The Many Hats You Wear

From time to time it’s helpful to think about the multiple roles we play as a manager; it’s one of the reasons why the job is so challenging. And if we want to do it really well it can be a life-long endeavor. The typical roles most supervisors and managers play include the following:

  • Coordinator, planner, organizer
  • Teacher
  • Coach
  • Technical expert
  • Culture developer & keeper
  • Interpreter
  • Decision maker
  • Communicator
  • Quality guide & monitor
  • Team member
  • Team leader
  • Relationship builder

Recently we looked at the related roles of Teacher and Coach. Today I’d like to focus on the roles of Interpreter and Decision Maker.

Interpreter – Every organization develops routines and standards. From the gas station or shoe shop on the corner to the biggest governmental agency . . . from the local storefront church to the billion-dollar worldwide nonprofit agency . . . all organizations have rules, policies, and procedures. They may be formal and written or they may be informal and unwritten.

Whatever those rules are, as a manager you’re responsible for teaching, guiding, interpreting, and explaining the rules to each of your team members. What are the rules, policies, and procedures in our organization? How do we do the work and why do we do it that way? Merely handing down the rules and explaining how to carry them out isn’t enough; people need to know why so they can truly understand “how we do things around here.” Once they understand the what, how, and why, they’ll be much more likely to do what needs to be done in the way it should be done.

Decision Maker – Managers make decisions all the time. Who to hire . . . what to have them do . . . what tasks take priority over others . . . which team members should attend a new training program first . . . when to start doing something new . . . when to stop doing something that has been done in the past. Making decisions is part of every manager’s daily life.

Some of us enjoy making decisions, seek opportunities to make decisions, and make them quickly. Others seem to struggle with making even the simplest decision. They postpone, waffle, beat around the bush, and change their mind a dozen times.

Over time and with practice, you’re likely to get more comfortable with this role. You’ll see that making decisions too quickly can lead to consequences you hadn’t thought of. At other times you’ll need to make a decision quickly, before you miss an opportunity. Shoot from the hip? Sleep on it? Regardless of how you tend to handle them, as a manager you must make decisions.

When you interpret the organization’s rules, policies, and practices you provide crucial guidance that affects team performance. When you make decisions about what the team will do and where it will focus its attention, you’re helping determine the team’s direction and priorities.Understanding the true nature and scope of the job of the manager is critical to your success. And ultimately your success has a direct bearing on the success of your team and your entire organization.

 Paul

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Perry Smith’s Powerful Phrase

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?

Paul

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.

What If the Answer is “No?”

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?

Paul

Do You Really Want to be a Supervisor?

Being a supervisor . . . managing others . . . leading a program staff or production team where you work is often rewarding and energizing. It provides an outlet for your creative passion, and can be a very real way to contribute to your organization and your local community. And of course it can also be difficult, challenging,, disappointing, and a major pain in the neck (or some other portion of your anatomy).

Many times we think becoming a supervisor is more or less expected; the next step on our career. Moving from an individual contributor or team member role to managing a group is often viewed as a right of passage in the organization. That’s great if being a manager is what you really want. But there are so many other ways to make a positive and substantial contribution to your organization.

Taking on a new project, developing a new product or process, taking the new team member under your wing and teaching them how to get things accomplished, looking for ways to exercise your sphere of influence (see: “It’s All About Choices“) to help your team and the organization move forward . . . all examples of “leading” without becoming a supervisor or manager in a more formal sense.

So when the opportunity appears to move into a management role, take the time to ask yourself if you really want to be a supervisor or if there are other ways you can contribute in your current role. Get a good handle on the expectations for supervisors in your organization. Managing a team or a unit isn’t for everyone; make sure it is for you before you step into that role.

Think about it.

Paul

It’s All About Choices

I’m willing to bet that you have lots to do. At the end of the day, week, or month you can look back and spot all sorts of things that you could have accomplished but didn’t. You’ve clearly made choices about what to do, what not to do, what to pay attention to, and what to ignore or defer until later. You probably make hundreds of choices every day. The choices you make must answer three basic questions:

  • Who should address or resolve this issue? – you, somebody else, or nobody?
  • How important is this to me? Is this mission-critical to my job or not so important?
  • What is the best use of my time, talent, and energy right now? Handling this particular issue or something else on my plate at the moment?

I’m certain you have issues you can make decisions about, otherwise known as your “span of control.” These are decisions you can make on your own, choosing what seems best to you. For example, if something is within your span of control, you may decide to move ahead and keep your boss in the loop after the fact. If the issue requires sign-off or approval from your supervisor, then it clearly is not in your span of control; it’s in somebody else’s span of control.

You also have issues, challenges, problems, and concerns that you have some influence over, whether you realize it or not. This is your “sphere of influence.” These issues are outside your span of control; your position and authority don’t allow you to simply decide what to do. In this case you need the approval of someone else or the willingness of your boss to carry things forward. These issues tend to be things you care about and would like to see changed, but are outside your direct ability to make happen. So it pays to get good at raising issues, communicating critical information, and making recommendations so you can influence the person who actually can make the decision to make their choice the way you would like to see it made.

Learning to effectively use your sphere of influence has a great deal to do with the future scope of your span of control. Using and expanding your sphere of influence usually starts with your relationship with your own manager. You should quickly learn how they prefer to get your suggestions and ideas. Do they:

  • Need a lot of data or just a general overview?
  • Prefer to discuss your idea or issue, see it in writing, or receive it electronically?
  • Have a more receptive time of day?
  • Need to perceive any new idea as their own?

This is all about your ability to influence the future direction of your team or unit. The goal is to provide your manager with the information needed so their decision will go the way you want it to. Obviously, you need to provide your boss with information that’s truthful and complete. You don’t want to leave out an essential piece of information that could prove to be a problem later. That would brand you as someone who doesn’t think things through very well. Still, you can craft information and recommendations in such a way that they lead logically to the conclusion you prefer.

Often, supervisors and managers are frustrated by an issue or problem outside their span of control. So they toss the issue to their boss without thinking about how that person prefers to get input. When their boss ignores it, rejects the idea or makes a decision they don’t like, the frustration continues.

If you look back and can see you are not getting the results you want from your approach, it’s probably time to try a different approach. Ask yourself some basic questions, such as:

  • What is the real problem or issue? How can I best describe it so my boss understands the essential facts and generally sees the issue as I do?
  • What specific outcome do I want? If this issue was in my span of control, what would I decide to do?
  • Are there potential difficulties or problems associated with my approach? If so, what are they? What effect might they have on implementing my recommendation? (Hint – they often are political or “turf” issues)
  • What will be the benefits of following my recommendations?
  • What will the payoff be to the organization and its customers or stakeholders?
  • Who else supports my recommended approach?

Expanding both your span of control and your sphere of influence is a natural byproduct of experience. As you become more adept at managing yourself and the assignments, challenges, and opportunities that come your way, you “graduate” (David Allen’s apt term) and get to take on new, higher-level challenges. Because of the confidence you develop in your own abilities, this growth process can continue as long as you’re alive. But you have to start somewhere and where you are right this moment is a pretty realistic place to begin.

Ask yourself two questions:

  • What issues are really within my span of control?
  • What issues are in really within my sphere of influence?

Once you’ve identified the issues that are within your particular area of responsibility, then it’s a matter of choices – what are you going to do to move those issues forward to a successful resolution, and what issues do you choose to defer (maybe) until later?

Then once you’ve identified those issues that you care enough about to want to see move forward, then it’s a matter of who, how,and what – who needs to know about this particular issue, how do you want them to move forward, and what would you recommend they do?

I recommend you really think about it. What’s within your span of control and what’s within your sphere of influence?

Think about it and commit yourself to making good choices. Choose well and you’ll see your sphere of influence and your span of control expand.

Paul

Game Changer – ONEplace@KPL

ONEplace@KPL has become a significant Game Changer for nonprofit organizations in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Opened in 2009 with support from local funders including the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, and others, and with administrative support and facilities provided by the Kalamazoo Public Library, ONEplace is a management support organization (MSO) for nonprofit organizations. Their focus is on four key areas common to nonprofits:

  • Management – operations & program directors
  • Communications – marketing, public relations & media relations
  • Fundraising – individual, foundation & corporate support
  • Leadership – board & executive director

With leadership from director Thom Andrews and associate Lolita Moss, the list of professional development opportunities for nonprofit organizations is extensive and comprehensive. The list includes workshops, roundtables, webinars, interest groups, courses, and plenty of other resources.

At the same time a variety of  direct services, such as consulting, advising, problem/opportunity identification, and action planning are provided on a confidential basis. And because of the ongoing financial support of area foundations everything at ONEplace is available at no cost to the nonprofit organizations.

Several of us at Midwest Consulting Group have been involved with ONEplace since its founding. We love working with nonprofit organizations and the wonderful work they do; it’s a great way for us to give back to our local community.

Last week saw the kickoff of the 2015 ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy (ONLA) with a bakers’ dozen of Kalamazoo County’s best and brightest nonprofit professionals taking part. ONLA consists of nine monthly day-long group sessions, one-on-one work with an executive director mentor, and other activities throughout the year.

If you lead, work in, or volunteer with nonprofit organizations in Kalamazoo County, you owe it to yourself and the nonprofits you serve to check out ONEplace@kpl. They are indeed a Game Changer for nonprofit organizations.

Stay Tuned

Paul

360 Assessments Underway

Conducting a 360 assessment process is an important part of each ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy, and the data-gathering is well underway for the 2015 Academy group.

We’re using a pair of excellent multi-rater assessments, the Management-Leadership Practices Inventory (MLPI) and the Professional Communications Inventory (PCI) – [click here for more info]. Each Academy participant selects the 360 that best fits their situation and provides us with a list of people they want to ask for feedback. The scores are provided only to the Academy participant and individual rater’s responses are reported in aggregate, so confidentiality is assured throughout the process.

At the March session the group will receive the results of the assessment process. For many this will be the first time they’ve received this kind of feedback, and the enthusiasm within the group is pretty high.

When is the last time you got really honest feedback on what you do (and don’t do) as a professional?

Stay tuned,

Paul