You Manage Things, You Lead People

You may hear different definition what the difference between management and leadership is. One of the most popular definition is that “Management is doing things right and leadership is doing the right things.” Though I subscribe to a certain extent to this definition I would offer a different one: “Management is a science. Leadership is an art.” Management is a set of techniques you can learn at school or from some management book. It helps you with managing things. Project management, for example, you get set of instructions, clearly defined process, checklists, tables, basic rules that if followed will make you a successful project manager.

However, this doesn’t apply to people. People, in their nature, are unmanageable. You cannot have them completely under your control and they may always react in unpredictable ways. In fact, I would argue that you cannot manage people at all. Sometimes you may have the impression that you manage people but that is just you trying to fool yourself. Yes, you have certain guidelines and techniques that may work in some situations, but it is an art to know when to employ which trick. In fact, not only you cannot manage people, you don’t want to. By “managing” people you are taking away their creativity, ability to decide for themselves and any intrinsic motivation they may have.

I used to work in a matrix organization in both types of roles a project manager and a people manager. It took me some time to realize that “people manager” is an oxymoron. I wasn’t managing people. I was “responsible” for them but I was managing things and processes. I was managing budget, I was managing performance review process, hiring and firing process, personal development process, and bunch of other processes but I wasn’t “managing people”. When it comes to people the only chance you have is to lead them.

Leadership is an art and it can be learned. Talent is nice and will make things easier at the beginning but at the end of the day it is not what matters. I would compare it to drawing a picture. Some of us are born with better skills/talent in drawing pictures. However, almost every one of us can become a reasonably skilled when focusing our effort on learning how to draw a picture. I’m not saying we would become the second Picasso but we could be reasonably good. The same goes to leadership. Almost anyone can become a leader if she puts the effort to it. It will be easier for some than for others but it can be achieved. At the end it will be question of acquired skills, learned behavior, our internal values, our vision, attitude and our own purpose in this life. These are the things that determine whether you succeed or fail at becoming a great leader.

So where would you start? I would suggest to consider these aspects as a solid foundation of your future leadership:

  • Being a leader means to have genuine interest in people. That is the single most important thing that will drive your success as a leader.
  • Being a leader means passion. You need to have passion for your work, passion for the vision, passion for working with people, passion for changing the world.
  • Being a leader means trust. You need to trust in yourself and trust in others. You need to trust in everyone’s ability to achieve and their motivation to do the best.
  • Being a leader means having a positive attitude. You see problems as challenges (I know it is a cliché). You always find a way how to turn even the most difficult situation around to get out the good and leave the bad behind.
  • Being a leader means being humble. You need to help others learn, grow and shine. You don’t want the spotlight on you, but on others to whom you helped.
  • Being a leader means doing lots of work. As with anything else in life, if you want to be a leader you need to spend hours and hours of learning and working hard. Remember that if you ask people to do more than you are willing to do yourself chances are you won’t succeed.

So the next time you will be asked to manage people, kindly refuse and offer to lead them while managing the processes.

Have you ever been to a training course to learn how to manage people? What did you actually learned?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

7 Ways How Leaders Lie To Themselves

Most of us did in our lives something we are not particularly proud of. Hopefully we learned from our mistakes and strive to better ourselves in the future. However, there is one thing that we do over and over again – we lie. We lie to ourselves. And as strange as it may seems that is the worst thing we can do as it is constantly holding us back and prevents us from reaching a true success and happiness. Just read through some of the most common lies and if you recognize yourself find a way how to break the loop and stop this lie. And if you are in a leadership position it is your duty to make sure your team doesn’t hold to them.

  1. “I will be happy when I get my next promotion”

We are incapable of predicting future. As I wrote in this article our brain has a unique capacity in misleading us. Why would you think that getting promoted from a team lead to manager will make you ultimately happy? Sure, it will feel good for couple of weeks but then you will most likely figure out that you will be only happy when you get to the next level and become a director. And what about vice president or CEO? If you are unhappy in your current role chances are that promotion won’t make you much happier. You should either rethink your field of work or learn to enjoy any job you have. Only then you will be truly happy with your position in the company.

  1. “I just need to finish this project and then I will have more time”

Good one. You have no idea how many times I told this lie to myself until I realized that it is not in my nature to get to a state of having nothing to do. As long as one project is coming to the end there are two others waiting and fighting for your attention. If you are unable to “make the time” today with your current workload it is very unlikely it will get better in the future unless you dramatically change how you approach your life and priorities. What worked for me is to dedicate specific timeslots for things that I want to do regarding the rest of the important and urgent things in my life. For example, I really want to write a blog and since it is big enough priority I simply find the time even if I’m snowed under with work on other projects.

  1. “I cannot leave right now as I’m needed”

Being it a project, a company, a family or any other area in your life. Not being able to leave when the time comes is something that will hold you back. Everyone is replaceable. If you believe that without you things will go sour and the darkness descends on the world you are most likely lying to yourself. As long as you did your job to build an environment where people act as adults and are able to think on their own they will be just fine even after you leave. And I’m not advocating here that you should leave when things are bad, or to run from responsibility. I’m talking about situations when you simply did your duty and it is time to move on towards new challenges and adventures with a feeling of job well done.

  1. “I have to take care of my family before myself”

This one sounds like a talk of someone you want to live with. Someone who will always have in their mind your well-being before their own. Who wouldn’t like to live with this person? The problem is that if you are like this then you don’t really live your life. You are just a background noise in the life of others who may or may not recognize your sacrifices. You focus so much on others that you forget to take care of yourself, you ignore your health, your desires, and your needs. Eventually you may become the exact opposite of what you wanted to be. You will become a burden on others.

  1. “I cannot leave the job I hate because it pays too well”

Too bad you got yourself into a position of someone who is overpaid for the contributions you provide. Not many of us get to that position but if you do then you basically admit that you accepted a pay way above what you deserve and the price you pay is in the form of being stuck in a job that you may not even like. For me personally the knowledge that someone else on the job market is willing to pay a bit more than I have today is the way to keep me happy since I know that if it would happen and I stop loving what I do I will not be stuck there just for the money. This gives me a freedom and peace of mind like nothing else.

  1. “When I move to another place/city/country I will be happy”

Been there. Didn’t work. I actually spent a year as expat in the Philippines (I’m originally from Europe). Before I moved there I had all sorts of plans on how things will be different, how I will spend more time outside of work or be on the beach every weekend. After several months I realized that I’m who I’m regardless of the country I live in. Moving to another country or city will of course change some bits and pieces of your life but your values, habits, and priorities will not change. For that you need to work pretty hard and you don’t really need to move to the other side of the World.

  1. “I’m self-sufficient and I can do it alone”

There are many things you can indeed do yourself but at the end of the day you make it unnecessarily hard on yourself. If you are willing to ask for help, if you are able to surround yourself with good people, friends, and family everything in your life will get easier. Just having someone around to share your thoughts with, to talk to, share a laugh or two will work miracles in your ability to get things done, renew your energy and generally live a happier life.

As you can see the list could go on and on but these are the lies most often encountered in professional circles that prevent you from truly explore your potential and reach success and peace of mind.

More on topic of Life and Leadership:

Human Brain, The Biggest Liar Of All Times

Fortune Favors The Well Prepared

Life Is Not Fair! So What?

The Ultimate Question Of Life, The Universe And Everything

Life Is About Communication And Attitude

Your Heart Is Not In It Anymore


What is your favorite lie you see all around you or even when you look in the mirror?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Interview Question You Should Never Ask?

I’m a big fan of Liz Ryan and her writings on the topics of HR and recruitment. I find it usually very insightful and thought provoking. I just finished reading her blog post “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?” and it was so much though provoking that it provoked me to write an answer. If you haven’t read it check first what Liz wrote and then come back. I would maintain that asking questions like “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is not that lame as it may seem.

There are no lame questions

Any question is legitimate as long as you understand the reason you are asking it. Yes, I agree with Liz that if you got a list of your questions from your manager or HR department and you go one by one without really knowing why you are asking them then you are wasting your time as well as the time of the candidate. But if the question you ask brings you something you are looking for than it is legitimate to ask it.

It is important to have a vision

Liz claims that in today’s fast paced and ever changing world you cannot predict what will be in five years and she is of course right. In my mind that is exactly the reason why you should have a vision. You should know where you want to be in five years otherwise you will be swept off course. If you would ask me ten years ago when I finished university where I want to be in five years I would tell you that I want to be a developer and in long-term a manager. As it turned out I got the opportunity about a year after I would make that statement. So what? Things didn’t go exactly as I planned but since I had a long-term vision I was at least able to make decisions that guided me in the direction I wanted to go. If you ask me today I will keep my answer probably more fuzzy and at the values level. “In five years I want to be still in a leadership position, building something great for better of humanity and developing people around me.”

What answers you want to hear

So what do you want to hear when asking the “where do you want to be in five years” question? This obviously depends on what traits you need the employee to exhibit.

  • Sitting in your chair
  • Be the go-to-guy for technical stuff
  • Having an ice-cream business
  • Doing something new and exciting

Pretty much anything except of “I don’t know”. Keep in mind that you are asking about desires not about what will be. Things may of course turn for that individual in very different way. Obviously, this is not a question that tells you everything you want to know about the guy and chances are that quite often you will hear not what the guy wants but rather what he believes you want to hear… well, his loss.

I don’t claim here that this sort of questions are the best way to find out whether someone has the right fit and attitude that you need. For that you may want to look more at behavioral type of interviewing with questions targeted on actual situations and the way the candidate handled them. Chances are that if he or she consistently showed certain way how to deal with problems in the past they will do the same on your team in the future. Just to give you an example of such questions: “Tell me about a time in your life when you had to deal with unexpected emergency,” or “Describe me a situation when you were asked to do something outside of your scope of responsibility.” And then dig deeper into these. The key here is not to present hypothetical scenarios where the person with at least a bit of smarts can deduce the right answer but rather seek what exactly this person did in the situations he may encounter in your organization, what his believes and values are and why he is acting in a certain way. Remember, everyone is good for something. So you are not trying to see if someone is good or bad, but rather whether he is good or bad fit for your team.

Employment for life

Liz is also questioning the morality of employer to ask the question about “five years” when he may not be able to guarantee a job even for five months. But that is not the point. If I know that your dream job is to sell ice cream and you are interviewing for a position of accountant I obviously cannot guarantee you that in five years at our company you will have an ice cream stand. But I can give you a chance to learn some of the skills you will need to be successful at your dream job. I can be also very upfront with you in case I see that there is nothing I can teach you to help you get closer to your envisioned job.

It is important that not only I screen the candidates for fit with my organization but also the other way around. They need to understand whether they want to work for someone like myself in this type of organization. So my favorite question to ask about person’s long-term career plans would be: “What is the mission of your professional life?” It is a question that goes down to your core values and by answering it honestly, at least for yourself if not for me, you get a feel whether the job is right for you or not.

So the next time you do interviews with candidates feel free to ask any career related and politically correct question as long as you understand why you are asking it and what will you do with the answer.

What are your thoughts on the topic? Do you believe that asking this question is a waste of time or would you ask it yourself?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

7 Reasons To Pick Up The Phone

We live in a world of electronic communication. We send out hundreds of emails or instant messages a month. But is texting someone “You are fired” really the best way how to handle a particular situation? Maybe the “old school” telephone isn’t dead yet and there are situations when it is better to talk rather than write.

  1. When you expect questions – pinging emails back and forth are the worst way to have a conversation. If you expect questions, then talking is the best approach. You may want to send out an email with your thoughts just to give the other party a chance to prepare but you should also indicate that you are free to talk about it.
  2. When you expect strong feelings – any difficult conversation is better to have face to face or at least over the phone. I know that many people dread having a discussion that is full of emotions and prefer to use the unemotional email to filter out the humanity, but if you want to reach the best outcome possible you need to get out of your comfort zone and talk so you can listen for clues, empathize, and handle any latent emotions that could be an issue later on.
  3. When you expect disagreement – if you expect the other side will have opposite opinion then sending emails to each other will most likely lead to escalation and misunderstandings about the motives. To pick up a phone and talk is the best way how to convey your reasons in such a way that it is acceptable for others. You can make the environment safe to talk about potential issues and counter arguments and reach some mutually acceptable outcome.
  4. When you need action “Now” – obviously sending an email and praying for the other guy to read it this week is not the best strategy when you need to get something done now. You may still send the email with the key points to act as a reminder but first pick up a phone and explain in no uncertain terms the urgency of the matter. Speaking with the other party also acts as a feedback loop that tells you whether your message is understood and action is being taken.
  5. When you give corrective feedback – there are situations when sending some corrective feedback over email is just fine (like pointing out a typo in some documentation). The moment you want to give feedback that has more personal impact you need to pick up a phone and even better doing it face to face if possible. The issue with the phone in this case is that you cannot easily ensure whether the other party is in a position or mood to receive the feedback. What if he/she is in the middle of a meeting? Or just rushing to finish a job with a deadline today? In these situations it might be better to schedule a one-on-one to make sure the other guy has time reserved for you.
  6. When you want to say “No” – this one really depends on situation. Sometime it is just ok to refuse something by email. If that is the case you should be polity and state your reason without over-explaining and over-apologizing. Better is to pick up a phone and have a minute long chat where you politely refuse. It will convey the same message as the email with the added benefit of showing respect for the other side.
  7. When you want to deliver a bad news – any bad news should be delivered in person. Even something like “you are all fired,” should be done on some all-hands meeting with follow-up email. When you want to give a bad news like dismissing someone or even when refusing a candidate after several rounds of interviews you need to talk to them. That way you show the respect and understanding of the pain you are causing to the employee or the candidate. Sending an email to do the job for you is rather cowardly and will leave a bad impression.

What does this mean for you? Always think twice before sending yet another email whether it wouldn’t be better to be brave and just pick up a phone and call.

What other situations do you believe are better handled by phone call or a personal meeting rather than an email?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.