skip to Main Content

What If You Need to Interrupt?

In episode 12 of the Radical Candor podcast, Kim and Russ talked about how to give feedback to someone who frequently interrupts in meetings. Then a few weeks ago, we also shared advice for how to stop your own habit of interrupting. There’s one more question we’ve been getting about this topic…What if you need to interrupt someone?

How do you go about gently telling a person that’s speaking for way too long in a meeting, that his time’s up? And how do we do this without interrupting?

Both Kim and Russ weigh in on this question.

Kim says:

When this happens in a meeting, I think there are a few options. If you’re in front of a group giving a presentation, it can be useful to walk up to the person, so you’re sort of blocking them from the rest of the group with your body, say thanks, and call on somebody else.

If you’re around a table, I’d say something like, “I want to make sure everyone has a chance to speak.”

Russ’s thoughts:

I would agree with Kim, but I would reserve these approaches for times when the person has really been stealing the show over and over in that meeting. If that’s the case, I would first try Kim’s “interrupt with body language” idea. Then when the person takes a breath, make the point that you and the group want to hear from others. You can immediately facilitate to other people, almost like a pre-emptive interruption. So this might mean that you’ve been watching others’ body language and noticed someone who has something to add, and you serve the conversation in their direction.

Another little trick: as you facilitate a new question in the meeting, do what my teachers did in elementary school and say, “What do you think, and someone other than Timmy this time.” It makes Timmy feel like he’s contributing and also sends the message for him to ease back and for others to step up.

After the meeting, and especially if the person is a repeat offender, I think it’s time to offer some feedback. Something like, “You have valuable input and I don’t want that to stop, but I think you’re taking a little too much airtime in our meetings.” Remember to only say these things if they are true! If you’d like, show some research about the most effective teams sharing airtime. You can finish with, “I want to reiterate that your input is valuable, but we need to give others a chance, too. Can you help with that?”

An important guideline to remember: don’t criticize in public. Make sure you’re communicating this feedback to the person after the meeting, in private, rather than in front of the whole team. Realize that while it’s frustrating that the person is talking too much, you do have to be careful about losing his engagement. Offering a correction at all, even if necessary, presents a risk of him retreating. Offering that correction in front of everyone almost guarantees he will retreat.

What ways have you tried to make sure that everyone’s voices are heard in meetings? Share your tips with us in the comments below!

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.

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!

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”.

Back To Top