Why Leaders Should Hire Their Opposites

A lot was written about the need of hiring people that will support the culture you are trying to build. So called cultural fit. And a lot was written about inclusion and diversity with the idea being that the more diverse team the better for creativity, innovation and productivity. I will leave aside the problem of how do you reconcile these two ideas and focus today on how you as a leader can personally benefit from hiring people who are very different from you.

Cognitive biases

Based on popular psychology our perception of reality and our decisions are influenced by a wide array of cognitive biases. Here are couple of them very relevant to your ability to hire the right people to your team:

  • Stereotyping – happens when you attribute specific traits or expected behaviors to a candidate based only on them belonging to a certain group without having actual information about that individual.
  • Social comparison bias – nudges you to be wary of candidates who may compete with your particular strengths.
  • Status quo bias – urges you to hire candidates similar to the ones you already have on the team to preserve the social equilibrium and things to stay the same.
  • Ingroup bias – pushes you to attribute positive traits and give preferential treatment to candidates who you perceive to be from “your group”. This can be people with similar educational or cultural background, from the same school, town, class, etc. You are essentially following this logic, “hey we went to the same school, the best school in the universe, of course you are a great fit to my team”
  • Halo effect – probably the most frequently quoted bias that makes you transfer positive or negative traits you observe in a candidate in one area to another area even if they are in no way connected. For example, “this guys has a nice shoes… he must be great… at selling software.”
  • Fundamental attribution error – this one, especially when combined with Ingroup bias and Stereotyping, leads you to put bigger emphasis on personality-based explanations for observed behavior of the candidate and dismissing the environmental and situational influence. It may lead to this type of thinking, “so you were laid off, [from a company that just released hundred people,] you must have been selected because of poor performance.”

Why do I mention these? They are always with you and if you are not careful, they will result in you hiring your clones. You can easily end up having a team fully staffed with a little bit less smart versions of you and that is not a recipe for success of the team. What is worse, this leads to a situation where everyone on the team has the same opinions, you have a team of yes-men. You may have built a friction free environment that is very comfortable, but it doesn’t challenge you or anyone else on the team to grow.

How to build your team

As a leader you want to build a team that will get the job done, but you also want to build a team that will help you to grow as a person and as a leader since your better performance will again lead to the better performance of the team.

  • Hire to fill gaps in the team – I talked about it in How To Hire A Strong Software Development Team. You shouldn’t hire individuals, you should build teams. What I mean is that all of us have some strengths and weaknesses and you want your team to cover all the bases. For example, if you build software, you want someone on your team to be great at front-end user interface, some great at databases, some at backend logic, you want someone with good communication skills to talk to customers, etc. You don’t need every single person to have all these skills, but you want the team members to complement each other
  • Hire to offset your weaknesses – it is very similar with your own strengths and weaknesses. You should look for people who will fill the gap in areas you are bad at. The thing is, it is very likely that these people will be very different from you. They can’t be your clones. If you believe there is nothing you are bad at, then chances are you suffer from whole lot of cognitive biases, your judgement is impaired and you shouldn’t be in management in the first place.
  • Hire for critical skills – when designing a job profile don’t list all the skills and behaviors you can imagine as must-haves. Be very clear what is the critical skill or skills that you need to fill a gap in your team and to patch your weakness but leave the rest as optional. I described this hiring mentality in Hire For Strengths, Not Lack Of Weaknesses.
  • Hire for attitudes – as I mentioned in Effort And Attitude Beats Talent And Knowledge give proportionally higher importance to attitudes of the person and their capacity to learn. Ignore what their previous job was about, what school they attended, who were they born to and when, but rather try to understand whether their core values are aligned with the company’s and whether they can learn and adapt.
  • Hire to learn – when I’m hiring people to my team I always ask myself one question. “Is there something I can learn from this person?” If the answer is “no”, I tend to be very careful with extending the offer. Very often the answer is “yes”. The reasoning follows closely the previous point. I want to hire people who will supplement me in the area of my weakness and that means I can get better by tapping their area of strength.
  • Hire to get challenged and to grow – I strongly believe that the only way you can grow is by getting out of your comfort zone and get challenged. When I look at my management career the most progress in becoming better at managing people happened when I had on my team someone who was very different from me and challenged me regularly. I had to rethink my approach on how to manage people quite a lot and I always learned a lot from these encounters. I must admit that not all of them ended up well, but the lessons learned definitely stuck with me. Since I’m fairly introverted person the biggest challenge for me always was managing extreme extroverts especially when they are overconfident. I was even told by one such person that “you don’t know how to deal with me.” And he was right. Even though I was the boss, I felt very uncomfortable in our interactions and it took me some time to learn how to manage this person. This one person helped me greatly to improve my ability to manage people.

Everything in moderation

When I look at the example from my experience about hiring someone who was so much stronger personality than me that it overwhelmed me, I wouldn’t do it again. It was a useful experience that I learned a lot from, but it was almost too much for me to cope with and ultimately hurt the team. So yes, you should hire your opposites, but make sure you are still able to handle the relationship so it doesn’t burn you out or destroys the team.

 

Do you subscribe to the described notion that you should hire your opposites? How do you create a harmony in a team that consists of diverse individuals? Is there a better way for you as a leader to grow and learn?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Leadership Means Speaking Up

I know it sounds like a cliché but if you can’t say what you mean, you can’t mean what you say. To be a leader means to be clear with your expectations and feedback. You need to communicate in a way that doesn’t leave room for guessing. As I wrote in this article one of the most difficult things in management is to do no harm to the people we lead. We are hurting our teams without realizing it by withholding feedback, being too nice, and not being clear with our expectations.

You need to provide feedback

Feedback is critically important aspect of good leadership. You need to be able to listen to feedback on your own performance and decisions to build credibility and improve in the future. And you need to be able to give feedback to others to make sure they focus on the right things, produce at the top of their capabilities, and grow as human beings. You need to provide feedback in a way that won’t create an impression that you are questions their competence and that you are not confident in their ability to get things done. At the same time you need to be crystal clear in your message so it is received the way you intended.

You need to show that you care

For others to truly listen to your feedback they need to believe that you are on their side. They need to feel that you are providing the feedback because you care about them as human beings and you want to help. If they believe that you are just trying to demean them, put them down, or show off your ego, then your advice won’t be accepted regardless of the feedback approach you use.

You sometimes hear from managers “it’s business, nothing personal”, but that is a delusion. The moment you touch someone’s life of course it gets personal. As a manager you need to realize that and be able to connect at the emotional level.

You need to challenge

As a boss it is your responsibility to let others know what their business goal is and to challenge them if you feel they are not performing or not going in the right direction. Not addressing obvious performance issues is the most common mistake managers do. Even experienced managers often prefer not to say anything when they see a problem rather than addressing it directly. Why? There are various reasons but the most common ones are the fear of damaging relationships, spoiling the atmosphere in the team or becoming unpopular.

Radical Candor framework

Kim Scott came up with a nice framework she calls Radical Candor. The idea is anchored around the concept of Caring Personally and Challenging Directly. When people believe you care about them personally, they will accept a very direct candid feedback from you and will be more willing to act on it. They will be also more ready to provide similar candid feedback to you and even to each other. They will ultimately feel valued as human beings which will help their motivation and performance.

Kim Scott talks about what happens when one or both of these dimension are lacking. When you provide feedback directly to someone without caring about them, your guidance feels obnoxious and aggressive. It may work sometimes but ultimately this makes you a jerk and it won’t work long-term.

The worst example is when you don’t care about others and don’t challenge them directly at all. This usually happens when you just want to be liked and you don’t care whether the job gets done or the other person gets better. You can always blame them behind their backs, right? This approach is manipulative and insincere and shows that you care only about your own well being and nothing else. You are failing miserable as a manager.

The last example are situations where you actually do care about the person but are afraid or unwilling to provide direct feedback. You are so worried about short-term discomfort the feedback would bring that you rather keep quiet and exchange it for long-term suffering. You can see it on examples of parents who love their children so much that they are unwilling to discipline them when they do something wrong. As a natural consequence the kids don’t even know they are doing something they shouldn’t and thus never get better.

You need to be responsible

Leadership means being responsible. And being responsible means that you do the right thing even though it may make you unpopular and make people angry. In fact, if no one is ever angry with you, chances are you don’t challenge them enough. You might be a people pleaser and not a leader.

I will adapt an anecdote from Kim Scott’s work about training dogs. What do you do when you want your dog to obey? Do you endlessly explain that it is in their best interest to sit on our command and how to do it? No, you provide a simple command that is not prone to interpretation “sit!” As Kim says, the command “is not mean, it is clear”.

 

What are your thoughts on responsibilities of a leader when it comes to providing feedback and clarity? Would you take the risk to hurt someone’s feelings if the reward would be the person gets better? Or do you think there are better ways to do this?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

 

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.