How Can Non-managers Develop Their Management Skills?

Before you embark on developing your management skills, begin by thinking about why you want a career in management. Unfortunately, there’s a widespread point of view that unless you get promoted into management, something is wrong. You’re not progressing in your career. That point of view reveals a lack of wisdom.

We need to eliminate the thinking that equates growth and career progress with promotions. I‘ve known many individual performers who have a strong drive to grow and progress in their careers, and who have zero desire to go into management. They love what they do, they’re extremely good at it, and they just want to get better and better at their chosen profession. That’s something to celebrate.

So before you invest your time developing management skills, ask yourself why you want to do this. Is it primarily because you want to earn more money? There is absolutely nothing wrong with the desire to earn more money. But if that’s your primary motivation, you might well wind up in management, earning plenty of money and being miserable. Too many people make that bargain. If you continue to grow in a given profession, however, more money will come as you increase your capacity to create value.

Here are some of the best reasons to pursue any type of career. You’re good at it. You enjoy it. And you can go home at night knowing you’ve made a difference. If that’s why you want to become a manager, go for it.

Back to the original question. If you’re not a manager today, how can you develop your management skills?

  • Look for opportunities to lead in your organization, in community organizations, and in professional organizations.

Let your supervisor know that you’re looking for these types of opportunities, so she can help you.

  • Demonstrate initiative.

Volunteer to lead a project or to head up a committee. This could involve anything from a picnic to a job fair to a charity drive. Identify something about your department (or your organization) that should be improved, and volunteer to lead the improvement initiative.

  • Go the extra mile.

When you’re on a team but you are not the leader, go the extra mile. Work a little harder. Make sacrifices. Volunteer for assignments. Ask people to help.

  • Demonstrate a consistent positive attitude.

Positivity is contagious and contributes to high morale and high performance. Encourage others to be optimistic and positive. This is an important management skill you can practice every day.

  • Demonstrate your commitment to help others succeed.

Find ways to help your team members succeed, not just as a team, but also individually.

I’m sure that this is not an exhaustive list of tips for developing your management skills, but I assure you it’s a good start.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Feel When Someone Leaves?

When someone leaves, I’m always surprised when I encounter indifference (or worse) on the part of that person’s direct supervisor. The “or worse” part is when the supervisor blames the employee. I’ve seen this so often that I absolutely should not be surprised. But I am – I guess because I’m disappointed with that attitude. I guess I take that as a sign that the supervisor doesn’t really care all that much. It bothers me.

When you assume the responsibility for being someone’s direct supervisor, you become responsible for helping him succeed (among other things). When someone leaves, where is the supervisor’s sense of accountability? Of course the employee bears plenty of accountability for this outcome. But where is the supervisor’s acknowledgement that this is a shared failure? If an employee has to leave, either the hiring manager made a bad selection decision or the employee wasn’t supervised and supported properly.

For the organization this event might be a pain in the anatomy. For the employee – who depended on his supervisor – this is a major negative life event. That’s why I view indifference as a sign that the supervisor doesn’t really care about the employee. That’s why it bothers me.

Upon reflection, the supervisor might come to the conclusion that she could not have seen any red flags during the selection process, and that she really extended herself to help this person succeed. And therefore she could not have produced a better outcome. But I’m talking here about the supervisor’s default reaction, before the opportunity for reflection. Does she feel bad? Does she feel a sense of shared failure?

If one of your employees has to leave, and your immediate reaction is to feel a sense of share failure, don’t listen to those who tell you not to. It’s a sign that you’re a great supervisor.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Perfectionism Is Not a Flaw (2 of 2)

Perfectionism gets a bad rap. In our first post in this two-part series, we wrote about how focusing on the downside of perfectionism – and trying to “fix” it – is the wrong approach. In that post, we shared insights and tips from one of our favorite perfectionists, Maribel Cruz, encouraging people to embrace perfectionism as a strength and use it to optimize their own performance.

Today, we share insights and tips from another of our favorite perfectionists, Christie Calkins Stukenholtz, as she reflects on helpful strategies and lessons learned in the multiple stages she went through to finish a big project to her satisfaction – writing hundreds of thank you notes after her wedding. Here’s Christie’s story:

Use This

Christie Calkins Stukenholtz

Hi, my name is Christie, and I’m a thriving perfectionist. If that sounds like a line you would use with a therapist, you’re right. But perfectionism isn’t a flaw. I’m proud of it.

I live by my calendar and I make a list for everything. I lay out what I’ll need for my day the night before and I make my bed every morning. Every single morning. When I was asked to write this blog post, I agreed, knowing how difficult it would be for me to bring it across the finish line. Knowing it wouldn’t be perfect.

I recently got married and was faced with the daunting task of writing a few hundred thank you notes. Perfect thank you notes. Thank you notes that would deliver just the right message, that would capture our gratitude not only for the gifts but for the relationship and the impact each person had on our lives. I was frozen. How would that be possible in a few short sentences? I could feel my perfectionism taking over. These could not be average thank you notes. They had to be just right.

How did I recognize and manage it?

Instead of sitting down and writing the thank you notes, I put it off. I have difficulty bringing projects to completion. I leave projects unfinished because I’d rather have them unfinished than put my name on something that’s less than perfect.

  • Set small goals to check off.
  • Take a step back and evaluate what is within your control.

When my husband offered to help write them, I wasn’t willing to give up control. I want to do everything myself. Why risk it not being done correctly by someone else if I know I can do it right the first time?

  • Delegate. Yes, I said it. A perfectionist’s worst nightmare.
  • Understand that if you continue to spend your time in this space, you are likely to miss out on great growth opportunities.
  • When you delegate, recognize that this is a great form of investing in others and letting them know you trust them.
  • Accept that there will be mistakes.

When I wrote the first few, I went over and over the parts that didn’t sound just right. I rarely celebrate a job well-done because I am replaying in my head what I wish I would have done better.

  • Instead, focus on what went well. How can you make sure and do more of what went right?
  • How can you establish best practices and share them with others?

If we lived in a black and white world, being a perfectionist would be easy. Everything would always be in harmony and the path to success would be very clear. Unfortunately, the world is not that way, and we must learn how to live and find satisfaction in the ambiguous grey zone.

  • Find people in your circle who do not get caught up in the details. Find the dreamers, the strategists and the friends that will pull you out of your rut and help remind you of the larger “why” behind whatever it is you’re doing.
  • Own your perfectionism. Share it with others so they know it is a strength. If you celebrate it, they will too.
  • Set high standards for yourself and others. Use this to inspire excellence in those around you.

So, the thank you notes… They got written. Perfectly imperfect. My husband helped me come up with the words and we got them done together. And we made sure to celebrate with a glass of champagne! Now I’m on to the next item on my list… planning the perfect vacation!

Larry Sternberg and Kim Turnage are authors of  Managing to Make a Difference (Wiley), a handbook for hitting the sweet spot of middle management.  Christie Calkins Stukenholtz is  Director of Client Relationship Managers at Talent Plus, and her perfectionism creates excellence every day. This is Part Two in a two-part series on perfection. Click here for Part One.

 

Perfectionism Is Not a Flaw (1 of 2)

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Perfect 10: Source

If someone you care deeply about is having brain surgery, do you want a surgical team that says, “Done is better than perfect,” in the operating room? We don’t!

Too often, people focus only on the downside of perfectionism. Perfectionism, like almost all other character traits, is not inherently desirable or undesirable. It is not something people should work to overcome.  Furthermore, even if you want to overcome it, that’s extremely difficult to do because, like introversion, it’s a character trait.

If you are a perfectionist, we encourage you to embrace it as a strength, not curse it as a flaw. Instead of investing your time trying to shake off your perfectionism, you should seek situations in which being a perfectionist is a good fit. Look for an organization that is passionate about excellence, one that sets high standards for quality and aggressively strives for continuous improvement.

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Maribel Cruz, Ph.D.

One of our favorite perfectionists, Maribel Cruz, offers this advice, “Don’t be satisfied with simply finding organizations that accept or tolerate your perfectionism. Make a point of actively seeking out roles that utilize perfection. Think about the forensic accountant who lives for the moment when he finds that missing thousand dollars, or the editor who relishes her peers who embrace the Oxford comma.”

In Social Situations

In some situations, perfectionism can create stress, both for the perfectionist and for those around her. Social situations often come to mind first. As a perfectionist attending a dinner party, you might well notice several flaws in the way the hostess executes the event. Success in that situation requires that you acknowledge those flaws (just in your head, of course), but don’t allow them to diminish your enjoyment of the evening. (And for goodness sake, don’t share them with the host – not even later!) Your perfectionism goes to work with you, too. When a person or a team at work has created a great success, there were almost certainly flaws in their performance. Be conscious and intentional about celebrating the success instead of leaping immediately to focus on the flaws. Leave that to another time if you think bringing up the flaws could help that person or team have greater future success.

You don’t have to give up your perfectionism, but when it comes to the shortcomings of people you care about, accept them as they are. Consciously and intentionally focus on what’s right about them rather than what’s wrong. Also, keep in mind that not everyone shares your love for perfection.

Here’s Maribel’s advice for navigating social situations as a perfectionist: “I don’t judge other people (well, except when it comes to hygiene/cleanliness because I will not eat off dirty dishes). It’s far easier to accept others’ flaws than it is my own. I’m much harder on myself than anyone else would be.”

In fact, Maribel tells this story about a former roommate, “I can live with slobs as long as they don’t mess up my personal space or any shared space. I had a housemate in grad school who literally did not notice a 40-pound bag of dirt I left in his room purposely. It sat there all year!”

At Work

Work situations can also be complicated for perfectionists, especially when it’s not brain surgery, and success really is defined more by “done” than by “perfect.” When a project has a hard deadline, make the work as close to perfect as possible, but meet the deadline. It’s ok to acknowledge that the product is not perfect, and it’s ok for that to bother you. The “bothering” part is just a feeling. You don’t have to allow that feeling to control you.  And you don’t have to try to stop being a perfectionist either. Instead of trying to change this character trait, Maribel suggests that you should work on managing the situation and consider how your perfectionism can serve you well.

For many perfectionists, including Maribel, perfectionism is a way to maintain control in a chaotic world. She explains, “It soothes me to polish my windows until no spots are left. Your run of the mill perfectionist gets a charge out of creasing the pants or knotting a tie just so. It’s about asserting personal agency in the world and enjoying the feeling of being in charge.” If doing something perfectly motivates you and provides a sense of satisfaction, by all means, do it!

Maribel also notes that “re-living my ‘perfect’ moments helps me re-experience the moments where that perfection has been attained so I can recapture the elements of that perfect performance to make it repeatable.” She uses past perfection to drive future perfection

Perfectionism is not a flaw. If you are reading this and you’re a perfectionist, embrace it! Perfectionists can add great value to any organization, provided it is harnessed in the right way.

___________________________

Larry Sternberg and Kim Turnage are authors of  Managing to Make a Difference (Wiley), a handbook for hitting the sweet spot of middle management. Maribel Cruz, Ph.D. is Director/Senior Leadership Consultant at Talent Plus, and her perfectionism creates excellence every day.

This is Part One in a two-part series on perfection. Check back next week for Part Two.

 

Manage to Make A Difference

It is entirely possible to be the kind of manager who accomplishes business objectives and earns promotions without making a positive difference in your employees’ lives.

If you aspire to be that kind of manager, you may want to stop reading now.

But if your goals as a manager are to grow your business, grow in your career and positively impact the lives of the people you manage, we think we can help – so much so that we wrote a whole book about it, Managing to Make a Difference.

While you’re waiting for your book to arrive, you can listen to our weekly podcasts, where we take one or two chapters at a time and discuss in detail practical ideas you can start using with your employees right away to maximize performance, engagement and growth. Click here to subscribe to our podcasts.

On every single podcast and post, you have an opportunity to talk back to us through comments and emails. We hope to hear from you! Until next time, manage to make a difference!

+  Larry Sternberg, J.D. and Kim Turnage, Ph.D.


This is part of a series highlighting excerpts from our new book, Managing to Make a Difference. Next up: Get to Know Your Employees. Connect with Kim Turnage and Larry Sternberg on LinkedIn to see the latest blog updates.

Why Are Hiring Decisions More Important Than Training Programs?

I was invited to give a presentation for a very large, prominent software company at a conference of help desk managers from all over the world, and the topic was creating a better customer experience. Different presenters focused on different ways to achieve this improvement. Some, for instance, focused on how to reduce wait time by optimizing certain processes. The focus of my presentation was the impact of hiring the right kind of people.

The organizer of this conference had verbatim feedback from satisfied customers displayed around the room on large posters. Every participant could read several of these comments from wherever they sat. I read these posters as I prepared to deliver my remarks, and something struck me. Every single positive customer comment emphasized character traits. For instance, ‘Jorge was so patient in walking me through what I needed to do.’ ‘Shirley really knows her stuff. But more importantly she was kind and understanding. She didn’t talk down to me.’ ‘Amit did more than solve my technical problem. His sense of humor helped me lose my frustration. It was actually a fun conversation.’

You can give the exact same musical score to ten different singers. Some will deliver a simply dreadful experience. Some will do okay. But maybe one will create a performance so beautiful it brings tears to your eyes. The score alone cannot create an excellent experience for the listener. It depends on who’s singing. Talent matters.

When it comes to customer-facing employees, you can give them all the same training, the same information and the same support systems. But it’s character traits like empathy, patience, positivity and compassion that create an excellent experience for the customer.  You can teach people to use your computer system, but you cannot teach them to be patient or positive. Those traits (and others) you must hire.

Would you like to verify this from your own experience? Think of the best customer-facing employee you’ve ever worked with. What made them so good? Take a couple of minutes and jot down a brief list of reasons why they were so good. When you’re done, read on.

Is your list mostly made up of things like positive attitude, good work ethic, good team player, liked to learn, etc.? You didn’t train those into the person. They were that way when you hired them. That’s what I’m talking about.

As a leader, you can create a better customer experience by holding out until the right employees come along – employees with the right character traits to create that WOW experience for your customers.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg