Nonrandom thoughts and mindful metaphors
There are many great quotes on management and leadership. We run across them all the time. Some stick with us, and some are carried away on the wind. In my life and my career, the handful of these nuggets I have managed to hold on to have one thing in common: all were taught to me by an authority figure, and all were given the repetition due great truths.
But pithy quotes alone aren’t sufficient. Truths viewed through the lens of experience become beliefs. Beliefs are almost always based on broader underlying principles. When these principles gel together and are given context, they become a creed.
Admittedly, I never intentionally sat down and said “today I am going to create my manager’s creed” (that would be contrived, and in my opinion, a bit strange). Rather, it developed over a period of months as I was reflecting on the absolute fewest components of success for both individuals and teams in the workplace. The teams I manage are familiar with my “Manager’s Creed”, but I’m pleased to share it more broadly in this post:
We’re going to…
Work hard, but not too hard.
Have fun, in context.
Make lots of mistakes – once.
Underlying Principle: Balance
Burnout is real. Most white collar workers in the U.S. are overloaded, over scheduled, and “always on”. I find myself living on the edge of burnout weekly, and it’s a constant battle to stay energized and maintain a positive attitude. My average workweek holds 20-25 hours of meetings, plus up to 5 hours in pre-meeting prep and post-meeting action steps. My office inbox tallies an average of seventy e-mails per day, about two-thirds of which are actionable. Assuming a 2-minute average response time, that means 7-8 hours per week spent just answering e-mail. If you’ve been following the math, you’ve realized that this recurring workload (the “80% time” for fans of the Pareto Principle) takes up almost all of a “standard 40 hour workweek” (what’s that, right?), before making time for the “real work” – the 20% of one’s efforts that require the most concentration and drive most of your results.
Unfortunately, for most managers and executives my situation is the rule, not the exception. I have several working theories as to why, but will leave that for another day. For this post, the point is that each employee has a different whelming point, where “busy but in control” turns to “buried and suffocating”. In terms of my creed, this is the point where “working hard” becomes “working too hard”. It’s a manager’s job to know his or her employees well enough to recognize the signs of the latter and help them to regain control. There are many ways to do this, but my favorite is helping them understand how to manage energy, not time (see this article by Tony Schwartz and his corresponding book).
Underlying Principle: Motivation
When I speak to a large group of employees, I often quip that CFO stands for “Chief Fun Officer”. I absolutely want my employees to have fun at work. In my opinion, every manager should. However, it’s important to define “fun” in a career context. The fun I want to bring is not bocce ball in the break room, birthday potlucks, or corn hole in the hallway. The kind of fun my creed envisions encompasses three elements:
Being Intrinsically motivated – in his book Drive, author Dan Pink discusses the true elements of career satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Endeavor to bring these to your team – but it will take some effort…it’s harder than you might think.
Collaborating as a team – not only does teamwork drive better results, it also boosts morale and job satisfaction.
Celebrating wins – According to Elton and Gostik, fewer than half of managers even try to recognize their people – and they pay for it. Celebrating the small wins is imperative, both in terms of recognizing individual achievement as well as departmental and company successes. After all, recognition from one’s boss is certain to bring a smile to any teammate.
Underlying Principle: Process
In his book Forbes Best Business Mistakes, my friend Bob Sellers notes that “making mistakes and learning from them is an essential part of the process that leads to success”. I love this quote for two reasons:
First, it highlights the learning part of missteps. Everyone makes mistakes, but it takes intentionality to learn from them so as to not repeat them.
Also, it acknowledges that learning from one’s mistakes is part of a process of continuous improvement where success is attained in large part by eliminating the possibility of failure.
Personally, I despise making mistakes. So when I do make one, I vow to never make that mistake – or a similar one – ever again. I examine the process that led to the mistake, and I make changes and insert controls to eliminate the possibility of repeating the error. Two of the most powerful process controls are checklists (see The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande) and having a “second set of eyes” – thoughtful, detailed review from a colleague you trust.
As my staff know, mistakes are expected. After all, we are human beings – not computers. However, they also know that they are expected to learn from their mistakes and adjust their process accordingly. Making the same mistake twice is a major offense.
Underlying Principle: Development
In his book Love is the Killer App, author Tim Sanders posits that success and career fulfilment come through sharing one’s network, knowledge, and compassion. It’s increasingly difficult to share something you don’t have, thus the importance of consistent personal and professional development along these contexts:
Developing one’s network builds Social Capital. Note that network building is very different from the traditional view of networking. The former is about giving, the latter about taking.
Developing one’s knowledge builds Intellectual Capital. There are no shortcuts on this one. Knowledge comes from the intentional study of topical content for the express purpose of discovering new concepts (book knowledge), and then kneading those concepts into one’s work and life when the opportunity arises (applied knowledge). For ideas on building a balanced content consumption strategy, see my March 2015 post.
Developing one’s ability to show compassion builds Emotional Capital – goodwill that makes you a person of influence sought out for your advice and counsel.
Lifelong learning and development also provides confidence, hones one’s “smell test” and builds self-worth – all important characteristics of top managers.
After over 40 years without one, in 2005 the Navy SEALs adopted the SEAL Code, their first formal creed. Despite a strong ethos forged by training and shared combat experience, much of the SEALs’ raison d’être was unwritten. So why create a creed? Mark Divine, founder of NavySEALs.com, puts it this way: “It became clear to the SEALs that they needed a more comprehensive creed that was not subject to interpretation and erosion over time…a durable, written code.”
BINGO. While today’s knowledge workers aren’t called upon to rappel from a Blackhawk Helicopter, lay down cover fire, or run for miles through knee-deep water with a boat atop their heads, we nonetheless can benefit from a durable, erosion-proof mantra to focus our minds and hearten our sense of purpose. In other words, we need a creed.
The SEAL Code closes with “Earn your Trident every day.” A powerful statement of unwavering commitment to an exceptionally high standard. Managers would do well to adopt this attitude. We only have one reputation, and it must be earned daily. How exactly do we do that?
Work hard, but not too hard.
Have fun, in context.
Make lots of mistakes – once.
I like it. Mistakes frustrate me but I have come to realize some of them are inevitable in my growth, and sometimes even make me laugh. Having fun is crucial.
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