The One Excuse Killing Your Career

“It’s not my job,” is the single most irritating, and career-limiting answer you can give to a request. You might be right, it may not be your job, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it.

Let us consider a rather trivial example. You have a meeting with ten people. After the meeting everyone leaves and there is an empty cup on the table (someone just forgot it there). Now, what happens?

You have a person who sees the cup and decides to ignore it. It is not his job so why should he take it to the kitchen? And then look at second person, who sees the cup and without a word grabs it to put it to a dishwasher. It is like a reflex for this person and she is not even thinking about who should do that. Who would you rather have on your team?

Even in a small thing like this the second person shows a great sense of ownership, a desire to keep things neat, a way of thinking that will most likely show also in other aspects of her life and work. The way she works with customers, with the team, how is she approaching her job. She simply sees that something needs to be done so goes and does it without a word or thought whether she is the one who should do it.

“It’s not my job,” is a common excuse that hides all sorts of fears. So what are you really saying when using this excuse? What are the things you say to yourself that hold you back?

  1. I don’t care – if you are here just to do as little as possible to earn your paycheck you will never get a chance of career progression and you will most likely be just mediocre performer who will be miserable and eventually leave. You should just get out now for your own good and the good of the team.
  2. I don’t have the authority – there are very few situations where this really matters. This is a valid excuse only when there are legal aspects involved, like you don’t have the authority to sign a contract, but you can still prepare or review it.
  3. I could make mistakes – you probably will, and that is fine. How else do you expect to learn?
  4. It is a huge effort – most things worthwhile doing are difficult. Just split it into smaller manageable pieces and get started.
  5. I got burned in the past – understandable, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Analyze what exactly caused getting your hand slapped and find out strategies how to mitigate it in the future. Sitting in the corner, doing nothing, is not a good strategy.
  6. I don’t know how to solve the problem – great, so go out and learn. You can say this about anything that you do for the first time so don’t let this fear to hold you back.
  7. I don’t have the skills – how else do you want to grow than by learning new skills? Very often no one really has the right skills, but someone brave takes the job anyway and learns as she goes. This is the person who grows and gets ahead.
  8. I’m not good at this kind of things – is a great example of self-fulfilling prophecy. It is this negative self-defeating conversation in your head that you need to reframe to something more constructive. Try this instead: if I put all my best in the effort, I will succeed.
  9. I’m too important and this job is too menial – is just an arrogant attitude that will shape who you become, what culture you create and ultimately will lead to other people stop respecting you. “There is no job too small for me to do,” is much healthier attitude that will serve you well in life.

If this is happening within your team you need to get back to basics and talk about values of the organization, why they are important and what does it mean to do things the right way. And obviously, you don’t just talk. You lead by example. Even if you are a team lead, manager, director, or vice president you still need to be able to get your hands dirty when you see a job that needs to get done regardless how menial it may seem.

If the problem starts with you remember that you don’t need permission to do excellent job! Whatever your role in the organization, it is an unsaid expectation that you work to the best of your abilities and use your best judgement to make the organization successful.

Let me list couple of strategies used by people who don’t have “It’s not my job,” sentence in their vocabulary. These attitudes lead to the exact opposite. Instead of avoiding tasks outside of your job, you embrace them and expand your skills and sphere of influence:

  1. Constantly seek how to improve things – by finding ways how to make your life, the life of your boss, and others around you easier you not only solve problems but learn about how the organization works
  2. Volunteer to help others – very similar to previous one. By volunteering to help others you learn about their jobs and expand your understanding of the organization and grow your skills
  3. Constantly ask questions – you obviously shouldn’t ask the same question over and over again, but by questioning things that are being taken for granted you not only help yourself to better understanding but you may unearth gems in form of potential improvements. Times are changing and maybe the process that was set up five years ago doesn’t fill the needs of today.
  4. Don’t complain – if you constantly complain not only you will be seen as someone who whines all the time and doesn’t help but you will create this internal self-talk that will make you feel miserable with your own life.
  5. Be prepared – learn to spend the time upfront to ensure you understand the big picture, you know what options you have and have your arguments well backed up with data and solid reasoning
  6. Understand that ideas are not enough – you can have tons of great ideas but no one will ever care about them as much as you do. If you want to see them implemented you need to be the person who has the energy to drive them through.
  7. Don’t shy away from difficult tasks – volunteering for tough assignments is a great way to develop new skills, grow as a person, and even grow your reputation. People will give you all the support if they see that you took on a job that they were scared off.
  8. Don’t overanalyze – paralysis by analysis is often the one thing that prevents getting things done. By overanalyzing problems, waiting to collect all the data, waiting for all the opinions to be heard, we forget that there is a job to be done. Get the basic information, make a decision, and get the job done, even if it means there is some inherent risk in being wrong.
  9. Keep pushing and persist when things get tough – giving up too early will not only make you fail, but will damage also your self-confidence and ability to succeed in the future so be relentless in getting stuff done.
  10. Learn to enjoy even the boring bits – when you find some positive on things that other people hate you can gain a significant influence. Especially, when the things needs to get done for the good of the group and no one is to keen on doing them.

Utilizing this proactive attitude you can expect the ultimate reward. You will strengthen your character, learn new skills, build resilience and positive can-do attitude. It will then reflect positively on your self-image, on how you are seen by others, and on the career opportunities opened to you.

To be completely clear, I’m not advocating that you should say “yes” to every small, unimportant thing someone throws in your direction. It is ok to say “no”, but make sure you are strategic about when you say it and smart about how you say it.

 

What does “It’s not my job,” question mean for you? Do you see similar situations around you? How do you react? And how you do to improve the environment when people just don’t care?

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.

Does Your Work Have Meaning?

Why do you work? Do you believe that what you do in your professional life has a meaning? What do you tell to your friends that you do? And more importantly what are you telling yourself on daily basis to get out of bed and to the office?

You hear it more and more. To be happy at your work you need a purpose, you need to understand what the meaning of your work is. Daniel H. Pink popularized this concept in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”. Motivation in modern economy comes from three sources: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Let’s focus on Purpose. Do you believe that for your life to have a purpose or a meaning you need to do something larger than life? I don’t think so. Whatever your job is, as long as it fulfils a need of “someone” it has a purpose. The real question is: are you able to formulate the meaning in a way that will be motivating for you and that you can be proud of?

Have a mission statement

I used to be a software developer who at some point in my career figured that I like working with people more than with code. I will show you on my example what a professional mission in the life of a manager and a software developer can look like and what type of stories I tell to myself to keep loving what I do. My current professional mission statement reads like this:

“I’m an experienced engineering and operations leader passionate about setting up offices, building teams, growing people and solving difficult business problems.”

In this one sentence I tell you (and myself) how I want to be seen and what I believe the mission of my professional life is. When you ask me what I do, this is the answer you get. It doesn’t talk about specifics, company, role, or job title. These are just monikers people hide behind. If I told you I’m “director of engineering” or “operations manager”, what exactly would you learn about me? And more importantly, how exactly is that supposed to motivate me personally? The mission statement needs to tell you and those around you who you aspire to be, what your core values are, and what value you bring to others.

Let’s say you are a software developer. Could your mission statement read for example like this? “I’m an enthusiastic hacker and geek who enjoys solving hard business and technical problems by producing state of the art software.” Or if you want to be more specific about a particular domain “I’m an experienced software engineer with a knack for building well designed, scalable and easy to use IT management software that gives other IT professionals opportunity to have unparalleled view of their environment and helps them to easily solve complex IT problems.”

If I were a developer and self-talked to myself like this, I would be certainly proud on what I’m doing and saw a real purpose in my professional life. The great thing is that this is completely under your control! No more complains or excuses that “there is no vision”! You don’t rely on your company’s CEO to show you a great vision of the future and on your HR department to paint a company mission on the wall. Regardless of what the company does, or what your role is, you can create a mission statement for yourself that will make you feel valuable.

Have a story to tell

But it doesn’t end here. To have a one-line sentence with the mission statement is nice but it is pretty much an advertisement that may not provide enough insights into details of what you do and why you should be proud of it. It is a good reminder for you to know the big picture but having a story or two that document your successes, career high-lights, or things you are particularly proud is important to show who you truly are.

In my case I could for example look at some of the offices and teams I built over the years and summarize it in a short one paragraph story. It should be short for two reasons. First, it will force me to focus on the key aspects of why this particular time of my professional life is note-worthy. Second, it can be a good overview that won’t bore the listener for too long, being it a friend or an interviewer. I believe your story needs to have four parts: what happened, how it happened/what role you played, what were the results, why it was important for you personally and for others.

“[What happened] In 2008 I joined a small US based software development company with the mission to build a strategic R&D center in the Czech Republic. [How it happened] Coming from much bigger corporate environment I had the opportunity to build a new office and engineering teams from scratch. I interfaced with colleagues in the US and Ireland to get support and the company’s know-how. We hired the best software developers and QA engineers we could find and built a motivated high-performing team. I played not just the role of an engineering manager but also an office leader, a part-time HR and recruiter, interacting with recruitment agencies, vendors, universities and government agencies. [Results] Initially the team started small but eventually took on more and more work and responsibilities. Today majority of company’s key and most revenue generating products are built in the Czech Republic by a team of several hundred engineers. [Why it is notable] This project allowed me to build something new. It gave me the opportunity to improve my interviewing and people management skills and it gave me a chance to contribute significantly to the future success of the company creating career opportunities for hundreds of people.”

So what would your story be if you were a developer? I will use one from my previous life when I was still a geeky software developer.

“[What happened] In 2003 I joined a small US-based start-up that was a pioneer in building games for mobile phones. I was the only C/C++ developer with the mission to port some of the existing games to Palm OS and write new ones for an emerging technology – smartphones with Symbian OS. [How it happened] Having no previous experience with embedded systems and mobile devices I had to re-learn several programming languages (Symbian OS run a particularly nasty version of C++), I acted as the designer, architect, developer and tester and even created my own graphics. [Results] I built several games that showcased what can be done with modern technology utilizing smartphones, Bluetooth connections, and wireless data transfer in times when few other people have done so. Ultimately the start-up failed not getting investment it needed to operate. [Why it is notable] During this time I became one of the most experienced software developers building applications on Symbian OS platform. This fact would eventually lead me to become one of the key contributors to Symbian OS communities run by several large mobile phone vendors like Nokia and Siemens allowing me to share my knowledge and help others be successful.”

Words, stories and even short mission statements have a powerful spell. The way we talk to ourselves determines how are brains are being wired. When you come up with a story that focuses on your strengths, using positive language, and sprinkle some successes with a bit of vision of who you want to be chances are that you will eventually get there. As you probably noted from my two stories the mission of my professional life has obviously shifted as I moved from being an engineer to being a manager. Don’t be afraid to be flexible and change your mission as you grow both professionally and as a human being, but be very careful not to mix the mission with a short-term promotion or monetary rewards. Ultimately your mission need to give you the intrinsic motivation that no external stimuli can do.

So what will you tell your friends next time they ask you what you do? And what will you tell yourself tomorrow morning when your sleepy self asks you why you should get out of the bed and to the office? And remember, your work does have a meaning, you just need to take the initiative and put it to words!

 

Do you have a mission of your professional life? What is it? Do you believe that having a meaning at your work is important?

Originally published at LinkedIn.

Want To Grow? Get A Mentor!

Homer, the Ancient Greek legendary author of two epic poems Iliad and Odyssey tells a story of War of Troy. When Odysseus, one of the Greek kings, set sails for Troy he wanted to ensure his young son Telemachus gets a solid education and his palace is in a good hands. He asked a friend, whose name was Mentor, to get his son education necessary for a long successful life. Thus the first mentorship took place. It was based on sympathetic relationship between two people of different levels of experience without any formal relationship or family and organizational structure.

So how do you define mentoring today? What about: a process of informal transmission of knowledge, psychological support and even social capital that enables the recipient to increase his professional success, being it both the work related tasks as well as personal development. The mentor is someone significantly more experienced in the area of interest and should be a level or two above the mentee. The mentee is someone who wants to receive a professional mentoring in the effort to accelerate his or her growth.

Goals of mentoring

The basis of mentoring is the professional, direct and partnership-based relationship between a mentor and a mentee. At high-level the main aim is to promote the professional and personal development of the mentee. The actual goals may cover wider area of topics:

  • Providing advice for further personal development – mentee and mentor meet and reflect together on the mentee‘s experiences. This serves to foster the skills and personality of the mentee on an individual level and enables him to be a better person.
  • Providing advice on professional questions and decisions – depending on mentor’s experience they both engage in an exchange of experiences, and the mentor passes on his own experiences and information in effort to enable the mentee to make better decisions.
  • Discussing difficult management situations – assuming the mentee is being mentored on management and leadership topics the mentor can act as a sounding board and provide points of view based on his or her vast experience with managing people.
  • Help establishing a feedback culture – it is a great way to build a feedback culture through working with emerging leaders and experts.
  • Spreading understanding of company strategy and business – especially when the relationship crosses several management levels it helps to provide insights into company strategy that may be otherwise diluted.
  • Networking within and outside the organization – when the mentorship spreads across different departments or the mentor is even outside the company it grants the mentee access to a professional circles otherwise inaccessible.
  • Increasing self-confidence and professionalism of mentee – as the person works with significantly more senior mentor it gives him or her a new perspective on how to conduct business and by learning new skills will also build a self-confidence.

I listed just some of the most obvious benefits of mentoring. Depending on the needs of the mentee these can be of course expanded.

Requirements for both roles

The mentor is someone who the mentee trusts or can build trust quickly. He doesn’t have any management responsibility for the mentee. It is a purely supporting and advisory role that brings new ideas and perspectives to the relationship. The requirements for this role may vary depending on area of mentoring required, but there are couple of basic ones. The mentor should be:

  • A person at least one hierarchical level above the mentee
  • In possession of both the technical and social skills to play to role
  • With ability to teach and impart knowledge
  • With ability to motivate others
  • With interest in helping others grow
  • With a network of formal and informal contacts within the company
  • And of course trustworthy with high ethical standards

The mentee is on the receiving end of this relationship. He is personally responsible for all his decisions and the mentor is there in advisory capacity only. The requirements of the mentee are not as broad as of the mentor but are equally as important. The mentee must be someone who:

  • Shows initiative to be able to maintain the contact
  • Possesses good social skills to provide mentor with honest feedback
  • Is committed to learning and able to put discussed measures into practice
  • Has ability to handle criticism
  • Has a capacity, both intellectual and emotional to reflect and learn

Advantages for mentor, mentee, and organization

How does the mentor, the mentee, and the organization benefit from the relationship? It always depends on individuals but in broad terms the mentee is getting the most of it. As indicated above the whole point is to enable him or her to perform better today and accelerate growth to the future.

For mentor the benefits can be in a form of enhancing his own skills when explaining topics, sharing knowledge, or providing feedback. He can also get a different perspective on the world from someone who is several levels below them, most likely different age, and even different department, culture or country. It enables mentor to expand his social network within the company, and build a reputation of someone who cares and is willing to help.

And lastly for the company it is all about building a culture of feedback, mutual respect and collaboration. A culture where people are willing to help others and work towards a common goal to enable the future of the company. If done right, the mentoring relationships can help to promote culture of inclusion and diversity.

How to set up a mentoring relationship

How do you find the right mentor and setup the relationship? In any bigger organization you may need help of HR department who should have access to data to help you find the right mentor. If there is no formal process, then just working with your boss or even directly approaching someone senior who you see as a role model in the area you want to improve is definitely an option. In all cases you need to be able to explain what you expect to get from the relationship and also what the mentor can expect in return, as discussed above. When having the right mentor the process is then rather straightforward:

  • Upon meeting for the first time, the mentor and the mentee should discuss expectations of both partners in relation to a mentoring relationship. You may want to talk about some of the rules outlined below to make sure both sides are comfortable with them.
  • They should agree on the frequency of meetings, duration and high-level topics. I would suggest at first to meet on monthly basis and even though most of the conversations can be done over phone or video conferencing I would strongly encourage to meet at least twice a year face to face to build stronger relationship.
  • It is responsibility of the mentee to organize the meetings and bring topics. The mentor can also bring topics that he sees as important for personal development of the mentee but he is not “the owner” of the initiative, even though he is the senior partner in the relationship.

Rules to follow

To have a successful and friction less working relationship both the mentor and the mentee needs to agree on some basic rules they will follow. These rules should cover at least these aspects:

  • Confidentiality – everything that is said between the mentor and the mentee remains confidential and shouldn’t be shared or worse used to gain some advantage over the other person.
  • Consistency – to build a solid relationship it is important to keep a regular contact and ensure continuous free flowing feedback in both directions.
  • Openness – keeping an open mind and understanding the other party’s world view is important to ensure willingness to receive feedback and for growth in general.
  • Honesty – again very important for good quality feedback and the ability to have a difficult conversations that enable both sides to learn.
  • Maturity – both sides needs to be mature enough to provide and accept feedback even when it is critical; they also need to be reliable to follow the agreed rules.

When you put all this together you can see that building a strong mentoring relationship can help you significantly to accelerate your personal growth and meet your career aspirations.

 

What is your experience with mentoring? Do you feel it has place in today’s corporate world and what approach to mentoring would you take?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

Promoted To Management? Too Bad!

It is something that many of us aspire to get to. Being promoted to management position. In most cultures, with a formal management role comes higher social status, more money, more “formal power” and it increases your self-worth. But as any superhero would tell you “with great power comes great responsibility”. Suddenly, your opportunity to impact lives of others has increased dramatically. Once you get yourself promoted to management you quickly discover (if you are lucky) that it wasn’t a promotion, but in fact, you got a completely new job that requires completely different mindset, skills, attitude, approach to relationships in the workplace and the view of the organization. You have just moved from a valuable individual contributor and expert to junior manager who needs to re-learn everything he knew about workplace and people. So how do you deal with this transition?

Mindset: You need to start caring about business

Changing the way of thinking from “I care mostly about my tasks and the impact decisions have on me personally and my ability to deliver my part,” to “I care about the company business and the impact my decisions have on my team, our ability to achieve the business goals, and the wider company environment” is a major shift. You are not “one of the guys” anymore. You not only represent the team, you also represent the company management towards the team. This is a rather difficult transition to make for most people. In individual contributor role it is too easy to keep complaining about management, other departments, or your co-workers, but this stops the moment you get the management title!

Once you are one of the managers you just can’t do that anymore. You need to build a feeling of one team, one company, one vision and prevent any “us and them” thoughts brewing in the team. You are also charged by the company to make decisions and to keep explaining decisions of higher ups to your team. “Sense making”, the ability to explain decisions done by others to your team so they make sense to them, is an integral part of your job. You should always fight for what you believe needs to happen with your boss, but towards the team you speak the company line. If you are not comfortable doing it, if you don’t buy into a company culture or mission, then you shouldn’t be in the company and definitely not in any management role.

Relationships: You need to focus on people

Until now you probably needed other people a bit to do your job, but starting in management you are totally dependent on other people around you. Communication with others has become a major part of your job. You are here to listen, explain, mentor, coach, provide a vision, set expectations, clarify questions, and to remove obstacles (which usually means talking to other groups not reporting to you). Every single aspect of your job means dealing with people. If that is not something you are enthusiastic about you shouldn’t be in this job. You can still maintain a friendly relationship with your team, in fact that is the best way to have a healthy culture, but you need to ensure that you also keep a healthy distance and be impartial. The worst thing that can happen is that you play favoritism. Even being suspect of preferring one person over others will hurt your credibility.

Attitude: You need to learn to make and own decisions

One of the key competences to learn is to be able and willing to make decisions and then own these decisions in front of the team. When you look around, you will be surprised how many managers are actually not able to make a decision and how even bigger number is not able to stand by a decision (their own or those made by higher up in the organization). This then leads to all sorts of problems within the team starting from complains about “we can’t decide anything” and ending with creating “us and them” culture. Ultimately it hurts everyone. You, for being seen as week, your bosses for being seen as controlling, and the team for feeling powerless. And it all starts with you not being clear and firm with your team. I love the 3F acronym (Fair, Firm, Focused). You need to be fair in your dealings with team members, listen and keep an open mind. You need to be focused and keep the team focused on the right things. And you need to be firm in your messages to the team and in your beliefs.

You also need to accept that you and your team are not the center of the universe and pick the battles you should fight with others. For example, it is understandable you want to grow your team and provide them with fancy training, but if there is another team who will have bigger impact on the good of the business if they get it first you should accept and even advocate that position. This part of the attitude comes from realization that your team are not only people reporting to you but that your first team are people at the same level or higher who work towards the same company goal. You can read more on these ideas in Is Your Team A Living Game Of Thrones?, or pick up one of the books of Patrick M. Lencioni.

Skills: You need to get back to school

All the things mentioned until now also mean that you need to work on a new skillset. Chances are that if you don’t give it the same effort to learn and constantly improve as if you were learning new technologies or techniques in your individual contributor role you will sooner or later plateau. You will stagnate in your own growth and what is more important you won’t be able to make your team better either. Unfortunately, the team’s potential is being dictated by its leader. If the leader has a low potential it puts a natural cap on what the team can accomplish. If the leader is constantly growing his abilities that naturally leads to growth in abilities of the team too.

So how do you ensure constant learning and growth?

  • There are tons of management and leadership books, blogs, and articles out there that summarize current research in the field of management and experiences of others who went through what you are going through. But be careful. You can’t believe everything you read and you always need to digest new information with a skeptical mind and critical thinking. What works for one person in a specific situation may not work for you in your workplace, but just by gathering stories from others you expand your library of “what options do I have to deal with the situation at hand”
  • On the job learning is probably the best way to get confident and comfortable in a management role. Relentlessly practicing, not shying away from difficult tasks and situations and constantly gathering feedback is how you really grow. For example, I remember the first time I had to fire someone. I was really nervous and couldn’t sleep the night before, but ultimately I was sort of looking forward to it since I understood that being able to make tough choices and have difficult conversations is part of the job. If I can’t do it, and do it well, I will very quickly reach limits of what opportunities I can get. And what is more if I don’t do it there will be negative impact on performance of my team.
  • Getting a mentor is a must if you want to grow and don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Having someone more experienced to bounce ideas off, to discuss difficult situations you are facing and just get some live wisdom from is an incredible help. It can be your boss, but considering that you probably didn’t pick your boss, chances are he or she may not be the best mentor for you. You should reach out to people across the company or even outside who you see as role models and ask them for help. Before you do that you should identify what skill or behavior you want to work on and pick a mentor who can really bring value in that area. You should also understand that if the mentor decides to spend time with you he or she may also be looking for getting something out of it. It can be something as mundane as being able to practice mentoring, but keep it in mind when talking to those you see as potential mentors.
  • Participating in a formal training is an obvious one. It is a good way how to get started especially at the onset of your career but keep in mind that most of the training courses in the corporate environment are not done in a way that ensures continuous learning. You participate on two or three days long training course and after getting back to the office you forget everything in two weeks. If you want to get formal training pay attention to what skills you will learn and how you will be able to immediately use them in action. If you can’t use them, it is a waste of time. Second thing to keep an eye on is whether there is a regular follow up after the training. This is critical to keep what you learned fresh in your mind and push you to implement it in your everyday life.
  • Building a network of like-minded people from other departments or industries to share stories is a nice way to expand the toolset you have to deal with problems. I know that this can be a tricky proposition especially for introverted leaders but you shouldn’t underestimate its value. When I was working on my MBA one of the biggest values I got from the program was the opportunity to meet senior leaders from industries very different from IT. In many of the discussions we had in the class their view of the problem and solutions they came up with really helped me to expand my own, at that time very narrow, view of the management world.
  • Going above and beyond is important if you want to excel at pretty much anything. Nothing can replace hard work, and effort you spend not just on doing your job but specifically on a very deliberate focus on getting better will definitely pay off.

So what does it all mean for you?

Moving into a management role is a rather dramatic change in your life and if it is not, then you are not doing it right! You should take it very seriously otherwise you will very quickly plateau and will be stuck in a junior management role forever or even worse may get promoted to even higher position by pure luck and then sit in a role that you can’t perform. So the first question you should ask yourself is “Why did I take the management job in the first place and am I willing what it takes to be successful?” If the answer is along the lines “I want to help others grow, I want to drive the business forward, and I’m ready and willing to learn,” you are on the right track and given the right effort you will be fine.

 

What was the most difficult thing you had to adjust to when moved to management role? Do you believe that being smart and hard-working is enough to become a great manager?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

What To Do When Everyone Around You Is Quitting

Companies go through ups and downs. Business environment fluctuates, people come and go. Every now and then you get to a situation that feels like everyone on your team is leaving or worse is just mentally checked out. What now? How do you stay motivated in such environment, and more importantly what can you realistically do to turn things around?

Crisis breeds opportunity

First of all, any crisis is a breeding ground for opportunities. In fact, one could argue that the best things always grow out of necessity. Necessity is the mother of invention because when you struggle for resources you get more creative. As I wrote in How Lack Of Resources Forces Innovation you learn to do with whatever you’ve got. When you don’t have a choice, you learn to step up. When people around you are leaving that opens all sorts of opportunities. The direct ones, like your boss leaving thus someone needs to replace him. Or the indirect ones, when your more experience colleague leaves so you have to step in and mentor new members of the team, make technical decisions, get more visibility, or learn to communicate better. With less people on the team it often also means you learn to work under pressure, you build more resistance, your work is suddenly much more critical, and you learn to prioritize.

Focus on positives

When you look at the list above, and I’m sure you can extend it significantly, you realize that regardless of how the situation looks from the outside there are also the positives. At least for you personally. It is only up to you how you handle the challenge, and how you decide to think and feel about it. By focusing on the positive aspects you can build an incredibly powerful internal drive, marshal your energy and at the end come out as a winner.

It is always important to focus on things you can influence. Ignore whether the guy sitting next to you leaves or not. It is his life and his choice. There is no need you should feel bad about it. It also doesn’t mean that you should make the same choice. In fact, it doesn’t even mean that he made the right choice. Maybe yes, maybe no. However, that is irrelevant. You should focus on what you can impact. The one thing you can influence is your own future. Just be dispassionate about it. Leave the emotions at the door and look at things without bias. What are your professional and life goals? How are these being satisfied? If the math checks out and you see that in reality nothing is wrong, then it is just about how you feel about the situation. And once again, how we feel about a certain thing is completely under our control. Two people can look at the same thing and feel very differently about it. The reality is the same, but the interpretation of the reality is very different. Just decide to feel good about the reality and you will be fine. You can read more about positivity in Positive Approach To Life.

Appreciate successes

I understand that feeling all happy in a group of people who frown all the time is not particularly easy. So what can you do about it? A great start is to focus on what is going right and celebrate successes and small wins. There is always something that goes fine, so it is just a question to attract everyone’s attention to it. By providing positive encouragement, appreciating what people have, talking about small wins you can gradually turn everyone’s attention towards what is positive in the project, the company, the world. Human brain has an incredible capacity for self-deception and when it focuses on something, it sees it everywhere. If your attention is constantly on positive things then the brain will focus on it and find positives in all areas of your life. For a bit more on the topic check out Human Brain, The Biggest Liar Of All Times and a great “yellow car example” in You Are A Leader, Not A Messenger. Act Like It!

On-board newbies

If the emotional drain from the people around you who just refuse to see anything positive on the situation is too big then you may consider finding someone who has not decided to constantly ruin his life and the lives of people around him – a newbie. Chances are that even in a team that goes through rough times there will be someone who is new, or relatively new, and thus not infected by the negativistic people yet. Focusing on this person, taking him under your mentorship, spending as much time with him as possible and keep presenting him with your view of the world will help you both. He or she will benefit from your knowledge, guidance and protection. You, at the other hand will benefit by being around someone positive who wants to be here, who wants to learn and succeed. Plus, you are getting the opportunities of mentoring experience mentioned above.

Chances are that there are also other people on your team or the teams around who have also chosen to stay positive. Being around people like this is a great way to keep your sanity and will help you to stay positive and get things done.

Never flee from something only because others do

And how do you know that the time has come for you to be somewhere else? I would reiterate what I mentioned above. You should consider things on merit not on emotions. And you should never flee from what you don’t like, but rather march towards what you want.

 

Have you ever been to a situation that everyone around you was leaving? What was your strategy on maintaining your sanity and motivation and were you able to use the situation to your advantage?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

Are You So Good? Or Are You Here So Long?

I’m a student of human nature. I like to listen and watch how people react under various circumstances and I’m always trying to figure out why they act this way in a hope that with that understanding I will be able to have a better interactions in the future. One question that recently popped up in my mind is how much your tenure with a company impacts the way you get things done. And more importantly, are the tenured people who always seems to be able to get things done really so good or do they just know how to work the system?

How do you get things done?

Do you rely more on your skills, or the knowledge of the system? Chances are that you follow the standard trajectory. As a newbie you have no history with the company and no knowledge of the systems and people so you are forced to rely on your skills and past experiences. Even if you have done the same task before there is no guarantee that repeating the past experience will work in your new job. You need to be very open to learning the systems and people in your new gig.

As you are more and more tenured your strategy of getting things done will change. You will be able to rely more on the system and your knowledge of ins and outs of the company, you will have forged relationships with various stakeholders who will be able to help you out with your current task. You will rely less and less on your own skills and will utilize the system. And just to be clear, I’m talking about your managerial or leadership role.

The result? You are getting things done faster and better than the newbie could even if the other guy who just joined may have better skills. So far so good. Unfortunately, there is a flip side. By relying on the system you are giving away the need to sharpen your skills and learn new ways of doing things, you stop changing and growing.

How much effort and creativity do you really put in?

So how much effort do you truly put into your task? As you are tenured it takes less and less effort to get things done. You know the ropes, you know where to push, and who to talk to. You know where the bottle necks are so you go around them, or if not possible, you won’t get frustrated by seeing them again. At some point you will realize that the work you are doing is rather without challenges and all it takes to get things done is to repeat the same formula you used several times before and just give it the time it needs.

If you give up on finding creative ways how to tackle the problem at hand you know that you don’t rely on your skills as much as on your knowledge of the system. Once again, nothing wrong with that. Things will be done as they always were, you and your work will be predictable and the business will prosper. For now. Again, there is a flipside. Nothing new and exciting was ever build by doing things the way they were always done so ultimately the business is not reaching its full potential. And neither are you. If you don’t try new way to solve problems you will not learn anything new, you will never change and no change means no growth. Both for you and for the business.

Are you able to teach others how to get things done?

A great way to recognize what stage you are at is to consider how you teach others. Are you able to mentor and coach your team into truly building new skills? As opposed to just saying things like “well, you need to know who to talk to.” This one seems to be really critical. People who rely more on system than on their own skills may have troubles mentoring others. Or rather than mentoring for “how to become a better person” they mentor for “how to play the system”. This may not be immediately recognized by neither the mentor nor the mentee. And in fact, at first glance there is nothing wrong with either approach.

The first type of mentoring and guiding is focus on enhancing mentee’s skills and ability to get things done regardless of circumstances of the project or company. In this case the focus is on transferable skills like good communication, ability to negotiate win-win situations, ability to get things done regardless of reporting structure, ability to grow people, mentor and coach them or understanding the value of resources.

The other approach is purely focused on how to get things done in your current project or your current company. Because the mentor in this case focuses so much on how to get things now, in this project, under these circumstances the immediate effect might be even better than in the first case.

However, when the circumstances change the person mentored on “how to become better” will be able to adjust since the skills he or she learned are transferable. The person who was taught “how to play the system” will get lost when the system changes. The first person was taught principles. The second person was taught tasks and workarounds. The first person strives in change. The second person panics, blames everyone around, resists, complains, and generally just doesn’t know what to do.

Do you learn something new every day?

So ask yourself. Do you learn something new every day and do you exercise your mind to come up with innovative ideas? If the answer is “no” then you probably rely too much on your knowledge of the system and you are not growing. What is worse, if you are in a leadership position you may not even provide the right type of guidance to your team. And let’s be clear here, it is only your fault. Not the company, not your boss, not the environment, it is you who can decide whether to learn and grow or not. You just need to be creative.

So how to change the status quo and start growing again? Common sense dictates that you need to try something new. Talk to a new person you never talked to before, reach out to another department and offer help, volunteer for mentoring newbies or to take on a task outside of your job responsibilities. Make it a point to introduce small innovations in the way you work. It doesn’t need to be anything dramatic. If things are working generally fine you just want to keep testing the waters, try something new, if it doesn’t work revert back and try something else. By doing these small changes and minor improvements you ensure your own growth, your ability to cope with change, and even find ways how to continuously improve the “way we do things around here”.

 

How do you get things done? Are you really so good as you think? Or do you just know how the system in your current company works but if you get plugged into a new company, a new system, you will be totally hopeless and unable to adjust?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader