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Articles tagged with: Basic Management

Chosen Accountability

“Accountability breeds response-ability.” Stephen R. Covey

I find it interesting that when we hear the word “accountability”, we tend to cringe. What is it about this word Ithat elicits such a response? If I say, “Who are you accountable to?” to an executive, more often than not I get a strange look and long pause. Many seem to want to answer, “No one.” However, that is not the politically correct answer. The truth is, we are all accountable. This accountability only increases as a leader “moves up the ladder”.

Leadership and Accountability

The opposite of accountable is irresponsible, inconsistent, faithlessness; undisciplined... one website even says reckless1. I would dare say if we asked a leader if they were any of these things, we would get a resounding, "No, I am quite the opposite." If a leader is the opposite of these things, then he or she is accountable.

I have found that when you ask leaders if they are accountable, most say "yes." I believe most say "yes" without understanding the depth of their answer. Or they are accountable only for their specific area of responsibility, and that usually is the numbers (until something happens, that is).

The question we should be asking is, "What about accountability in our integrity, values, judgment decisions, vision for the future of our people, our families and friends?"...

The Price of Stress

Change is inevitable; it is not a matter of if but when.  Just about the time we have things figured out and in a good rhythm, something changes – for the positive or for the negative. And for many, change, or the results of change, can be stressful.

I am a strong advocate of raising your self-awareness in order to create the best life balance for yourself and keep your stress to a minimum.  Yet, we can read all the books in the world on life-balance, but when it comes down to it we have to know ourselves, set our boundaries and have accountability to follow through.

Mental Tattoo: Set a Date for Success

I love the mystery of how the brain solves puzzles. One day a problem can be so complex that you can’t see your way through…then suddenly after a good night’s sleep, a new idea appears and a whole new view presents a solution. What was insurmountable yesterday, falls neatly into place today. Personally, I love how this gives me hope that (and an excuse for) a good night’s sleep.

So, when I heard the idea of a mental tattoo, I loved it! The concept came from a website that I stumbled on called Paid to Exist, by Jonathan Mead. To give yourself a mental tattoo, you set a date for when you will accomplish something. Just write it down on your calendar. It’s a mark, a commitment on your calendar to complete something. By making this simple action, you tell your brain to start thinking about the steps to accomplish that commitment. By setting a mark, your brain actually continues to work in the background, to solve the challenge of how to get it done. How cool is that?

So many of my “to do” list items are really looking for a date to happen. They never get written down, never find a home in a busy schedule. I wonder if this might work for me. I plan to try two types of mental tattoos. First, one of those annoying things that I keep meaning to do and never get done. Ugh. But maybe that will move it off the list. Second, I want to put a big life-size challenge on my list. Something aspirational that I want to accomplish in a year. What comfort there might be in knowing that I could look at a calendar a year from now and have accomplished something I thought was insurmountable. Could it work? Well if I don’t give it a try, it’s probably not getting done. So, what have I got to lose?

When I was in college, our basketball coach had us lay on the floor and visualize the ball going in the basket. He cited a study that proved this type of visual exercise measurably improved shooting percentages. At the time, I just chuckled... and my dismal shooting percentage did not improve.

More and more, I think life is about believing you can… and you will. So, today I’m writing something on my calendar for a year from now…with a smile on my face. A mental tattoo-- give it a try.

6 Strategies to Avoid Estimation Errors on Your Next Project

There are those of us that are really good at estimating how long a particular project will take, or how much effort can be reasonably expended in a period of time. And then there’s the rest of us.

Whether it is through sheer hope or lack of experience, we often underestimate the amount of time and energy it ALWAYS takes to complete a project and overestimate the number of things we can add to our plates.

While this can be painful at best if the project only affects you, when it affects your team, or the organization as a whole, estimation of time and effort really become critical to the success of the project, team morale and completion of strategic objectives.

Here are six strategies to consider for those of you that may share frustrations in estimating:

  1. How clearly defined is the scope of the project? Do you know EXACTLY WHAT needs to be accomplished, and EXACTLY HOW it will be accomplished? If not, allow time for investigation, planning and re-planning- especially if this is uncharted territory.
  2. Ask your experts. Typically – those actually doing the work are better suited to advise you on the time and effort you’ll need to complete the task – or even just define the scope of the task. Be advised and then, as the leader – be sure to take into consideration if this person has been a good judge in the past, what other tasks may also be coming up, give room for other variables and then adjust the schedule and your expectations accordingly.
  3. Be mindful that many people on your team may want to naturally try to accommodate your wishes. Be sure to ask probing questions about their portion of the project, what is required and what other expectations are on them. This will save you down the road when they are floundering because they have agreed to do too much. Also be sure to check in with them frequently to encourage open communication so that you can adjust the schedule and expectations as necessary.
  4. Be mindful of your own desire to accommodate an unrealistic schedule. It’s no secret that leaders are under pressure to perform and to get the project done quickly and under budget. As you collect scheduling information from your team – ideally your experts – be sure to examine your motives if you think that the project could or should be done faster or cheaper. Holding strong to a realistic goal allows you to under-promise and (potentially) over-deliver – a much better position than over-promising and under-delivering!
  5. Expect that nothing will go as planned. Help your team to realize that when they are estimating, they should plan for technical glitches, changes in scope or priority. These are all natural occurrences in a project of any sized organization. Change is a constant – but if you’re expecting it, you can help your team to adjust that much more quickly.
  6. When in doubt – give the schedule a little cushion. Your percentage of increase will vary depending on your experience and that of your team, but as long as the goals of the project can withstand it, add a little more time on top just in case. You’ll be surprised how often you need it!

Once you are relatively certain of a good estimation, a project leader needs to be a champion, cheerleader and barrier remover once the work is underway. Delivering a project on time and on target is a very gratifying feeling – and working toward that is important for your team and the organization as a whole. However, if the path and the itinerary are not clear from the get go- or the expected arrival date is unreasonable or just plain wrong– no one will enjoy the trip! Frustrations will mount both on your part and that of your team and targets will be missed. Developing your skill in estimating a project scope and schedule to enable your team’s success will result in far more satisfaction on everyone’s part! 

Making a space for thinking…

A manager who once told me that his goal for me was to find time for 20% open thinking time in my work day. At the time, I thought this was a silly concept considering I had so much to do and not enough time to do it. I was so busy with tasks that needed to get done. Coming from a strong work ethic background, it was actually hard for me to leave an open space in my schedule. I believed that being super busy was being the super employee. Clearly, this gift from my manager would take time and practice to understand and recognize the value.

A recent psychological study by UVA and Harvard found that people would rather be doing something – possibly even hurting themselves – than doing nothing or sitting alone with their thoughts. When faced with 6 to 15 minutes of time to think, many participants chose a mild electric shock rather than open time to think. “What is striking,” the investigators write, “is that simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock…” – Wow! I guess this time to think is a common challenge!

Today’s technology devices allow us to fill every minute to be sure to get the most “productivity” out of our day. Instant, endless messages are sent at every moment of every day. The impact of this constant barrage of activity leaves us unable to quiet down often leading to exhaustion and insomnia. It becomes so uncomfortable to just be still.

I decided that taking time to think was a critical part of my wellness. I started with small steps. On the suggestion of a friend, I tried to pause to take a deep breath before opening the car door…easy right? Definitely No. I was miles down the road before I remembered my resolve… even after many attempts. Clearly this would be a long journey to change for me.

After much time and effort, I am pleased to say that I really enjoy open time to think. I had to try lots of different approaches to find a few that work for me…and I had to turn off the cell phone. Considering the research referenced, it’s no surprise that the focus on wellness continues to grow.

Personally, I am amazed at how the time to think can energize creativity. Creativity doesn’t just take the form of some amazing idea. For me, creativity fills the space with options to do things differently. Many creative ideas have been tossed aside but some have made a real difference in finding a better way to accomplish a task, partner with a co-worker, or solve a problem.

So what have I learned about the value of taking time to think? I’m happier and more creative. I have more patience for great conversations and future possibilities. I don’t really know when I lost my skills for enjoying thinking time, but I’m even more appreciative now that I have it back. My wish for you is some wonderful and enjoyable time to think…with no electric shocks. 

Help! I'm Addicted to Micromanagement!

While creating a training program for newly appointed managers,  I reflected on commonly faced challenges, as well as my own personal experiences. One of the greatest challenges I faced as a new manager was micromanagement. In fact, I may have been the worst micro-manager ever (to all of you out there that I may have micromanaged, I apologize).

Micro-Managing to Create “Mini-Mes”

Why Do New Managers Tend to Micro-Manage?

Micro-managing drove me crazy, so I know it drove my team crazy. As these embarrassing and painful growth experiences went through my mind I began to process through the reasons a new manager, or any leader, micromanages. I decided to throw the question out on Twitter™ and received great feedback from my Twitter world, including these answers:

  • Fear
  • Narcissism
  • Need to be in control
  • Lack of trust
  • Do not know how to let go
  • Need for perfection
  • Don’t think anyone can do it as well as they can
  • Someone may get more credit or recognition than them
  • Do not know what else to do

I think all these suggestions can be correct for different people in different situations. Upon pondering my own personal reasons for micromanaging, I found several of these to be true. I was a star individual performer who was promoted to management without any training in leadership. I knew how to do my job well as an individual performer. Once I was promoted, therefore, it made sense to create “mini-mes”. This is a really bad idea. It’s not a way to win friends and influence people. I thought that to increase someone’s performance all they needed to do was to do exactly what I did before I was promoted. I thought this would make them successful, thus making me successful – huge misconception. I know to those of you in leadership, this is obvious, but more often than not, it is not obvious to a new manager.

I was also fearful. I still made bonuses, but they were no longer based  on my individual performance. Instead, they were based on the team’s performance. In my young mind, this made it even more reason to create little “Me Robots.” If they could do the job exactly as I did, they could generate the same revenue I did, and we should all be happy… right?

As with most new leaders I was tapping into familiarity. I was doing what I knew how to do, but what I was doing was not producing the results I hoped for. It was not until one of my team members was leaving the organization that I had to face the truth. His parting comment to me was “you use the word team all the time, but there is no team here.” It was then that I realized that what I was doing was not working. I decided to educate myself on the skills of leadership. Following are the seven things I learned that helped me to regain perspective.

7 Tips to Help Micro-Managing Leaders:

  1. Recognize that micromanagement causes people to become resentful or turn their brains off: Why should they think if you are doing all the thinking for them?
  2. Become the leader of the team and not the star performer.
  3. Get to know your team members individually, learn what their strengths are and how to motivate them.
  4. Trust that they are able to succeed in their own way, and give them the room to grow and develop.
  5. Create a safe environment for innovation, creative ideas and new processes.
  6. Keep  in mind that NO ONE is motivated by micromanagement, no matter what the reason.
  7. Never be afraid to have a team of people who are smarter than you. When the team shines, the leader shines!

All aspects of the leadership journey are part of an insightful learning process. We never “arrive” and we are always gathering new information to apply. As leaders, it is meaningful to reflect on our journeys, seeking ways to improve our methods and style. As you reflect on your own journey, ask yourself what you have learned and how you can help new managers along the way.

Why do you think leaders micromanage? Do you have some tips to help micro-managing leaders overcome this addiction? Please share  you thoughts by leaving a comment to this article.

Misteps that New Managers Often Make

This is an issue entire books are written on. I believe the major reason new managers fail is due to lack of training. New managers go into a position with “sugar plums dancing in their heads” and wide-eyed wonder of how fantastic it is to be a leader. It is wonderful to be a leader, but it is also a challenge.

We have to look at why people get promoted to leadership. It is usually because they were great individual performers. We then take them out of the role in which they have: excelled, built identity, and earned autonomy. We then we put them in a role where they are the “new kid on the block”, have not managed people before, and are trying to figure out who they are in this new realm. That seems to be a recipe for disaster and yet it happens every day. Instead of being responsible for themselves and for personal results, they are now responsible for a team of people, motivating and managing different personalities, and let’s not forget still having someone above them telling them what to do.

I think there are a several challenges that a new leader faces in this new opportunity. I will list them below with a few suggestions as to why this happens:

  1. Micromanaging – there are several reasons for this. The first was discussed above. New managers often know how to do the technical aspects of the job well so they continue to go back to that by default because they have not been trained to manage people. New managers often think they can do it better than their team. This may be true and why got promoted in the first place, they need to realize it is not about being “the best” as an individual performer, it is about inspiring and training the team to be the best. A high-performance team will reflect better on them in their new role as a manager in the long-run. Another reason for micromanagement is they want to look good in their new role so they are afraid to let someone else do it when they know how well they can perform – again this may be true but they have to understand they are now training people to be as good as they are, even better! The new manager has to work on trusting their people – it is amazing what a new manager’s team will accomplish when they feel valued and trusted. My advice to new managers who are micromanaging is, let it go – give your team some margin for error, the opportunity to learn and then coach them to improvement.
  2. Insecurity – a new manager is going to feel insecure in their new role initially, even if they never tell anyone. It is normal to feel this way anytime we do something new. This can be another factor in micromanaging. A new manager needs to give themselves some time to develop and grow. I highly recommend a mentor or coach to partner with you in this new journey.
  3. They don’t know what else to do – New managers are often only comfortable performing the task rather than managing the task because they have not been trained what the role of the manager is – try delegating – ask your team members what they want to do, observe what they are good at. Your job is to manage them to their own greatness.
  4. Need to be in control – this is usually tied into insecurity or fear. A leader does not need to control others to be in control.
  5. A need for things to be perfect – people cannot grow under this pressure. New managers should learn to strive and train for excellence but remember where they started. Train, mentor, and partner people up for better performance.
  6. Not running effective meetings – again this goes back to the lack of new manager training. If there is nothing to talk about, there is no need for a meeting just to “have it”. Meetings should have purpose, a schedule, an opportunity to connect and people should leave with a feeling of accomplishment. Meetings do not have to take a long time. Time does not equate importance.
  7. Thinking that because they are the “boss” they have all the answers – This is a misconception that can be due to past experience with managers who thought they knew everything or from the misconception that as the boss they have to know everything. New managers need to recognize that they are not going to have all the answers and that is OK, normal and the way it is suppose to be – this is why they have a team!
  8. Trying to be everyone’s buddy – this often happens when a new manager is promoted from within. They are not sure how to make the shift and do not know how to lead and still be connected. They may be afraid of being seen a “bossy” or just taking over and telling everyone what to do. They want to be liked… that is the way it was before… new leaders may not know how to transition into the realm of leadership. A new leader has to recognize that things are different now. When they have “buddies” on the team, the rest of the team will assume favorites even if they are not playing favorites. It’s better to keep the “buddy” friendships and “private jokes” about the night before out of the office.
  9. Avoid the “maverick” syndrome – whether hired from the outside or promoted from within, coming in as a “maverick” with all the answers or going to show this place “how it is done” does not usually work. It is better to get to know the culture and the people, earn respect and then begin to make changes. This will play in their favor in the long run.
  10. Not understanding the importance of managing up – Managing up is a skill that takes time to develop; however, when done properly can really help a new manager learn and excel. The foundation of managing up is relationship building and strong emotional intelligence
  11. Not self-aware enough to know how they want to lead or be known – it is important for a new leader to process through how they want to lead, what do they want to be known for, what their personal/professional values are, and how are they reflected in their leadership style. This takes time and self-reflection for any leader including the new manager.
  12. Inability to balance new responsibilities with the rest of their life – going back to self-awareness, what do they value? What do they want their life to look like? Set a plan of action according to that – and don’t expect everyone on the team to have the same priorities or work-life balance.
  13. Managing everyone the same way – people are different, they are motivated differently, and respond differently in situations. New managers should get to know individuals on their team and manage them the way that they will be most successful for them individually.
  14. Being a suck up – this never works, the best idea is to learn how to manage up, not suck up.
  15. Not valuing the importance of a safe network of support – a support team is important to bounce ideas off of, share frustrations with and concerns – self-aware leaders know that as humans we need support. All leaders need that support to give feedback, encourage and hold accountable to your own value system.
  16. Having favorites – see the notes above on “buddies” at work. People know when you have favorites and will not be able to be loyal and dedicated if they know you have “favorites.”
  17. Relying on or hiding behind email – some situations require personal contact, especially if something can be misunderstood and/or if conflict is involved. If an email has gone back and forth more than 3 times, it is time to pick up the phone or set a meeting. If it can cause or has the potential to cause conflict, have the conversation in person, body language and non-verbal messages are important for a leader to read and they cannot do this over email.
  18. Not showing respect for people that have been there a long time – new managers should listen to the feedback of those with seniority, even if they disagree. They will be surprised what they may learn. New managers should find a way to create win-win scenarios and always show respect. “If you want it you have to give it.” I think many of the hurdles that new managers face can be overcome from having a coach and or mentor to work with – this coupled with good leadership training workshops will help to bring success. We should not fail to recognize the value of “the school of hard knocks”.

Addicted to Busy

This topic will either make total sense to you… or not.  That is because if you are “bent” to have this addiction you will get it right away, and if not, as with any other addiction you just don’t get it.  I am writing to those who “get it” and/or those who have to live and work with those who “get it”.

Addiction is being compulsively or physiologically dependent on something habit-forming. Busy is habit-forming.   The first step with any addiction is to “own” it.  I first realized I was “addicted to busy” about eight years ago.  Someone said something very simple to me, “you know, you do not have to do all this, you bring it on yourself”.  I found myself pondering that thought.  It was not the first time I heard something like that, but it was the first time it hit home with me.  I realized no matter what I do, whether it is volunteer work, doing something for my family, or job related, I had a tendency to do more than necessary.  In some ways that is a good trait, but as with most strengths it can become a weakness.

I began to do some self-observation activities and discovered much of my self-worth was built upon what I accomplished, thinking busy somehow meant important and how this made me look in the eyes of others.  I also realized when I didn’t want to deal with something; I would get REAL busy in another area i.e. something at home, in my marriage or another work issue.  If I was busy, I should not have to deal with “it” right…?  This is a poor way to measure self.  As with any addiction, it is never satisfied.

I have found that it is helpful when I find myself in this place of “addicted to busy” to do the following:

  1. Reflect on why you need to be so busy
  2. Do some self-observation activities– this is where you observe what you are doing, make notes about it and later reflect on why/s to determine if it is an activity or behavior you want to continue
  3. What is being fulfilled inside of you by being busy?
  4. What is missing that you need to fill it up with “busy”?
  5. Set a goal that reflects valuing and feeling important without being busy – i.e. spend an hour having a conversation that has nothing to do with work or read a book for fun.  I say set a goal because I suggest only setting 1 and mastering it – anymore and you are digressing back to being busy but this time with these goals
  6. Create accountability – tell someone you trust what you are doing, give them your goal and permission to hold you accountable
  7. Once you have “mastered” this one goal, go back through 1-6 and do it all over again

The beautiful thing about life is that we are always growing and learning… we never “arrive”.  Aren’t you glad….?!  It is a journey.  Practice enjoying doing nothing - "Concentration is the ability to think about absolutely nothing when it is absolutely necessary." -- Ray Knight

I would love to hear from you.  If you have found yourself “addicted to busy” or know someone who is write in and share other ways to overcome this addiction.

A colleague of mine shared something with me regarding being "addicted to busy".  This is a quote from her daughter - the most interesting part is that she is 12 years old “A day not laughed is a day wasted, no matter how much work you got done.” Hmmm, "from the mouth of babes...." ?

Less is More

Goal setting can be an exciting time! You are energized and ready to conquer! Your goals are set and you will continually strategize, plan and monitor them.... as you should.  You are also open and willing to do whatever it takes... and there is often “one more thing” that has the potential to get the result/s you are seeking.  And you’ll often do it without a second thought.

But let’s be honest... all those “one more things” can often be detrimental to the very goal you are after.  Soon you will be doing so many “one more things” that you could lose sight of your original goal, strategy, or plan.  I would like for you to consider a new proposal for your goal setting..... DO LESS!  Consider the five strategies listed below to DO LESS so that you can actually achieve more:

  1. Work less
  2. Take on fewer clients and projects
  3. Talk less
  4. Have fewer meetings
  5. Volunteer less