What Are Your Key Relationships?

Mary Jo Asmus, my long-time colleague, coach, and friend frequently reminds us, “it’s all about the relationships.” As we work with management teams and individuals one question that deserves asking is, “which relationships are most important to you?” It’s a simple question, but one that really does benefit from thoughtful consideration. After all, not every relationship in your work and your life is equally important to you and to your success. And yet, one of the major reasons the failure rate for newly promoted or hired managers is so high (40% in the first 18 months!) is failing to build cooperative working relationships with employees or peers.

Your Manager – In most cases the relationship with your manager . . . your boss . . . is pretty high up on the importance scale. During several decades of working in organizations I reported to a variety of different bosses. Some were excellent managers; some were mediocre managers, but all of them gave me a fair amount of freedom to do my job as I thought best. That freedom was great, but it also meant I seldom had much in the way of detailed expectations about what they wanted.

If your particular boss is a big-picture person – intuitive, future-oriented, a bit bored by all the details, you’re unlikely to get a lot of specific details . . . well, about much of anything, to be truthful. That means getting the details figured out is up to you. If your boss has a constant laser-like focus on the details of your job, good luck – you are working for a micro-manager. Regardless of their style, it just makes sense to pay attention to building and maintaining a healthy relationship with the one you report to.

Your Peers – You also have key peers . . . other supervisors or managers who are generally on a similar level in the organization. Maybe they are “upstream” or “downstream” from your unit or team. In other words, their team’s results or output has an important affect on how you and your team produce your results. Or, the peer’s team may be the primary recipient of your team’s output. In either case the relationship between you and the peer (and realistically between your team and theirs) is really a key relationship.

Your Employees – Almost certainly your direct reports . . . your employees . . . are important relationships for you. After all, the results they produce have a huge impact on how you are perceived as a supervisor. Great results and you are viewed as a good manager. Crappy results and you are viewed differently. Perhaps a long-time employee is about to retire and you need to do some succession planning so you don’t lose their experience and wisdom when they walk out the door. Maybe a new member of the team seems to be struggling to find their place in the group. Whatever the current situation, building successful relationships with your employees has a direct bearing on your success as a supervisor or manager.

Assessing Your Relationships

It makes sense to give some thought to the relationships in your professional life. Which are the “key” relationships? Who are the people whose good opinion you value the most? Who has the ability to help you or hinder you professionally? Once you are clear about which relationships are most important, then you have to ask yourself to honestly (and I mean being really honest) about the current state of those relationships. Which relationships could use some improvement? Is there a key relationship that needs work if you are going to be successful in your current job?

How would you rate each of your working relationships on a scale of 1 – 5? A 1 or 2 would indicate lots of room for improvement, while a 5 would be a successful relationship . . .  good communications, high levels of trust, the ability to count on the other person’s support, the willingness to resolve questions and issues cooperatively . . . all those factors that go into building successful relationships.

Give the questions some thought. Next time we’ll have a few suggestions that may just help improve a key relationship or two.

Paul

 

Managing Your “Boss”

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?

Paul

Employers and Employees

The Kalamazoo Gazette on Friday, September 10, contained a Viewpoint by Karen Momber titled “In today’s work environment, employers hold all the cards.” In her Viewpoint, the writer paints a thoroughly negative image of employers as nasty, mean-spirited, scheming, abusive, unethical, and downright evil. I have no idea where Ms. Momber has worked in her career, but it certainly has not been in any place I’ve ever seen.

With more than 20 years of working, teaching, training, and advising hundreds of organizations and thousands of managers all over the U.S., I have found the vast majority of employers and managers to be the opposite of Ms. Momber’s description. Sure, there are lousy jobs and crummy managers. Some actually are jerks. Unfortunately, the writer uses a broad, all-encompassing brush to paint a wholesale indictment of business organizations and those who own and manage them. If personal experience has informed her views, she has my sympathy. But I believe the portrait she depicts represents a tiny fraction of the private sector.

The vast majority of managers understand that building and running a business means generating a reasonable profit over the long term. Otherwise, the business simply disappears, taking everyone’s job with it. They also understand that treating employees well yields much better results than treating them poorly. Employees who are treated as Ms. Momber describes will be minimally productive and will leave the first chance they get. If enough employees do this, the business ultimately disappears.

In any event (and thankfully!), organizations and managers that embrace “The 8 Essential Skills” don’t look anything like Ms. Momber’s Viewpoint. In the unfortunate event that your employer or manager does look like she describes, buy a copy of the book and leave it on their desk. You’ll be glad you did!

Order your copy today at Amazon.com

Skill 2 – Communicating for Results

There’s no question in my mind that Communicating for Results is Skill 2. If Managing Yourself is the foundational Skill 1, then being an effective communicator stands between you and the rest of the 8 Essential Skills. Far too often when we see a supervisor or manager fail, that failure is driven by poor communication skills. Think about the four essential facets of Communicating for Results:

  • Speaking
  • Nonverbal Cues
  • Writing
  • Listening

Regardless of your purpose, you want to create, transmit, and receive information as effectively as possible. At the same time, you want to build understanding and enhance your working relationships. And if you are unable to get your ideas and expectations across clearly, you are not going to be successful as a manager.

What do you think is involved in effective communication – Communicating for Results?

“The problem with communication . . . is the illusion that it has been accomplished. George Bernard Shaw

“The quality of your communication is determined by the results you get.” Tony Robbins

Next Time:  Stories from the Trenches

That Derailment Thing – Again

Our friends at the Center for Creative Leadership have studied the reasons behind managers derailing and crashing. It seems to come down to three things: 

They don’t successfully adapt during transitions

They are difficult to work with

They fail to lead in a team-centered way

As I look back at supervisors and managers who derail somewhere along the line, I see lots of examples of people who failed due to one, two, or occasionally all three of these reasons. How about you? Can you think of examples that stand out in your own career?

Why Managers Fail – 6

Recent posts have described five reasons why 40% of the superivors and managers moving into a new position are likely to fail within the first 18 months in the job. The sixth and final reason is:

Maintaining an Inappropriate Work/Personal Life Balance

Having balance in your life is generally viewed as desirable. It means taking time to build and nurture your family and other personal relationships as well as your professional network. It might mean volunteering in your community for a cause you believe in. And, yes, it means actually taking vacations. Balance means working hard but not becoming a workaholic. Research has shown that if your workweek regularly goes beyond 52-55 hours, your ability to be productive and make good decisions goes downhill quickly – something that no organization wants. Routine 60-70 hour workweeks are a recipe for disaster.

There will be times when a long week (or even a few long weeks) might be necessary, but you can’t effectively sustain that kind of schedule without paying a severe price personally. A failed marriage, missing your children’s lives as they grow up, and generally not having a life other than work are the results of inappropriate balance. At the same time, if your boss can’t count on you to be at work regularly because you are always gone with a family emergency or crisis, you’ll be viewed as someone who isn’t reliable. In the end it is, after all, a question of balance.

How’s your work/personal life balance?

Why Managers Fail – 5

 Another reason the failure rate for supervisors and managers is so high has to do with your ability to do your job within the context of the organization’s culture and way of operating. The fifth reason cited by CCL’s research is:

Lacking Internal Political Savvy

We may complain about it, but the reality is what we call “office politics” is often simply the relationships that help move an organization ahead. Having internal political savvy means understanding how decisions are made, who has real (positional) power, and who the informal leaders are in your organization. As a manager and leader it’s essential that you build a solid internal network within the organization, and that you know how an agenda you’re pushing will affect other parts of the organization.

An important part of political savvy is the approach and tone you use. Constantly raising issues in an aggressive, complaining, tactless manner will be seen as being a P.I.A. (Pain In the Ass) by those above you in the organization. As one executive recently said, “If you are constantly in my face, run me down to others behind my back, and generally behave as a pain in my rear end, why would I want to promote you?”

In every organization there are ways to get things done, raise issues, make suggestions, and transmit important information. Having internal political savvy means understanding how to effectively communicate and interact with others in the organization. Being successful does not mean kissing ass, being a toady, or a yes-person but it does mean understanding how to do a good job within your organization.

What do you think?

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