Long before I founded Midwest Consulting Group in 1990 I worked in a variety of organizations in management roles. One thing I noticed was the presence of people who seemed to be in fear much of the time. I came to understand that Fear is a reality in many working environments. You may define workplace fear differently, but what I sensed and saw were some of the following fears:
- Fear my boss will fire me; I could be without a job, lose my house, etc.
- Fear people will realize I don’t really know what I’m doing.
- Fear others will think my ideas are silly or unworkable.
- Fear I’ll be viewed as not a “team player” if I disagree with plans or priorities.
- Fear I’ll make a bad decision, support an unsuccessful initiative, or chose the “wrong side” in disputes within the team.
- Fear of . . . some unknown something that might happen someday.
Recently I worked with a nonprofit arts organization where most of the above fears seemed to be operating. Even the director exhibited some level of fear. As you can imagine, the atmosphere and energy around the group was decidedly negative; people were constantly watching their back.
In “The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers” Freedom from Fear is described as the “foundation” of Skill 3 – Building Successful Relationships. When the relationship is one based on Fear, the higher-level aspects – honesty, trust, personal interaction, acceptance, good communication, development and growth, mutual benefit – simply cannot happen.
Over the next several posts we’ll examine the components of successful relationships. As our colleague and coach Mary Jo Asmus says, “It’s all about the relationships.”
If there is one thing General Dwight Eisenhower learned during his military career it was this simple fact: the only person responsible for getting the job done, no matter what that job may be, is you!
That’s why “Managing Yourself” is Skill 1 in The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers. If you can’t manage yourself – your workload, your projects, your tasks . . . then how can you be successful at managing others?
Long before he become Supreme Commander Allied Forces Europe prior to D-Day 1944 he began to use what eventually became called “The Eisenhower Box.” When Stephen Covey modified it in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” he called it the “Four Quadrants”
Whatever you choose to call it, the Eisenhower Box has two Axis: Urgent and Important. Using this matrix you can classify nearly everything you have on your plate as falling in one of four categories:
- Urgent & Important – Things you must do – critical issues that command your attention
- Urgent & Not Important – Things you can delegate to someone else
- Important & Not Urgent – Thing you must decide about – who & when?
- Not Important & Not Urgent – Things you can delete; not do; forget about
Eisenhower used this matrix every day, listing the issues he had in front of him on this form. Then he used this approach to help him manage himself every day, whether he was General Eisenhower or President Eisenhower.
Give this simple yet powerful tool a test drive for a couple of weeks. Where would you place all the projects and tasks on our plate right now? What are you committed to accomplish in the next week? What could you delegate to someone else on your team who is read for a new challenge? What could just be dumped in the circular file as not worth the effort? After all, it’s up to you to determine what you will do today, tomorrow, and beyond.
I need to make a confession. Frankly, I’m biased against the term “boss.” It’s an old label from the days when the person in charge of a crew or group of workers really did “boss” them around. “Do this! Do that! Do it this way!” Although there are settings or situations when having someone clearly in command makes good sense – first responders in emergencies and military combat come to mind – the term is really outmoded today. Still, it is short, easy to say, and everyone knows what you mean when you refer to “my boss” as the person you report to within your organization.
The relationship with your own boss is one of the most important work relationships you have. When you and your boss are generally on the same page, have good rapport, and communicate reasonably well, you’re much more likely to enjoy your job. On the other hand, if your relationship with your boss is strained, you don’t have good communication, and your ideas about how to get things done are substantially different, your daily interactions can quickly become conflict-ridden and, well, a grind.
What kinds of expectations do you think your boss has of you? What are the things you generally do to keep your boss in the loop? Some expectations a manager might have of you as their direct report are pretty universal, such as “Know your responsibilities and carry them out effectively without a lot of detailed instructions.”
What other specific expectations do you think your manager has? If you aren’t sure, maybe it’s time to ask – having a conversation about what you think they expect and what they actually do expect might be a highly useful discussion. After all, if you aren’t clear about what is expected, it’s going to be difficult to be effective as a supervisor or manager.
We live in a world that’s dynamic, fluid, and fast-paced. Priorities change and external events present new challenges. Try sitting down with your boss. Say to them, “Here are the things I’m currently working on. Here’s my perspective on what you expect of me in my current role. I just want to make sure we’re on the same page about priorities and whether you think I’m focusing on the right things.”
Help your boss manage you. It might just be the most important thing you do this year.
What do you think?
In the late 1990’s I had the pleasure of teaching in George Washington University’s executive programs. And that’s where I got to know Perry Smith. As a retired Maj. General, author of numerous books, veteran of 180 combat flights in SE Asia, fighter wing commander, former director of strategic planning for the U.S. Air Force, former commandant of the National War College, Ph.D., former military expert of major TV networks, and all around high-level thinker, Perry is an interesting guy to be around. He is definitely not your average kinda guy.
Perry’s a great guy for checklists; things to handle, work on, get better at, pay attention to . . . One of his “useful phrases for leaders” that has stuck with me is a simple yet incredibly profound statement:
“Help me discipline my In-Basket; don’t send me issues you are competent to decide.”
Think about the implications of his statement and what it says to your employees. It works well on several levels:
- It says, “There are issues that fall within the scope of your job and expertise, and I think you can figure out which issues those are and what needs to be done about them.”
- It says, “I’m confident in your ability to make good decisions on those issues and implement them.”
- It says, “When you face an issue that you think I can help with, let me know how I can best do that.”
- It even says, “You decide what to keep me informed about and when to do so.”
What an affirming, empowering viewpoint!
How many times have you said to yourself, “it’s just easier for me to do this myself than to take the time to teach someone how to do it.” What would it take for you to honestly be able to say Perry’s phrase instead of yours?
PS – now a young 81, Perry has always reminded me of the Energizer Bunny; he just keeps on going. If you want to learn more about this remarkable man, take a look at his website.
We seem to have this notion that becoming a supervisor or stepping into a middle management position is an irrevocable shift from being “one of us” to becoming “one of them.” Certainly our formal organizations – corporations, universities, government agencies seem to work that way. Many nonprofits too, for that matter; especially the large ones.
Supervising and managing is, frankly, not for everybody. And yet our organizations are set up in a way that basically says, “If you want to make more money and have a more secure future for your family, you need to become a manager.” I guess that may make sense to those that run larger organizations; certainly it was the path I chose for much of my career, since I worked in large organizations.
Suppose you’ve stuck your toe in the “supervision pond” and maybe even jumped in with both feet. There’s lots to like about management, but perhaps you miss the thing that brought you to the organization in the first place. Maybe that was direct contact with customers or clientele. Maybe it was the hands-on “making” of something; you, creating something of value. So where is it written that when you become a manager you no longer can do the things that attracted you in the first place?
I think it makes great sense for every supervisor, every manager, to stay in touch with their roots. Keep a hand in the game, an oar in the water to make sure you are connected to the folks that make it happen out there every day; the people making the products, delivering the services.
In the University world, presidents often make sure they continue to teach a class or two in their field, CEO’s take time to get out of the executive suite and see what’s going on in the trenches. Managers make sure they keep connected to their core interest by spending time with their sleeves rolled up.
Makes sense to me. What do you think?
Recently I attended the monthly meeting of InterCom, the organization for professional communicators in SW Michigan. InterCom has become a must-attend for me in recent years because of the quality and variety of the monthly programs.
March’s meeting featured Renee Shull of integrated play. The couple of short “building” exercises she had us do using Lego blocks was certainly fun. It was also revealing as she explained the use of the small blocks as a metaphor for our perceptions about success and work. But what particularly struck a chord with me was when she talked about the need to remake herself after a career in corporate HR and how it led her to working with former NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA athletes. Renee has built her business on helping former athletes and others create successful transitions from their current career to whatever comes next for them and their families.
As she pointed out, some professional athletes have a relatively short career and in their 20’s or 30’s realize there is going to life after the playing field or arena. The average NFL career is 3.5 years while the average in the NBA is 4.8, the NHL is 5.5, and MLB is 5.6 years, so it’s clear that most professional athletes are going to need to do something else at a relatively young age. Long-lived playing careers, such as Derek Jeter’s 20 years as the New York Yankees’ shortstop are unusual to say the least.
Thanks, Renee, for a fascinating and fun InterCom meeting. And best wishes for continued success with integrated play. For the rest of us, this is a good reminder to keep working on Skill 8 – Growing Yourself.
What’s next for you?
Whenever we see performance problems the culprit frequently involves expectations. Someone’s expectations about what was to happen did not get met. Those might involve results, behaviors, communications, relationships, or a combination of unmet expectations.
Expectations are often unstated or implied, the person “expecting” certain behaviors or results rarely has been explicit about the specifics of the expectation. Far too often the offending party has no idea what they have done wrong, and when an expectation goes unmet for days, weeks, or even months, the relationship sours, perhaps to the point of somebody losing their job.
Expectations come from a variety of sources, for example:
- Employees have expectations about how their manager communicates with them.
- Managers have expectations about when an employee needs to ask for input or permission and when the employee can act on their own.
- Customers have expectations about the relationship with your organization, including how and when you will communicate with them.
- Peers and co-workers have expectations about the relationship and communications between you and them, as well as between your unit and their unit.
Those are simply a few examples of where there are expectations, but you get the general idea. And in many instances the expectations are strongly held but completely unstated. Think about what kinds of expectations might be operating in your particular situation. What expectations do you have about how your subordinates are to behave and which of those expectations are merely implicit? How often has an expectation not been met but you’ve said nothing to the employee? Look at some of the examples below:
Managers Expectations – samples:
- Be flexible in responding to shifts in priorities or direction
- Suggest improvements to will help the organization be more successful
- Keep them in the loop about what is happening in your unit
- Be a self-starter, honest, trustworthy, and reliable
Employees Expectations – samples:
- Manage under-performers so they either succeed or leave
- Listen to their ideas, concerns, problems, and proposed solutions
- Keep them informed about things that have a bearing on their work
- Provide clear information about what you expect them to do
Peers Expectations – samples:
- Pull your share of the load; make sure your team does too
- Train and develop your staff
- Be an active member of the team; provide ideas, suggestions, feedback
- Share information that helps others get the job done successfully
These are just a few examples of typical expectations; you can easily come up with others. And there may be expectations unique to your own organization. Yet time and time again these kinds of expectations are not communicated to the key people you work with every day. What would happen if you sat down with your boss, your employees, your peers and had a real conversation about expectations? Do you think it might help people work more cooperatively, more positively, more successfully?
I think so. What do you think?