8 Reasons Leadership Means Selling

I was recently presented with an interesting challenge. In a more or less routine process of regular performance evaluation I found myself in strong disagreement with one of my peers about a success of a project. We were looking at the same data, heard the same feedback from the same participants, and still, we came to completely different conclusions. I was responsible for the project and believed it was a success, the other person had only high-level picture and felt it was a failure.

It made me think. Obviously, something was wrong. After considering it carefully, I came to a conclusion that even though the project actually was successful, I still failed as a leader. I underestimated the importance of selling. I even didn’t realize that this peer of mine was someone I needed to sell the idea to.

Leadership is about selling. Daniel Pink, in his book To Sell Is Human, claims that “people are now spending about 40 percent of their time at work engaged in non-sales selling—persuading, influencing, and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase. Across a range of professions, we are devoting roughly twenty-four minutes of every hour to moving others.” That is a staggering amount of time and effort. And when you are in any management or leadership position you are definitely at the top end of the range. It is your job to persuade, to influence, to convince, to lead, to sell.

Let me first remove any negative connotation about the term “selling” as it related to leadership. You should always be selling stuff to others in effort to help them out, not to help yourself. Selling means asking others to part with some of their resources. It can be money, but not only. In leadership, it is mostly time, effort and attention. Daniel Pink is using a great example of a teacher. He requires the resources of his students. In their case it would be those mentioned above, time, effort, and attention and in return, he is selling them the idea that at the end of the lesson they will be better off because of the things they learn. The same applies to leadership. Selling in that context is not only required, but it is a highly positive endeavor benefiting the leader, the team, and the organization.

Selling a vision

One of the key responsibilities of any leader is to sell a vision. If you want your team to follow, you need to have two things. You need to have a team and you need to tell them where to go and why:

1. To rally the forces – very often you need to marshal significant forces to tackle a project. It might be people reporting to you, but often you need to sell the idea also to others outside the organization so they jump in and help you deliver the project.

2. To show direction – once you have the team to need to sell them the vision of the perfect outcome. Your team needs to have the same understanding as you have on where you are heading and what a successful outcome looks like.

Selling opinions

This one applies not only to leadership but also across the board to pretty much every single conversation you have with other people. If you want to be successful, credible and have an impact, you need to be able to sell opinions:

3. To build credibility – you need to be able to sell two things to build credibility. You need to sell your “technical” expertise, to show that you are an expert on a given topic, or that you at least know what you are talking about, and you need to sell your character. People need to see you as a trustworthy person. When they believe you can be trusted as a person and you know what you are doing, you will be credible.

4. To influence decisions – decisions are done by people who have the power to make those decisions. You can either complain about their bad decisions and feel like a victim, or you can accept the reality and proactively influence the decision before it is made. By selling your opinion to those who have the power to decide gives you the next best thing to making the decision yourself. You can influence the decision to get the outcome you want and to feel positive that your voice was heard. You may even feel like it wasn’t your boss who made the decision but that it was “us” who made the decision.

Selling decisions

As opposed to previous point, sometimes you actually have the power to make decisions. However, even in this case you need to keep selling. Only because you make a decision to build a house, it doesn’t mean that a house will be built. You need to sell the decision to others to make it happen:

5. To get buy-in – this is somewhat similar to the first point about selling a vision. The distinction, at least in my mind, is the one of scope and audience. Sometimes you don’t need help of a particular individual so you don’t need to sell the vision but you just need to make sure they don’t stand in your way. Getting their buy-in is enough to make sure they don’t throw roadblocks in your way. You don’t need your neighborhoods to build your house, but you want to make sure they can live with the noise and mess the activity will cause so they don’t create legal obstacles.

6. To sell results – plans are nice, but execution is what matters. You need to be able to get things done and to sell the idea to others that the work indeed is done and everything is great. Too often, we focus so much on the details and the small things that go wrong that we forget to sell and celebrate our successes.

Selling services

Finally, you need to be able to sell your services even within your own company. You need to do it for two good reasons, to sell an image of someone who can lead and get things done, and to sell the idea that people should want to work with or for you:

7. To build image – it first glance it sounds like something that shouldn’t be necessary, but it is. We don’t live in a perfect world where it is obvious to everyone that you are a great leader. Unless you build an image of someone who can lead and get things done, no one will follow you. And what is as well important in case you want to advance your career, if you don’t sell your accomplishments and your ability to achieve even more, you may never get the opportunity to achieve anything.

8. To build relationships – chances are that whatever you do you need cooperation of others. By selling your services to them, you can get their cooperation in return. The best way to build good, long-lasting relationship is to care about others and to give without expecting anything in return. By selling your time, effort, attention, and care of others, you are buying a potential to receive the same in the future when you most need it. The human need to reciprocate is one of the most powerful ways to gain influence.

As you can see, selling is an important part of leadership. In case you are already in a position of power and you feel you don’t need to sell, let me remind you the example from the first paragraph of this article. The reason I failed as a leader was that I thought I don’t need to sell because the data will speak for itself. I felt secure and powerful and that perspective cost me. With little bit more humility and by reducing (at least in my mind) my power I could push myself into a selling mode and show to my peers why the project was a success and why she should buy the idea and adopt the same position. Alfred Fuller allegedly said, “Never argue. To win an argument is to lose a sale.” Luckily, I realized that, and instead of arguing or blaming others, I went back to my job as a leader. I started to sell.

 

What is your opinion about leadership and selling? Can you remember any examples from your life where you failed to sell and as a consequence you failed as a leader?

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

Be A Leader Not A People Pleaser

When you look around you can divide managers into several categories. You find some who truly adhere to the definition of leaders, have the vision for the team, are business people, with clear understanding of what needs to be done and doing it even when it is unpopular. Then you have those who abuse the management position, the jerks, who go after their personal goals regardless the costs. Finally, you have the people pleasers. Managers and leaders who subscribe to the notion that their main task is to make their teams happy because that will produce results, and make the manager popular.

What’s wrong with pleasing people

Happy people are productive people. That is probably true. Various studies has shown that happy people are more likely to be more productive than unhappy people. However, happiness is not the only path to strong company culture and high performing teams. In fact, I would argue that there are better ways to achieve great results than focusing on keeping people happy.

Happy people won’t leave. That is to some extent also true. Until the moment they stop being happy. The problem is with keeping people in the company by trying to make them happy with various perks, fancy office space, or not telling them the hard truth. This approach leads to creating a culture of entitlement. You are building no resiliency. The moment business doesn’t go as planned, and you need to do something that will make people unhappy (being it cutting the perks, giving no bonuses, or even reducing number of employees) you are pretty much done. These things are difficult even in cultures with resilient people and they will destroy the productivity of the team and atmosphere in culture of entitlement for months or even years to come.

I’m not advocating that you should keep your team miserable. Far from it. Numerous studies has shown that positive emotions invigorate people and lead to higher productivity. What I’m questioning is how you elicit these positive emotions. It is not by trying to please people. With pleasing people and the culture of entitlement, you are only a step away from doing something that will displease them, elicit negative emotions, and the productivity plummets.

How to be a leader and not a people pleaser

So if trying to please your team is not the right strategy to leadership, what is? Well, it is not about keeping your team happy, it is about making them feel valuable, respected, engaged and energized. How do you do that? How do you build a high-performing team of resilient people who don’t need to be constantly pleased by the world around them? By following couple of simple practices:

  1. Show direction – one of the key expectations from any leader is providing a vision. You need to be able to clearly state where is the organization heading and outline steps how you expect that it gets there. The best way of showing direction is not just by talking, but by leading the way. Leading by example is a must if you expect others to follow.
  2. Explain “why” – not only you need to explain direction, you also need to be constantly reminding people “why”. Only if the team understands where you want to go and why, they can help you to get there. Only by understanding “why” people can make sound decisions, and if they run into obstacles, they can overcome them the right way that gets the organization closer to fulfilling the vision.
  3. Keep the focus – help the team to keep focused on what matters. Too often managers instead of focusing their team on the top goals, create more and more distractions just for the sake of doing something. Yes, you could do these twenty things, but your job as a manager is to distil it down to just a couple with the highest impact, and then guard it with your life.
  4. Say “no” – learn to say “no” to things that are either not aligned with the ultimate goal, the business model, the organizational culture, or that maybe are aligned, but are not a priority. Saying and owning the “no” is one of the most important things you as a manager can do since it builds your credibility, it grows your influence, and it helps your team to be focused on the right things.
  5. Build ownership – you don’t need to give people equity in the company to create a sense of ownership. In fact, chances are that won’t work anyway since the stake in the company will be negligible for each individual. What you can give them is psychological ownership. They need to “feel” they “own” something, regardless whether it is true in the legal sense of the word. You can increase psychological ownership in couple of ways. Invest time and effort in training your team so they have the capability to own a piece of work, explain how their work contributes to the vision, state who owns what so you create clear responsibility and accountability lines, and finally don’t direct people but rather provide guidance and suggestions without enforcing your way of doing things.
  6. Treat them like adults – way too often we tend to treat our people like 5 years old kids. We spend lots of effort hiring the best and the brightest and then micromanage them in every single thing they do, or try to shield them from unpleasant truths. Treating people with respect is one of the key skills you need to have as a leader.
  7. Provide feedback – provide a clear, candid, well-meant feedback. You as a manager have a moral responsibility to make sure your team knows where they stand. Every single individual on your team should understand when he is doing well, when not, and what they need to work on to get better and grow.
  8. Help them grow – and I don’t mean giving your team some professional training. The one thing you can do is to identify what skills your team needs to develop to be better at their current and more importantly at their next job. By providing feedback, stretch goals, and building up their confidence and interest in learning you are not only helping them to do a better job but you are helping them to be a better human beings as a side effect.
  9. Promote hardship – nothing worthwhile doing is easy. This might be a cliché but it still rings true. If you want your team to feel great, they need to work on something hard. Setting the bar high, giving the team challenges that stretch their skills and abilities, and expecting hard work will ultimately lead to huge feeling of accomplishment and pride once the work is done. If someone on the team is underutilized, either by not tapping their abilities or by not using all their time, these people will be dissatisfied, will focus on the nonsense, complain about every small unimportant thing, work on stuff that is not important and ultimately leave the company at best, or destroy the team morale at worst.
  10. Make them proud – celebrating successes is a great way to show to the team that their work has a meaning. I don’t necessarily mean giving a big party. It is much more important to stop regularly, look back at what was accomplished, what the results of the hardship are, and make it clear that it is the team that made it happen. It is the team that changed lives of other people through delivering a product or providing a service. By doing this you make your team proud, they will feel a sense of purpose and ultimately increase a sense of ownership and focus on continuing to do a great job.

That’s it. It says nothing about making the team happy, pleasing them, or fulfilling all their wishes. Simple right? Simple, but obviously not easy. It is much easier to please than to lead. A good manager and a leader is able to build a culture where happiness is a by-product of doing a great work. You don’t need fancy office space, you don’t need free meals, cars, or other perks. The only thing you need so to make your team feel valued, respected and proud of their accomplishments.

 

What is your take on the topic? Do you feel that keeping people happy is important for them to deliver great results? Or do you feel there is a more powerful state in which people perform.

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

Don’t Treat Others As You Want To Be Treated

Since I was a kid I was told to treat others the way I wanted to be treated by them. It always felt like a great advice and a common wisdom worth following. And so I lived by this motto for a long time. Until I didn’t.

Common wisdom

The fallacy of this statement is in the assumption that we are all the same, have the same wants and needs. But we don’t. Each of us is different and only because I like something it doesn’t mean you will like it too. By treating you the way I want to be treated I’m forcing you to accept my world view and I don’t respect you as an individual.

For example, I’m a internally motivated introvert. I don’t need external praise. In fact, I feel very uncomfortable when I’m getting one and often don’t know what to say in response. I definitely don’t like being put on a pedestal to the spotlight and having songs sang in my name. Because of that mindset, I always struggled to praise other people in my team. I appreciate what they are doing, but I had to be reminded to express this so they know that I know. It just doesn’t come naturally to me because I don’t have the same need. However, some people really enjoy when you express your gratitude in words and in public. I know this and that means I shouldn’t treat them the way I want to be treated.

Let’s look at this scenario. Each of us has a different expectations from life. We have different needs and various stages of our lives. Because of my educational background, and my life journey I put huge emphasis of continuous education and believe that one should never stop learning to be better and better at his profession. I believe each of us should have it as one of the priorities in life. But guess what. I don’t have kids and if you do, chances are that your priority might be to give the best education possible not to yourself but to your kids. If I’m your manager and treat you the way I want to be treated I’m putting you to a position to choose between yourself and your kids. Ouch.

While the “treat others the way you want to be treated” maxim works reasonably well on the general level, for example, we all want to be treated fairly and with respect, it may not work that well when you get down to smaller more specific details.

Treating others the way they need to be treated

If you are in a leadership position, the next step in evolution is to realize that your job as a manager is to help your team grow. You need to treat your team the way they need to be treated. What I mean by that?

Let’s look at this example. You have a team member who is not doing a particularly good job. Since you like it when people are nice to you, and you want your team treat the same way, you will be nice to this person. You will try to give him feedback about his performance in a “nice” manner, avoid conflict, make sure he doesn’t feel bad. Chances are that you will be sugar coating your feedback so much that the person will never get the message. Did you help him? Not really. What that person needs is for you to be “brutally clear” with him about what he needs to work on to get better.

Treating others the way they want to be treated

And the final step? What about treating others not the way “you” want to be treated but the way “they” want to be treated? To be a good manager and a leader you should do you best to understand your people. You should understand what is important for them, and why it is important. You should know what they need, and why. You should also know what their life ambitions are and help them to reach these. Only when you know them, you know how they want to be treated and you can make your best effort to treat them that way. Why? If you do that, your team will know that you care and they will care back.

Now you can see that treating others the way you want to be treated is flawed. But is it really so useless? Not necessarily. It is a great thing to do when you meet someone for the first time. If you don’t know anything about other people then treating them the way you want to be treated is the best and least risky approach. Just keep in mind that your goal is to learn more about them and ultimately treat them the way they want to be treated.

 

What’s your take on the topic? Do you treat others as you want to be treated or as they want to be treated?

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

The Most Difficult Thing In Management

What is the most difficult thing when you decide to get into management? I was recently having a mentoring conversation with one junior manager and we got talking about some of the pitfalls in management. Ultimately, I was asked, “What is the most difficult thing in management?” This gave me a pause. Where do you start with a question like this? So I decided to analyze it a bit and at the end I will share with you the answer I gave to him.

Completely new career path

One of the biggest challenges when getting into management is the realization that this is simply a different career path. The popular view is that you get promoted to management and that it is sort of a natural evolution of your previous technical job. It is not. When you got to management, you just started a new career from scratch and you need to learn totally new set of skills and even change your mindset. I talked about this topic more in this article.

Leaving your old job behind

Another daunting aspect of moving to management is to learn the skill of letting go of your previous job. Very often new managers tend to keep themselves involved in the old job since it is a familiar ground and they can more easily get a sense of job satisfaction. Management is new, confusing, and it takes time to get your head around it. You do things, but you may not immediately identify results of your work. Being able to leave your old job behind and fully commit to your new career is important for fast and successful transition. There is a huge amount of things to learn and you can’t be distracted by your old job. I talked about this aspect in The Art Of Letting Go.

Changing relationship with the team

If you were promoted to lead your old team chances are that there are relationships you have with your former team mates, there is a certain team dynamics, and obviously all this changes. It would be wrong to deny that things are different now. It is equally wrong to start suddenly acting like a big boss. It is important to find the right balance for a smooth transition so you keep good relationship with the team, while being respected as a good manager and a leader.

People are not boxes

I was recently interviewing a person for HR position and when we talked about the mission of his life and what drives him he started talking about his previous career in logistics. “In logistics you put a bar code on a box and you can be 99.9% sure it reaches the proper destination. With people, you advice them to do something and you can be 99.9% sure they will do something different. That’s what is so exciting about working with people. It is never boring.”

I find this a great summary of another difficult aspect of people management. People are not things. In reality you can’t really manage them. The approaches you used to manage things are no longer working and that may lead to frustration. You need to learn completely different strategies on how to get your job done. This article can give you some ideas where to start.

Continuous education

Your education is never done. Every person is different, every situation is different and that means you need to constantly learn new tricks on how to do your job. What makes it even more complicated is that the world and society evolves and so the expectations of people and management practices. We know more about how our brains work, there is more and more research in the area of psychology, sociology, and human behavior and it is good to keep in touch to expand the toolset available to you as a manager. What you must never allow is to believe you know everything about managing people or to try to use one management approach to any situation regardless whether it fits.

The answer

So what is the most difficult thing in people management? One of the key aspects of being a good people manager is the inherent need to care about people. You are in management because you want to do good, you want to help others, you want to impact their lives in a positive way. Like a doctor, your first priority should be “do no harm”. So unless you are a psychopath, the most difficult thing in management is the fact that you are basically experimenting on people. You might have gone through some theoretical education, but nothing replaces the hands-on experience.

The lessons you are learning, are on backs of people you manage. Unfortunately, the best and most memorable lessons are usually learned when you hurt someone in the process. You know, after the fact, that you should have done something differently, you learn the lesson, but it is often too late to fix the situation for the one individual that was the unwilling participant in your education.

“The most difficult thing in management is the realization that others suffer so you can get better.”

The typical example that illustrates this point is not providing enough feedback to your team members. Only when they don’t perform and are on a verge of getting fired you talk to them about their performance and they are surprised and confused, “but you never said anything, I thought I was doing a great job!” This is the moment, when you know you screwed up and they are paying the price.

Sometimes you can salvage the situation and turn things around, but sometimes the reputation of the individual or the relationships he has with others are so damaged that there is nothing to do but to apologize to the person you hurt with your inaction and start over with someone else and this time learn from the mistakes you made previously.

So what does it mean for you? Being humble and able to acknowledge that this is going on is the first step to make sure you minimize the negative impact your learning has on lives of other people.

 

What do you think? What is the most difficult thing in management? How would you answer this question when you started your management path and how would you answer the question after couple of years or even decades of experience?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Excuses That Turn Us Into Jerks

Most of us worked with people or reported to managers who acted as jerks. Most of us hated these interactions and couldn’t understand why would anyone act in such antisocial, immoral, or abusive ways. In Why Good Employees Become Bad Managers I talked about how great employees can turn into bad managers. I talked about the most common causes and some tricks how to prevent such situations. But when we are moralizing about others have we looked into mirror lately? Are we sure that we ourselves don’t act as jerks?

Recently, I found myself in couple of situations that made me consider some of my own actions that could be seen by others in rather bad light and it made me realize that each of us can turn bad rather easily. So what are the things to watch for in your daily interaction to make sure you don’t act as a jerk?

1. Bias

Sometimes we act unjustly without wanting to or without even realizing. Very often the culprit is called confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is a great tool our brain shields us from too much confusion and from coping with being wrong by allowing us to see only the evidence which proves that we are right. That is what makes it so different form other biases. It is always here and totally invisible to the outside world and to big extent even to us. There are several aspects of this particular bias:

  • Search – the brain accepts only data that supports our view and ignores the ones that could contradict it
  • Interpretation – the brain interprets any given data through the lenses of us being right in the first place
  • Memory – the brain will let us remember things that support our argument and forgets those that don’t

This all in the name of our need of being right. It is a useful tool for helping us cope with cognitive dissonance and reconcile any disharmony between our thoughts, words, actions, and environment. However, it is a killer when we are in the business of managing and leading people. Why? Because it prevents us from seeing all points of views, all sides of arguments, all options without taking pre-set sides. It prevents us from really listening and generally makes jerks of us. The way to fight this bias is to force ourselves to listen. Truly listen.

2. Busyness

I today’s world we are busy all the time. In the heat of our daily busyness, we may forget some of the basics that makes us decent human beings. Have you ever thought or even said aloud some of these sentences?

  • I don’t have time to notice – we are being too busy not notice how we impact other people around us
  • I don’t have time to be nice – many people are often proud of their “brutal honesty”, direct and even accusatory approach. In fact, we are acting as jerks who don’t take the time to understand others
  • I don’t have time to take care of you – this is a particularly prevalent in management when you try to be as efficient as possible. Unfortunately, being efficient in human interactions doesn’t work. You can be effective but you should never try to be efficient when managing people or in communication of any kind. Check out Communication Shouldn’t Be Efficient for some thoughts on the topic.

3. Fear

All of us have various fears that are with us every waking moment. The more we worry especially about us being wrong or failing, the more we try to prevent that, and the more we act as jerks. Just consider these statements many of us are making in our heads:

  • I will not fail – some of us worry excessively about failing. We just have the need of constant success. We are worried about how our failure will be seen by others and how it will feel. Because of that worry, we act in ways that more relaxed person can’t understand and may label negatively.
  • I want to know what you are doing – when we work in a team or managing others we may turn the “I will not fail,” fear into “My team will not fail.” This may lead to us questioning what everyone is doing, second guess every step and decision done by others, micromanaging and generally acting in ways that destroys the team’s morale and ultimately leads to failure or to us acting as jerks.
  • I want to see more data – very frequent fear of making a wrong decision leads us to not being able to make a decision at all. It may be a simple thing of deciding what cellphone to buy or it can be more insidious in workplace when we are constantly trying to get more data, more opinions, and ultimately get to a position that the decision is done by others (so we can fault them) or it is so bulletproof that we are safe. Ultimately, this leads to company culture that is prone to decision paralysis and us being seen as incompetent jerks who shouldn’t be in the management roles at all.
  • I will try – this is a beautiful statement we use all the time. It has a build-in safety valve. It allows us to fail without much fuss, since we admitted at the beginning that we will do our best but the outcome is not ensured. Most of us use it without realizing and without thinking about it. At the end, it shows low self-confidence and may act as a self-fulfilling prophecy. When it leads to jerkiness is the moment we employ it as a way to make halfhearted effort to help others.
  • You broke it, you fix it – have you ever had a boss, a coworker, or a partner who used these words? Have you ever used that sentence yourself? Behind all the bravado of making statements like this are in fact the opposite feelings. People often use it when they simply don’t know what to do, are scared, and don’t want others to see it. Again, they act as jerks.
  • I’m not at fault here, it was the other guy – this is a very obvious form of jerkiness. Let’s blame someone else for our mistakes, or even shared mistakes. In fact, you can make it even stronger by blaming the other person while showing yourself as a saint “I told him it won’t work and he didn’t listen”.

4. Pride

Pride is very often cause of many bad behaviors, though you need to have at least some predisposition to fall prey to it. However, not much is needed and even someone with healthy dose of humility can find himself thinking along these lines:

  • I know what I’m doing – very often it is a pride that causes us to be overconfident and ultimately leads us to treating others as lesser beings who don’t have a clue. Pride can then easily turn into fear when things don’t go as we planned and we finally realize we are failing.
  • I’m successful therefore I’m right – it is a variation of previous point. This one suggests that past successes elevate us above others and are making us infallible. This can be even true about whole teams or companies who are super successful and thus blind to changing world and new harsh realities where past successes means nothing.
  • I’m the boss here – this one is usually invoke by those with insecurities that just don’t know about any other way how to push through their goals. It is also often employed in situations where we feel that we are wrong, but pride doesn’t allow us to admit it so we resort to brute force – with my position comes entitlement to be right.

5. Ambition

Ambition can be a very useful tool in your road to success but there is a danger of overdoing it. Excessive ambition can lead to rather jerky behavior that will manifest in some of these ways:

  • I will get what I want at any cost – you can easily turn from good to bad when you lose your humility and start acting like your goals and desires are more important than the goals of others. Your own ambition can hurt people around you and turn you into a jerk.
  • I will help you – as long as it helps me. In ideal world, this is a win-win situation. You are helping others and getting something in return. The problem comes when you are willing to help only when it benefits you. If you are not willing to help others without considering “what is in it for me” you are most likely acting as a selfish jerk.
  • I want to make sure we look good – another one that sounds great but has a hidden side. If you want everyone to look good in front of the boss regardless whether we deserve it chances are that those who deserve it more than you do will see it as a sign of your jerkiness. It is always better to give credit where credit is due and don’t try to pry on success of others.
  • I want it now – in the fast-paced world we live in this one is more and more frequent. We are so set for success and want to so badly and so fast that we are willing to build it on shaky legs and even by immoral means to get it. If you have no patience to do do things properly and reach success in its due time you may be cutting corners in the way you act towards others and ultimately be seen as a selfish jerk.

So what is the main lesson you learned today? Don’t judge others without first understanding their circumstances and more importantly review the topics mentioned in this article regularly to make sure you don’t turn into a jerk yourself.

 

What is your experience with jerks? Have you ever caught yourself acting in ways that you find unacceptable in others? Have you ever considered that others might think you are a jerk? What can you do to make sure these things don’t happen to you?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Why Good Employees Become Bad Managers

In most of the employee engagement surveys you read that one of the top reasons why people leave their companies is their manager. It is not about money, it is not about work, it is not about team, it is about the boss.

Every now and then you run into someone on the management team or in leadership position that leaves you wondering how that person could get there. These individuals are often smart, they appear to be confident, and play nice with their managers. The real issue shows up when you see how they communicate with people who they deem unworthy, people with lower status, their teams, or people who may threaten their position. I’m talking about jerks in management.

Since this can be a rather broad term let’s go to Merriam-Webster dictionary that defines jerk as “an unlikable person; especially one who is cruel, rude, or small-minded – a selfish jerk”. This is the type of boss I’m talking about.

So how do such people get into management? The question you have to ask, is about causality. Do people become jerks after being promoted? Or do they get promoted because they are jerks? Some research indicates that self-centered, narcissistic and confrontational personalities have bigger chance to become managers. Not necessarily good managers, but because of their ability to present themselves well they tend to be seen as confident and persuasive. If the company doesn’t screen carefully their management candidates it easily happens that these people get into management roles ahead of those who have more suitable qualities and actually lead people and are helpful.

The problem with a jerk is that he doesn’t know he is a jerk. These characters truly believe they are great because their egocentrism prevents self-reflection. It is only the surrounding people, the culture, the company who suffer. The only decent remedy is to limit the scope of interaction of these brilliant jerks or to remove them from the team altogether.

Aside of the ones who got to management because of their jerkiness you have a second type of management tyrants. Those who became one over time. They were completely fine individual contributors who got increasingly antisocial once they got to a management positions. The great thing is that these people are not inherently damaged. They are not jerks, they just act that way. For these people it is usually something that can be changed with feedback, training, and help from outside.

So what are the reason why good people turn bad when getting to management? And what can you do to prevent it?

Why managers become jerks:

  1. They follow a leader who is a jerk – this is leading by example at its worst. Because they work or worked for a jerk they emulate behavior that made their boss successful.
  2. They feel insecure – often because they feel they don’t have the skills to do the job. They are new to management but they want to appear strong and so they overdo it.
  3. They are part of a toxic company culture – if the company culture permits this behavior and even rewards it then very few people will have the strength to fight it. They will make decisions that goes even against their core values even without realizing it. They often end up with low ethical standards and can justify their jerkiness in the name of bigger good.
  4. They reached their state of incompetence – sometimes called as a Peter Principle as coined by Laurence J. Peter. The theory is that you are being awarded by promotions for a good work in your current role until you reach your level of incompetence and that is where you spend the rest of your life being miserable because you are way over your head and can’t succeed.
  5. They have low emotional intelligence – they never felt the need to exercise the emotional intelligence muscle. Often you see this with highly technical people who are experts in their fields and can win any dispute just by using technical knowledge itself. When they get to management they don’t understand how to communicate with others by any other means.
  6. They are managers for the status or money – they got to management for the wrong reasons. Not because they want to lead and help others. They reached the status they wanted and now will do whatever it takes to hold to it. They stopped caring about doing a good job or about other people and want to bask in the glory of being a boss.
  7. They sit on too many chairs – this is true especially for people who get promoted and still keep doing their individual contributor job. They have competing priorities, focusing on their old job, which they are good at, instead of trying to learn to be a good manager. They are bottleneck for their teams, have no time to grow and develop themselves as well as the people they are responsible for.
  8. They had no training – and thus don’t really know what to do. This is especially important in small companies and start-ups where new managers or founders have no one good to learn from. Because of that they often resort to a brute force since it seems like the easiest way to get things done if you don’t have any other tools in your management toolbox.

What can you do to change that? As you can see most of the items listed above are based on external circumstances that can be changed. You can mitigate most of them by following couple of basic rules:

  1. Understand well people’s motivation for wanting to get to management and when the reasons are not right, don’t let them. Even if it means they may leave the company.
  2. Promote people to management because they are ready, not because they are great at doing their current job.
  3. Don’t allow jerks to keep their jobs and deal with them quickly and decisively, otherwise you are implying that this sort of behavior is fine and others will imitate it.
  4. Provide enough training in how to communicate, manage, and lead before you ask people to do so.
  5. Make a clear cut between the former and new job. Don’t let them sit on too many chairs and make it easy for them to let go of the past responsibilities.

These are the very basic things that you can do to help others, especially new managers, to avoid the trap of turning from great employees to lousy bosses. But what if you are the one who just got promoted? What if you don’t want to rely on others to help you but want to make sure you don’t become a jerk? Let’s talk about this next week.

 

Do you think you can recognize when you are acting as a jerk? What are the signs in others that tell you they are being inconsiderate?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

How To Manage Your Manager

Most of us are reporting to someone. We have a boss. It might be the first line manager, director, vice president, CEO, or a board of directors. One could even say that the customer is our ultimate boss but I won’t go that far in this article. Let’s stay with the person above you in the organizational structure of a company.

The common logic is that the manager manages the team. The less common view, but as much important, is that the employee also needs to manage his or her manager. Why? We are not slaves. We are all human beings with the same basic rights. Only we ourselves are responsible for taking care of our needs. The manager may have a positional power over us but that doesn’t mean we just follow orders. In this article, I will describe what you can do to manager your manager, why it is important, and how it can help both of you to be successful.

Managing up versus sucking up

Managing up has a certain negative connotation. Often confused with sucking up to your boss. However, these two terms couldn’t be more different. Sucking up really means that you are the “yes man”. You are doing everything in your power to please the boss, to appear in the best light, and earn some plus points. Your hope is that by being favorite “pet” you will gain some privileges not available to others who don’t suck up. This means that you don’t shy away from throwing others under the buss if it helps to improve your own image.

This is obviously unhealthy behavior. It may work in short term to advance your career but it will definitely destroy your reputation, kill your long-term prospects, make the team dysfunctional and ultimately make you entirely dependent on the good graces of your boss instead of on your own skills and effort.

In contrast, managing up is an ability to talk to your boss as an equal. He or she is your partner in getting the work done and in fulfilling company’s mission. Managing up is about setting boundaries and rules on how you and your manager work together. It is about agreement how you stay in dialog, how you set priorities, how you keep each other informed and how you hold each other accountable. It is about understanding the needs of the other person and helping them to achieve their goals.

Setting boundaries

The first thing to do is to sit with your new manager and talk about how you will work together. You want to understand how your boss works, what are his general expectations in terms of updates, reports, escalations. You should clarify the level of details he wants to be involved in. You should talk about whether he wants to be informed when you need to talk to his management or to other departments. You should agree on “no surprises” rule. Nothing is more embarrassing for your boss when he is being confronted by his manager with something you have done and he has no clue. You can read more on this topic in No Surprises In Management Please.

You should also talk about how you work and whether it is compatible with your manager’s expectations. Especially in today’s hectic environment, you should clarify what level of availability and responsiveness is expected.

The boundaries conversation also needs to tackle the topic of feedback. How you give each other feedback? Being it work related or developmental. This may be tough to do on the very first meeting but it is important to indicate that you appreciate any feedback your manager is willing to give you and that you are also available to provide feedback when asked.

Setting communication rules

Agreeing on how your manager expects to communicate with you is probably the most important conversation to have. Each of us is used to different communication channels, may have different way how we receive and process information, and may be used to different way of communication from previous job or even from other colleagues.

It is important to agree with your manager on what communication channel is preferred for what information. For example, you may agree that normal updates are best over emails to read at his or her own leisure, but any escalations or concerns should be communicated face to face or over the phone. This agreement is extremely important when you have a remote boss, and hyper important when he or she sits in a different time zone. You can read more on the topic in So You’ve Got A Remote Boss. Tricky.

You can be very flexible and adjust to the needs of your boss with one big exception. Never agree to not communicate! You need to build a solid relationship and that will not happen when you or your boss are avoiding interactions. If your manager says that there is no reason to talk regularly, insist on it anyway. You can appeal to his ego by asking for help, acknowledging you can learn from him, or just state plainly that it would help you grow and you feel a regular contact will help build good relationship between two of you. If you talk with your boss only when there are problems your relationship will have a significantly negative undertone. You need to take 100% responsibility for making the relationship work.

I personally have a tendency to over-communicate with my managers so the conversation I would have with any new boss is along the lines, “I’m used to copying my boss on all emails that may be eventually brought to your attention. I don’t necessarily expect you to read them, but I want to make sure you have them available if your manager or someone from other departments asks. If I need your help I will specifically indicate that in the subject of the email. Does this work for you?”

As you see I’m not asking “How do you want me to communicate?” since it would put me in a passive role of the one who needs to adjust. By proactively describing how the communication could look like you ensure your voice is heard and needs fulfilled. The boss can always say “no”. In my case, sometimes the answer was, “works for me.” Sometimes the answer was, “no need, just include me when you need help.” Regardless of the answer, it helped manage the expectations.

Setting goals, priorities and check-points

This is not article about goals and priorities setting so I’m listing it here just for completeness. Having clearly set goals, understood priorities, and agreed upon check-points is critical for healthy, surprise free, working relationship. You may check some of my thoughts on the topic in The Puzzle Of Performance Goals and How To Make SMART Goals Smarter.

Asking for help

One of the key things your boss can do for you is to remove obstacles. In fact, you will read this in almost every book about leadership that leaders are here to show vision and then get out of the way. The only time when they should step in is to remove roadblocks so you can achieve the agreed goals.

This means that you need to have a clear understanding with your boss about what level of issues he or she can help you with. It can be a very general statement along the lines of “when you run into something you can’t figure out let me know and I will help you.” It can be also something much more specific, “once you are ready to present the proposal to the CEO let me know so we review it together and then I can help you by pushing it from my side.”

The key is to have a clearly stated agreement with your manager that it is fine to ask for help and it won’t be held against you.

Offering help

To paraphrase JFK “don’t ask what your manager can do for you, ask what you can do for him”. Why? Good relationships are all about trust. How do you build trust? There are couple of ways to do it, but the basic one is to make sure that the other person sees that you have his wellbeing on top of your mind. If you accomplish that, chances are he will reciprocate.

When your boss sees that you are willing to help him solve his problems it dramatically increases the trust he has in you. He will trust your skills, your loyalty, and ultimately will find you indispensable. The common sense says that when you are indispensable you are in much better negotiation position to get what you need. When you can easily show the value you provide, it has a direct impact on your ability to get the next interesting project, the next promotion, the raise, or the freedom to work the way you want.

You don’t need to do much. Just asking whether there is anything you can help with, will do the trick. Even better approach may be to get clues from what was discussed or what you already know your manager is working on and ask if you can help with that specific problem. In long-term, the best approach is to ask about his or her priorities. Every now and then, I would ask my boss about what his top priorities for the next couple of months are and then see if I can bring some value and solve his problems for him, or at least contribute to the solution.

The beautiful side effect of this practice is that you are getting opportunities to do parts of your manager’s job and that allows you to learn new skills and expand your job. In simple terms, it allows you grow. You don’t need to wait on anyone to give you these opportunities. It is you, who is enabling this growth for yourself!

The next time you have a conversation with your manager don’t talk only about your needs and what you need from him. Before you end the conversation just ask a simple question “is there anything I can help you with?”

 

How important do you believe is managing your manager? How do you manage your manager? What tools are you giving your team so they can manage you?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.