You’ve got to be better

This is a lightly edited version of a piece that originally appeared in my newsletter, Summer Reading 2020: On Management #44.

If you’re reading this, you may be in tech, media, VC, not-for-profit, higher education, government, or beyond.

Maybe you lead a team, HR, an organization — or you own a business. You’re probably in the US, Canada, the UK, or Australia. Or not.


I usually feel competent to share information that’s widely useful, based on experience and what I’m seeing Out There.

Right now, I have little sense for any sort of universal experience. Even here in the US. Even in my close cohort.

Some are safely working remotely, maybe challenged by home-work boundaries and child care. Others have been pressured to return to workplaces that may not be safe.

They’ve been let go, or work in organizations that are subject to rolling layoffs. Some are in job-search mode.

Others have gotten sick.

Right now, I only see one universal truth: you’ve got to be a better manager.

There’s no panacea. There’s no training, coach, newsletter, or book, that’s got you completely covered for this moment.

It’s time to practice what you already know. You can start by looking in the mirror:

  • Be sure that people know what’s expected. Are you talking with people individually, and aligning goals with current priorities? Do team members have goals? Are you providing regular feedback?
  • Get a handle on key projects and objectives. Does everyone know their role in moving things across the finish line?
  • Understand where your team is under-resourced. What projects or processes are in trouble? Can anything be dropped? How can your support make a difference?
  • Identify, if you can, whether anyone is struggling personally. This is tough. So many have been taught to hide when we have problems. Does your organization have an Employee Assistance Program?
  • When you have a management challenge, get help from a human. Can you list 3 experienced managers in your circle who will take your call? (Hint: your mom counts.)
  • Get feedback. “What can I do more/less often to make your job easier,” is a great question to ask team members in 1:1s. You are having 1:1s, right?

One of your best tools is your own moral compass.

Are you doing the right thing? Is the way you’re being treated okay? Are you treating others as you wish to be treated?

“Normal” is gone. It’s gone for good. We can’t be waiting to go back there. Our choices, in aggregate, will co-create our new normal.

Make good choices.

Image via @sketchplanator on Twitter; h/t Alex Wykoff, who tweeted it into my feed.

Making the Most of New Manager Training

People sitting at a conference tableAn earlier version of this piece first appeared in Slowness, Speed and Structure: On Management #31;  I’ve made some minor edits.  You can subscribe to my newsletter here.

So, you’re going to a manager training. You may/may not be stoked. How can it be a success? Spoiler alert: set some goals, for yourself.

That said, let’s start with your organization’s goals.

Here’s a not-secret about management development programs.

The list of skills you need to learn, and master over time, is not long. On theme with my chat with Bethany Crystal: this list is not evolving terribly fast.

This stuff is not brain surgery.

“Setting mission-aligned goals, using 1:1s to create relationship and accountability, giving actionable feedback, developing and coaching team members, and so forth.” (- one of my own recent descriptions of best practices *)

When your bosses send you to training, tbh, they aren’t always thinking about where management development fits into the organization’s strategic goals.

They’re thinking about how much time. How much money.

And they hope. They hope you’ll learn the practices and processes of management.

Mostly, they hope you will change.

There is a space between what you’re already doing, and what they hope. This gap can look like a performance shortfall. This may/may not be fair.

Mind the gap.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: figure out how you need to change. Because training won’t “install” a gap-fixer on you. You’ll have to do some work, with your community, by practicing.

1. Inquire. Ask your boss, your team members, “I’m setting goals for what I need to learn in manager training. What do you suggest?”

You may not get a good answer. Persevere.

Unearth feedback about your performance as a manager. Are there results from employee engagement surveys? Your last review?

You may need to read between the lines. Persevere.

Form a hypothesis about what you want to do differently after completing the training. Share this with others. Ask for feedback; revise as necessary.

2. Prepare. Preview the subject matter to be covered. Consider how the topic comes into play in your work. Develop questions around each topic.

Decide what you want to learn. Write it down. Share, ask for feedback, revise.

3. Engage. Use the instructor: bring your questions with you. Ask them.

Take notes, by hand.

Unless there’s an unfolding family emergency, stow your devices during the session(s), and mute your notifications.

4. Integrate. After the session, review your notes. What was new, or surprising? What do you disagree with?

What are your questions, now? Write them down.

Discuss your questions with a peer, your boss, or another manager in your life. (Hi, mom.)

The most important question: what will you put into action, in your work, starting today?

5. Mind the gap. If one could learn to manage people in a classroom, every MBA would be a great manager. #truth

So if you didn’t learn what you wanted to learn, it might be because you have to practice, in real life.

Or maybe you weren’t stoked, and tried to look like you were taking notes on your laptop. No shame, no blame.

Review your notes and materials from the training again. Get some direction from a manager or a mentor.

What can you put into action, right now? Figure this out, and then start to practice.

6.  Check yourself, before you wreck — well, everyone.

You know what?  After you’ve been managing for a while, you may start to feel that being a manager isn’t working for you.  You don’t like it.  You don’t want to improve.

You would not be the first.

Maybe you took the promotion, without understanding that the job requires a lot of previously invisible work.  It just might not be for you. That’s not your failure.

The failure would be to continue along in the role, faking it. You’ll be miserable, and so will your team members. This is one of those “call a lifeline” career moments. Talk this one through with someone you trust.

Photo:  wocintech (microsoft) – 173, by WOCinTech Chat on Flickr, under CC BY2.0.