In this excerpt from my book, Tell Me I Can’t…and I Will, I offer 10 management practices that I have learned along my own journey that have driven results, results that I have witnessed firsthand. From managing student organizations to launching and turning around nonprofit organizations to investing in communities across the country, these lessons represent parts of my management philosophy that I challenge you to reflect on and test drive in your own management practices.
No. 1: People are not widgets. People matter… period. They have fears, aspirations, insecurities, and commitments outside of work. People want to be respected, engaged and valued. They want you to sincerely acknowledge their presence, contributions and commitment. Genuinely care about people. Challenge yourself to continually step into other people’s shoes and look at the world through their perspective. Consider how your words (or lack thereof) will be translated in their minds. Treat people with compassion by employing empathy. Create a space where people can bring their whole self to the team. Remember and celebrate milestones like birthdays, employment anniversaries, weddings and births.
No. 2: Step away from your desk. Roll up your sleeves and work alongside people. Experience what they experience. Challenge your assumptions. Gather context on what it takes for each person to meet performance goals by witnessing them in action. Andrew Carnegie once stated, “The older I get the less I listen to what people say and the more I look at what they do.” Gather insight from people’s actions on the front line.
No. 3: Question more and talk less. Engage in the role of coach, advisor, or thought partner. Use questions to call out and challenge people’s assumptions. Inquire about what is and is not working. Ask why. Clarify understanding and direction. Listen to what is not being said. Identify trends across team members. Clarify the big picture. When you are micro-managing, turn questions around and empower people to make decisions.
No. 4: Transparency builds trust. Deliver the truth. Provide context. Admit what you don’t know. Don’t speculate or create rumors. Don’t say something about someone else unless you have already told them directly. Stating you know something but cannot share it fosters power plays, breeds frustration and weakens collaboration.
No. 5: Get direct feedback. Ask your team directly how you are managing. Embrace their feedback openly and often. Don’t get defensive or make excuses. Just listen. Retain what is working. Reflect on what is not working and try a different approach. Pulse check your performance at the water cooler, over coffee or through desk-side chats.
No. 6: Remove obstacles. Identify barriers to your team’s performance. Brainstorm solutions together. Take the lead on removing hurdles. Verify that the obstacle has been removed. Differentiate between what is in your control versus what you can influence.
No. 7: Be authentic. Commit to being the best “you.” Humanize yourself by sharing and relating your personal and professional stories. Don’t change your character depending on the scene and audience. Be consistent. Be present or don’t show up.
No. 8: Push hard. Play hard. Challenge people to achieve their potential. Stretch their performance. Put more faith in people than they have in themselves. Make good better and stretch better to become the best. Set challenging yet obtainable goals. Listen to advertising guru David Ogilvy’s advice, “Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.” Celebrate victory at each milestone. Laugh. Have fun together.
No. 9: Focus and prioritize. Provide clarity on goals and direction on action. Drive efficiency and promote effective practices. Constantly prioritize to remain relevant and within a balanced workload. Set clear expectations. Maintain a scorecard. Put it all in writing as a desktop guide and reference it often.
No. 10: Feed people’s hunger. Consider John Quincy Adams’ wisdom, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Keep work fresh, engaging and challenging for your team. Acknowledge when greener pastures would elevate people and guide them there.
Overall, I believe that management is about getting grounded in why and focusing on how. Managers must understand the big picture (the why) to effectively guide their teams. They must also know how to operationalize a vision and strategy (the how) to efficiently get things done. When people on teams do not see the connection between their work and the bigger picture or purpose, they will often lose motivation and feel disconnected from the team and organization overall.
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