrible at taking feedback in some circumstances and really good at it in others.

For example, if someone is junior to me or if I ask for feedback from anyone, I am very excited to get it. I love it. I don’t care how harsh or how scathing. The praise doesn’t go to my head and the criticism doesn’t get me down. I can hear the feedback so clearly, am super interested in it, and it somehow feels like a problem solving session – a discussion taking place in my prefrontal cortex, which is the problem-solving part of the brain.

Conversely, I am not good at hearing feedback when I get surprised. This morning, Kim, my co-founder, approached me while I was reviewing one of our podcast episodes to give me some feedback. For a variety of reasons, none of them good in hindsight, I felt my defenses surge. The feedback was actually not even particularly critical, but the circumstances – the interruption, the fact that I wasn’t in that moment thinking about that particular thing, and the fact that I had already reached a similar conclusion – all somehow conspired to set off my internal alarm bells. I didn’t let on that I was having a defensive reaction, and used a simple technique (label and re-appraise – see below) to move out of threat response and into critical thinking. Crisis averted, but it doesn’t change the fact that my threat response went off first and I had to work to suppress it and engage in the conversation.

So what can we learn from this? Am I just some super defensive guy, or am I pretty normal?

I’m going to guess that it’s much more normal for people to manifest a threat response to critical feedback than it is not to. Otherwise, critical feedback wouldn’t be so hard. So, I’ll say “normal,” and we’re all in this together. I want to share a few tips to help you take feedback better so that you can be the change you want to see in the world.

Tip 1: Prepare Your Mind and Ask for It (Alternate “Buckle Up”)

For starters, ask for feedback much more often. Funny thing… I talk to many, many companies every week, and they all communicate some version of their leaders not giving enough feedback and giving almost no critical feedback. It’s no mystery that giving feedback is hard. Imagine how much easier it would become if everyone just started asking for it?

We wrote a blog post awhile back on how to ask for feedback. I won’t rehash that article here because I want to focus more here on the mindset of receiving feedback versus the tactics of asking for it.

When you ask for feedback, you get to set the terms – timing, mindset, even content. You can get your mind right and ready to hear tough stuff. So much of hearing feedback well is preparing yourself to hear it. Say to yourself, “buckle up, you’re about to get some criticism, and feedback is a gift so let’s go.” If it helps, you can even use your best Stuart Smalley voice, because doggone it, people like you.

Also, I promise, the more you ask for feedback, the better you get at taking it. My son is a competitive gymnast. Gymnastics is an extraordinary sport with many attributes, but one way to describe gymnastics is that you fail 100s of times at something before you finally succeed, and everyone one of those 100s of attempt will include a brief piece of corrective feedback. The gymnasts are not explicitly asking for the feedback, but they do expect it after every repetition. They gymnasts nod and try to incorporate on the next attempt. Like anything, they practice getting feedback and then get good at it.

When you ask, you communicate two things: 1) you want the feedback and 2) you are ready to hear it. Two massive obstacles that feedback givers tend to stress over.

Most important, though, the act of asking allows you to be proactive/puts you on the front foot and allows/forces you to prepare your mind, which in my opinion is the highest leverage activity available to help you hear feedback well. Imagine if in my example with Kim, I proactively grabbed her to talk about this topic that she hit me with. I go into that conversation saying “what do you think?” ready to hear her, ready with my own theory, ready to solve a problem rather than allowing myself to be surprised.

Of course, it’s impossible to never get surprised by feedback, and we must all work on getting ourselves into a mode when feedback is offered, but I think that starting to more frequently ask for feedback helps you get the feedback you need and helps you get it with the right mindset to be able to truly hear it and take it on board.

Tip 2: Don’t Get Mad Get Curious

In our article about how to get feedback, we talk about listening with the intent to understand and not respond… or cross-examine. How you react in the split second someone starts to give you critical feedback is a crucial moment. Fly off the handle and you will set your relationship back months. Calmly listen and manifest as curious, and you can advance your relationship by weeks! Yes, I do believe there is more damage inflicted by a defensive reaction than upside realized from a good one. There’s one simple phrase that if repeated (I mean this literally) in your brain over and over, you can help yourself to react well to the feedback.

Don’t Get Mad, Get Curious, a handy little phrase coined by Fred Kofman in Conscious Business. Just keep saying that in your head.

Don’t get mad, get curious.

What does this mean? If you get deeply curious about the feedback you are receiving, it starts to feel more like a problem to solve. Humans like solving problems. Bonus: this is a problem to solve where the subject is something else humans love: themselves. Sentiments that can really help:

  • “Ooo. That is interesting. Tell me more about that.”
  • “Ak! I didn’t realize that by saying that thing that way that I was upsetting the other team? How can we tidy things up there?”
  • “Oh my gosh, that is so interesting that is how I’m showing up. Of course I don’t mean to, but am I understanding correctly that you see X, Y, and Z?”

Tip 3: Label and Reappraise

I love David Rock’s book, Your Brain at Work. He covers a lot of ground in the book, but the central theme is the SCARF model, a set of social threats (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness) you are likely to experience in the workplace, or even in life. Those threats of course are far less dangerous than, say, being chased by a lion, but to your brain, they feel about the same.

One of the coping mechanisms he tees up is Label and Reappraise. As you start to feel an emotion, or threat, label that threat (give it a name) and then reappraise it (assess it again in a different way). This is a way to actively “switch” your mind out of emotion and threat and into problem solving and critical thinking. As Rock describes, your limbic system (the system that deals with threat response and emotion) and pre-frontal cortex (the part of your brain that is involved with thinking and problem solving) do not actually work together. These two systems compete for resources, for glucose and oxygen. The biggest problem is that it’s been an evolutionary necessity for much longer to have an excellent threat response than to have great problem solving skills. So the limbic system is in the largest, oldest, most efficient part of the brain, and it easily dominates the competition for resources. This is why it’s so hard to think when you’re scared, for example.

So when you label a threat or emotion, you put yourself in a problem-solving activity. You have to search for the right way to describe this emotion you’re having. In the case of my conversation with Kim this morning, it was simple: defensive. “You’re being, defensive, Russ” – step 1 achieved. The reappraisal step was similarly simple, but not easy. “She’s got your back, like she’s had for a decade, and this is actually a topic we both care about deeply. She’s just trying to be helpful.”

I don’t mean to make this sound magical, but this is all exactly true. Within seconds we were laughing about this topic, violently agreeing with each other on the things we’re going to change to achieve the results we want. A simple action plan hatched, collaboration achieved.

Tip 4: Don’t Rely on Being Your Own Worst Critic

“I’m my own worst critic.” You hear this a lot, don’t you? Maybe even in your own head? It’s some version of “I don’t really need much feedback because I’m my own worst critic.” If I’m being honest, this is actually something that runs through my head a ton, but it’s wrong. Here are some of the common phrases that folks think and say:

  • No one is tougher on me than me.
  • No one has a higher standard for me than I do.
  • I am extremely self-aware.
  • I am likely to see my mistakes long before anyone else does

There are a bunch of problems with this mentality, even if some of those things seem true.

Let’s start with this. Rory McIlroy is, at the time of this writing, the #2 golfer in the world. I chose Rory because among the top 10 PGA Tour golfers in the world, he’s the closest thing to a household name.

Rory McIlroy has at least 2 coaches, a swing coach and a putting coach. Don’t you think Rory McIlroy is hard on himself? Can’t he videotape himself and analyze his own swing? Isn’t it likely that to have become the #2 golfer in the world, he has much higher standards for himself than 99% of humans?

But he still needs a coach. Said differently, HE PAYS PEOPLE TO GIVE HIM CRITICISM despite his standing as the second best golfer in the world.

You’re a pretty good employee, but almost certainly not the #2 employee in the world. No offense, it’s just statistically unlikely. Would it ever cross your mind to pay someone to criticize you?

Great news. You don’t have to. Your company does that already. They pay your manager and your peers and your team to criticize you.

I think the insight here is that how we show up at work is complex. Our own version of that might be very accurate because of our high standards and high self-awareness, but it’s almost certainly not entirely accurate, and more likely, a lot less accurate than we think.

You have to believe that getting feedback from people around you can advance your thinking, add texture, add depth, make you just a little bit better. Use those high standards you have for yourself to say, “they are so high, I even want the tiny little things that only the people around me can add.” Here’s a way to enable this thinking:

Write down in a private notebook, the names of the people you work most closely with each week. Maybe 5-10 people at most. For each person, write down three things that you theorize they might be able to help you with. You don’t have to act on this just yet; mostly, you are embarking on a process to convince yourself that the folks around you really do have something to offer.

For example, my teammate, Elisse, is a very structured and clear thinker. I have filed away in my brain that I can always count on her to help me structure and clarify my thinking and my writing. My list might look like this:

Tip 5: Stop Trying to “Get an A”

Related to the mindset that “I’m my own worst critic” is the idea that when you are receiving feedback, you are trying to get an A.

When I was in the Marines and attended The Basic School with 250 fellow 2nd Lieutenants, we had a pejorative term for the over-participators. We called them “spring-butts”. The basic insight is that when you answered a question in class, you were expected to stand up, introduce yourself, and then ask the question. Out of the 250 lieutenants, there were some guys who just couldn’t help themselves, spring-butts to the core, and it felt like they were “trying to get an A” even though that interaction had nothing really to do with your evaluation in school.

When you are self-aware, be mindful that while you’re receiving feedback, you are at risk of over-participating and manifesting like the person who is “trying to get an A.” Curious, engaged, writing things down — all great behavior. On the other hand, interrupting, and even nodding in anticipation of the next sentence can make it seem like you are not really listening. You run a risk of of showing up like “you’re telling me stuff I already know.”

This one is a little bit counterintuitive, because I know when I’ve been in this mode, I’ve been thinking in my head, “Yep, got it. Agree. Agree. Agree. I am so damn self-aware, check me out.” All of this is a form of affirmation bias – “I already see this thing this way, and this feedback affirms it,” when the opportunity is to listen and advance your thinking rather than affirming it.

So, instead of just agreeing with the feedback giver, interrupting them with your “yeps” and “totallys” or seemingly impatiently anticipating each new sentence, try to advance your thinking by just listening quietly. When they sound done, as always, check for understanding. “So, what I think I hear you saying is that if I were to change A and B, you think it would help me in X & Y ways? Do I have that right?”

Simple. But not easy.

Look, I’m with you. I will often have given myself the feedback weeks before someone else would even think to. Let’s agree this self-awareness is generally a strength, but it becomes a weakness – and frankly an arrogance – when we allow our belief in our ability to self-assess to get in the way of hearing new assessment from those around us.

Tip 6: Follow up

I would argue that the definition of taking feedback well is showing that you understood the feedback and that you plan to do something about it.

Take a moment in the conversation to communicate a couple things:

  1. I heard you. This is achieved not by using the actual phrase “I heard you,” but by repeating back what you think you heard. Something like, “OK, lemme recap what I think you’re saying…”
  2. Here’s what I will do. It need not always be the case that you will take the feedback on board. But it should ALWAYS be the case that you will take some action, even if it’s just to think about the feedback and follow up in a week with an action plan. Communicate your intentions. “Well, thanks – you’ve given me a lot to think about here, and I appreciate that. Do you mind if I take a week to digest this and come back to you with how I’m thinking about taking action?”

I’d like to highlight that in the conversation it’s only natural for you to be mentally assessing the quality of the feedback and the quality of the delivery. Let’s acknowledge two things: 1) feedback and delivery quality will be highly uneven and 2) you are probably more primed to reject the feedback than to hear it. Try with all your might to hold your feet to the fire that your objective in this moment is not to assess the feedback or the quality, but simply to understand it. You can evaluate it later when you have some time to reflect.

After the conversation, of course, you must follow up. Proactively put that topic on the agenda for your next meeting with that person and discuss your insights and some things you are planning to do to improve. Heck, it might even be the case that you’re planning to do nothing. In some cases, that might be the most appropriate thing, but taking the time to say “I really thought about this, and I’m not sure there’s a lot of action for me to take right now. Will you just help me keep an eye on this and I’ll check back with you in two months?” Then you darn well better follow up in 2 months.

The point is simple – most people find giving critical feedback hard. No one really loves doing it, and we’re definitely not doing it for our health. It’s important to give the feedback giver some kind of payoff or else you’re likely to stop getting feedback.

Remember: the purpose of criticism is to help people improve. To improve your work and improve your behaviors. If you improve your work and your behaviors, you will find more success. It’s in your best interest to get as much of this as possible, not to avoid it or cut it off.

Aggressively ask for feedback, treat the feedback like a problem to solve around your favorite topic (you), and proactively follow up on the feedback. Be the change you want to see in the world. You can be the one to catalyze a culture of feedback.

Back To Top