Will you be found out?

The manager’s dilemma.

Recently I was having coffee with a friend who works at a well-established management consulting company near my house. He was telling me about a very uncomfortable conversation he had had earlier in the day that called into question one of his employee’s ethics. He thought he might have to fire this person. He turned to me and said, “You know, I have no idea what to do. I’m in way over my head.” 

I hear this all the time.

As a manager, you have more visibility, authority, autonomy and a bigger paycheck.

But sometimes it feels like you’ve basically added a second job that equals more scrutiny, more pressure, and, on top of that, accountability for other people.

Have they made a mistake by putting trust in your too-green self? Will you be found out?

Here’s what I think:

Being in over your head is a good thing. 

As soon as you get the feeling like you have no idea what you’re doing, sit up and take notice. These are the times you stretch and grow as a leader.

Instead of closing your office door and retreating, or hiding behind email, can you engage?

Who can you reach out to? Who do you know that can point the way out?

Can you use this opportunity to strengthen important relationships?

If you’re losing control of your team, how can you circle the wagons? Is there a lesson to be learned together?

Remember, you’re not the only one who feels in over your head.

As Todd Henry, the founder of Accidental Creative, says, “Everyone–no matter how successful and accomplished they are, or how big a front they put up– is making it up as they go, at least a little.”

How can you turn the feeling of being in over your head into useful energy?

My Wife Hates Bananas

We went to a banana convention. My wife really hates bananas. She can’t stand them. The texture, smell, look and even the suggestion of bananas make her vomitous. Even the best, most caring, highest quality farmer of bananas would not be able to convince her that bananas are something she should reintroduce into her life. Even the most erudite reading of the most interesting academic papers about bananas did nothing for her. She had to leave early.

It turns out, my wife is not the correct audience for a banana convention.

The hard truth is: sometimes people are not going to want your bananas. They’re not going to want what you’re giving them. No matter what. It’s not because they hate you. It’s just because it’s not for them.

But sometimes you find the banana lovers.

The trick is that your people are out there. The banana lovers. If you can find them and present them with exactly what they want, when they want it (the finest, yellowest, ripe bananas; now), they will go absolutely, uh, bananas.

Where do they congregate, your banana lovers?

The reason I’m thinking about bananas this morning is because last Monday I shipped a short, free, actionable guide to help new managers and first-time leaders panic less and gain confidence. It’s called New Manager Handbook.

(You can download it for free, if you’re into that kind of banana.)

People wanted it. In fact over 300 people have downloaded it in the past seven days with very little promotion or exposure (a link at the bottom of a recent post and a few strategic tweets).

I’m not saying this to show off or boast or something. After all, to some people that number would be tiny (to me it’s significant).

No, I say it to illustrate the simple fact that if you account for your gifts and offerings and align them with what people really need and want, the sky is the limit.

Sounds simple but this is something that has taken me anembarrassingly long time to figure out. How many years have I offered things because I wanted to offer them, instead of what people wanted?

Here’s the formula:

1. Know your audience
2. Learn what they’re clamoring for
3. Align with your gifts and give it to them

Who wants your bananas?


P.S. – Do you need a coach? Even this surgeon thinks you might.

Shut Up and Listen (And Other Advice for First-Time Leaders)

Unless you’re a solo freelancer, chances are you will eventually be thrust into a leadership position. As creatives, we must embrace this challenge and not shy away from it, as a fear of being a leader can subconsciously hold us back from advancing in our career.

Being entrusted with a leadership role in your workplace requires a shift in mindset. Leaders cannot afford to compartmentalize like the worker. They must simultaneously juggle the long- and short-term while inspiring those around them to do great work.

But being a great leader is hard, and great leadership is hard to understand. “Leadership” is a term that’s been abused. Everybody wants it, no one’s quite sure what it means. As a new leader, first try to adopt three specific (often counterintuitive) mindsets of good leadership:

  1. You may think you have to have all the ideas yourself and a direction worked out before assuming a leadership role. Fear not, you just have to shepherd the ideas to life. Instead, you must be a steward of people and ideas. Stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to you.
  2. Some people think leadership is a matter of consenting, as in politics, of choosing the lesser of two evils. But leadership is not all tact. Instead, have a point of view (or better yet, a worldview) and don’t be afraid to say it aloud, repeatedly. Say what’s in your heart. People are attracted to this quality. To paraphrase Steve Jobs: if you don’t have a burning desire to execute an idea or solve a problem, you’ll never stick it out.
  3. To become a leader you don’t have to excel at just one thing. Instead, put yourself in uncomfortable situations as often as possible. Stretch your parameters. This develops the improv muscle. A good leader can find comfort and calm — the still point — in any situation, and this skill only comes from taking smart risks.

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Click here to read the rest of this post at 99u.com

Give Good Interview: Shotgun Tips (re-post)

Interviewing someone for a job is a curious skill. It’s like cleaning a loaded gun.  You want to be meticulous about each part or you might accidentally blow your head off.

OK, it’s not actually lethal.

But it is a multifaceted skill. It’s intuitive in some ways but it’s also about preparation.  It’s about listening and simultaneously about evaluating what you’re hearing.  First, some useful axioms that I learned early on.

Axiom #1: An interview is a conversation with a purpose. So relax. Thinking of interviewing this way will go a long way towards making you feel and appear more comfortable and take a bit of pressure off the candidate . Be open to giving your impressions, respond to or reflect on what you’re hearing, and repeat things to be sure you understand.  You know, the kinds of things you might do in an actual conversation with someone.

Axiom #2: The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. While I’m biased to reject this notion (who says a person can’t flower?), over time it has proven to be pretty accurate.  Try to put what you’re hearing in this context.  What about a candidate’s behavior, the way he makes decisions or treats other people or comes up with solutions, can you glean from a particular answer?  Look for passions and initiative around those passions (whether in a professional context or not). These are clues for leadership and self-motivation.

To give a successful interview, do these things

Prepare. This may be stating the obvious but be sure you know what you’re looking for. Do a lot of work in advance defining your ideal candidate and the scope of responsibilities and the rest will go smoothly.

Have the position profile in mind but don’t be anal about it. You don’t learn much about a person if you’re just checking off skill boxes.  And you know that ideal candidate you envisioned?  He doesn’t actually exist. So leave breathing room.

Think about the business goals and strategy. Why are you hiring this person the first place?  What gap will the successful candidate fill?  What is the big picture business reasoning for the hire?  Does this person jibe with that?

Think about culture and fit. Always consider a person in the context of your workplace and staff. By the way, this does not mean you should hire someone just like you or your co-workers, but a complementary fit goes a long way towards success.

Your goal is to accomplish two things at once:

  1. Find out what the person has accomplished, how they describe themselves and who they are as people.
  2. Make some judgment about all that. Does it ring true? Are there inconsistencies in what they say and what you observe?  Is the person really aware of who they are, how they impact others, what they have learned?

Frame questions in an open-ended manner. Avoid yes/no questions at all costs.

If you’re interviewing over lunch or dinner, definitely give the dude a chance to eat. It’s polite.

Use “critical incident interviewing.” This is jargon for taking specific things a person has done and gradually peeling back the layers to get to a person’s true contributions by asking subsequent questions.  The aim is to learn how the candidate approaches or manages a situation, problem or challenge, and how he thinks about developing solutions for himself and those around him.

Ask at least one question about a specific incident in which a person used his or her influence to accomplish something. Most organizations work in teams these days and lines of authority often change. The ability to influence is important.

Spend time on values. What matters to the candidate?  What has he accomplished that holds particular meaning for him?

Get a sense of emotional intelligence. How does a candidate manage himself in a given context?  How does he manage others?  What skill does he have in understanding the viewpoint and perspective of others and conveying that effectively in action?

Ask for a brief review of work history with particular emphasis on the transitions from position to position. It’s very interesting to see where someone starts with this question and what details they choose to illuminate about why they made a move.  Ask how your position contributes to the trajectory of their career.

Focus on qualities of leadership. Look for independent thinking, vision, the ability to articulate it so others can understand, emotional maturity, courage and commitment, resilience, integrity, intellect.  Leadership is about stewardship: a sense of responsibility about others and the organization.  It’s about supporting the growth of others.

In the end, interviewing is a pretty harrowing experience.  You’re spending a relatively short time with someone to then hand over the keys to the kingdom.  “Here, watch my kid.”  If the basic skills are evident, spend most of your time on issues of integrity and propensity for leadership, the things you can’t easily teach.

CC licensed drawing via DailyPic’s flickr page.

6 Ways to Build a Team of Do-ers and Decision-Makers

The death of strategic planning has been greatly exaggerated. But it’s true that we’re at a moment in time where top-down planning is less and less effective. Rather than set a plan and rigid parts to have others deliver on it, as a leader it’s more efficient to set strategic direction and then hand over incremental decisions to smart specialists. In Linchpin, Seth Godin uses the example of the fast and complex Japanese transit system which operates on schedule and on budget, not by top-down directive, but by a large pool of empowered employees making the best decisions in the moment. “Letting people in the organization use their judgement turns out to be faster and cheaper–but only if you hire the right people and reward them for having the right attitude.“

Construct an organization built for good decision-making and rapid iteration.

1. Set the table. As with the tipping point, there’s always a lot of behind-the-scenes greasing before the big visible result. Make sure you’re developing a culture that features baked in autonomy and rewards independent thinking and teamwork.

2. Hire leaders (or linchpins). Lots has been said elsewhere about how best to hire proactive employees but here are two favorite tips. 1) Learn “critical incident interviewing” and, like the cleaning products company, Method, 2) Hold tryouts.

3. Celebrate improvisation. In order to learn how to be spontaneous, it’s important to create a hierarchy that leaves room for failure. Think of good decision-making as a skill to be fostered in your organization just as you might keep employees up to speed with new technology or processes. It might even be a good idea to incentivize failure to encourage innovation.

4. “Brand” your mission. Every team should be be well versed in its purpose. A brand is purpose distilled to its essence. Is your mission as simple to understand as a good brand? If not, work on it. Do this relentlessly so that your employees are guided at all times by the team’s mission.

5. Allow freedom of movement. Employees never cite money as the #1 factor in determining work happiness. #1 usually has something to do with autonomy and freedom. If you encourage cross-functionality, knowledge sharing, openness on projects, you create an atmosphere of respect and openness.

6. Encourage side projects. Successful main projects almost always started out as side-projects. Think about it. I know of one company that held an internal product competition. Think about ways you can get employees solving problems that may not be directly related to their roles.