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.

 

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.

Are You Tired Of Being A Defendant?

This post is for readers in the United States of America. As everyone knows, we’re a very litigious society, and litigation is not only expensive, but also it’s time consuming, and it fosters a great deal of negativity. You want to avoid it even when you can win. In my experience, much work-related litigation can be avoided. Here are some tips to help you do just that.

Do

  1. Build close, positive relationships with employees. This is the single most impactful thing you can do to avoid litigation. People who have close, positive relationships are likely to work through problems without resorting to legal remedies.
  2. Build trust with employees. As you know, trust is the cornerstone of every good relationship. But it’s important enough to merit a separate place on this list.
  3. Operate at a high level of transparency.
  4. Do what you believe to be morally and ethically right. Don’t make decisions or take actions unless you’d be pleased to defend them publicly.
  5. Faithfully enliven the standards you’ve established.
  6. If someone has been treated unfairly (it happens occasionally), own it, apologize, and fix it.

Don’t

Don’t try to get away with things. This is the number one reason employers become defendants. Some executive or department head wants to do something that’s not in accordance with established regulations or laws, or with a contract (union contract, employment contract – whatever), or with the articulated values of the organization.

You know what I’m talking about. Someone wants to ensure a male gets a certain job. Someone wants to fire an employee, but she hasn’t built the proper case. Someone wants to avoid honoring a commitment to an employee or to a customer. I’m sure you can add to this list.

Efforts to avoid litigation in these types of cases include hiding information, creating plausible – but untrue – explanations for actions, or relying on fear of retaliation.

The best way to avoid litigation is to honor your contractual obligations, honor your commitments, obey applicable laws, and enliven your organization’s values. It’s part of acting morally and ethically.

If you do the first item on the “Do” list and don’t do the only item on the “Don’t” list. You’ll reduce the number of times you wear the title, “Defendant”.

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

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Create A Culture Of Feedback?

A client recently asked me, “How do we create a culture of feedback?” That question took me back to the following story.

I was the HR Director at a large conference hotel. We had a team of employees known as banquet housemen whose job was to clean, set-up and tear down the hotel’s many function rooms. It’s a very physical job which involves moving tables and chairs in and out of storage areas, setting rooms to precise specifications, and cleaning those rooms so that when you arrive for your meeting the room looks terrific down to the last detail. Banquet housemen, therefore, are deployed all over the hotel, and they work odd hours (so that you can dance until 1:00 AM at your awards banquet, and some other group can start their meeting in that very same room at 8:00 AM).

The banquet housemen team was suffering from low morale and high turnover. We tried several interventions/strategies to improve the situation, but nothing worked. It came to pass that the supervisor left, and we hired a guy named Frank to replace him. And Frank taught us something.

After about a week of assessing the situation, Frank created at short form performance evaluation. With a stack of these forms on a clip board, he’d randomly pop in to a room where a couple of housemen were working, he’d watch them work, and then he’d complete an evaluation on each person and hand it to them. He did this every single day.

The first 30 days, turnover was even worse. But within 60 days moral was very high and turnover went to almost nothing. The evaluations clarified his expectations and provided feedback so people knew the degree to which each person was meeting them. So creating a culture of feedback has the potential to bring about serious improvements.

These housemen needed the evaluations because there was no measurement system in place. A measurement system is the absolute best way to provide objective and helpful feedback. But for some jobs it’s difficult implement a practical measurement system. In those cases, frequent, candid feedback from a coach is very helpful.

These days, because almost everybody has a smart phone, it’s easier to get feedback from end users. In my story about the banquet housemen, today we could ask meeting attendees to answer one or two questions on their phones about the room set up. Or we could just ask the meeting planner. Or both. The point is we have options we didn’t have back when Frank was operating. These ratings would constitute measurements by which we could evaluate performance.

In my experience, when individuals or teams are given this kind of information, they make adjustments on their own. But there are plenty of times when the team doesn’t know what to do differently to improve their scores. That’s where the coach comes in. The right coach will … um … coach people as to what they should do. The measurement system will tell everyone whether it worked.

If you communicate clear expectations, implement a system to measure success, and provide frequent, candid feedback, you’ll establish a feedback system that works.

P.S. There’s one more very important thing. I once heard a client say, “Around here continuous improvement means constant criticism.” Feedback has to have some balance. Make sure you’re not just focusing on what’s wrong. Make sure you’re reviewing successes and high points, with the intent to figure out how to repeat those performances.

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

Larry Sternberg