What great managers do: Prune

Being a great manager and English gardening have more in common than you might imagine.

If you want to improve your leadership skills, there no shortage of analogies that have been made about great managers.

A great manager is a “coach,” a “captain of a ship,” or even a “human shield.”

However, I heard a more unlikely comparison about leadership made on our podcast, The Heartbeat, when I interviewed David Cancel, CEO of Drift. He told me:

“I kind of think about most of this stuff as English gardening. If you want an English garden most of the work is actually the pruning and the taking care of. It’s not the planting, it’s not the plant selection. It’s this constant pruning. The day that you stop pruning is the day that the garden is full of weeds and overrun.”

I found this to be a brilliant analogy on several levels.

Keep reading “What great managers do: Prune”

Am I micromanaging my team?

Here are the 5 most telling signs of micromanagement – and what you can do instead.

I won’t tell anyone:  You think you might be a micromanager. Argh. If there were scarlet letters for a bad manager to wear, “m-i-c-r-o-m-a-n-a-g-e-r” would be among them.

But, how do you know if you’re a micromanager, for sure? 

Yes, you can directly ask your team members if they think you’re micromanaging them. If you have a direct report who has a penchant for shooting you straight, I highly recommend this. (In fact, when we asked through Know Your Team to 606 employees across 61 companies, “Do you feel micromanaged?” 12% said “Yes.”)

But it’s also probable that your direct report might not concede the truth. You are their boss, after all. And telling a boss they’re a micromanager is the equivalent of, well, slapping them in the face. 🙂

Keep reading “Am I micromanaging my team?”

The hardest leadership advice to follow

We all know we’re supposed to “work on the business and not in the business” as a leader… but what holds us back? And, how do you exactly put “stepping away” into practice?

“Work on the business, not in the business. Pause. Step back. Take stock. Reflect. “

This is some of the most ubiquitous advice I’ve received from leaders on our podcast, The Heartbeat, over the past few years. Yet, as often as it’s repeated, I wonder how often it’s followed.

I’m writing about myself here, namely. Yes, conventional wisdom says to “sleep on it”, to step away from the work to get a fresh perspective on it. And yes, I’ve vigorously nodded my head in agreement whenever someone espouses something along those lines. But, if I’m being honest with myself, how often do I personally act on that recommendation?

For the longest time, my answer has disappointingly been, “Not often”. Prior to last year, I didn’t regularly set aside blocks of meaningful time for myself to reflect on the business. When faced with a critical decision to make or a tough situation to resolve, I plunged myself deeper into the work.

“More, harder, faster” was my default setting. Is it yours, too?

Keep reading “The hardest leadership advice to follow”

The value of conflicting advice: How great leaders think

Here’s one way to create more mental wriggle room for yourself in tough situations as a leader.

Before you figure out what to do, you must first figure out how to think as a leader. 

But what if you’re not even sure what to think?

A direct report who’s well-liked by the team is underperforming, yet you can’t get a good read on the severity of it because this person is so popular. How do you figure out what’s truly going on? What do you tell your direct report? Should you consider finding someone else to fill the role?

Someone recently joined the leadership team who you’re pretty sure is going to be the downfall of the company, but no one else quite sees it yet. Are you even correct to think this? Do you say something if you are correct? If so, how exactly? 

What to make of situations like these? It’s like someone put you in a box that you didn’t choose to be put in. You don’t have any wriggle room. Every option seems no-win.

Keep reading “The value of conflicting advice: How great leaders think”

Your leadership weakness is being “too controlling.” What to do?

17 phrases and suggestions to avoid the common leadership weakness of coming across as too controlling as a manager.

Recently, a manager told me how he’d received feedback from his team about his greatest leadership weakness. “I come across as too intense or controlling,” he admitted. 

Genuinely concerned, he then asked me, “What can I do to not be that way?”

Among all the feedback we receive as managers about our leadership weaknesses, coming across as “too controlling” might be one of the most difficult to swallow.

You get that stuck feeling in your throat because, well, frankly, you feel like you need to be controlling, at times. You feel justified. After all, you just want the thing to get done! And record goes to show, sometimes it doesn’t get done. So how else are you supposed to communicate the urgency and significance of a deliverable, without coming across as “intense” and “controlling”? And who said “intense” and “controlling” should be perceived as a negative thing, in the first place?

Keep reading “Your leadership weakness is being “too controlling.” What to do?”

The 4 essential questions to ask yourself as a leader

Instead of seeking answers, becoming a better leader starts with asking ourselves the right questions.

You want the answer. The silver bullet, the trick, the hack, the leadership best practice, the new manager checklist. There’s got to be some secret point of leverage that you don’t yet know about to becoming a better leader… It has to be out there, right?

We’re obsessed with wanting to know the answer. The 1-2-3 steps to follow so we can right our wrongs and make progress faster.

Yet when it comes to becoming a better leader, I’m not convinced there’s is one. Scholars can hardly agree on the definition of leadership, alone. As Ralph Stogdill famously wrote in 1974, “there are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept.”

Keep reading “The 4 essential questions to ask yourself as a leader”

Do I truly want to become a manager?

We don’t ask ourselves this enough. Here are 6 critical questions to reflect on when considering if you should become a manager or not.

When we’re asked, “Do you want to become a manager?” we often assume there is only one answer.

“Oh, of course I want to be a manager.”

Right? Who doesn’t? Especially when becoming a manager is seen as the primary path of upward progression in a person’s career.

But do you truly want to become a manager? Management is not some sacred club reserved for the hallowed few. Rather, deciding to become a manager should be viewed as one might decide to become a garbage disposal collector or a parking meter attendant: If you’re doing it, you’re doing it for a reason. It’s not for everyone.

Keep reading “Do I truly want to become a manager?”

The 9 mistakes you don’t know you’re making as a new manager

As a leader, the most costly mistakes are often the most imperceptible.

I’ve never met you, but I’m going to make a guess about you:  You’re making leadership mistakes you don’t even know about. 

I don’t mean to sound presumptuous (or crass!). I’m in part reflecting on personal experience – I’ve made a boatload of leadership mistakes, myself.

More objectively, I’m citing probability: Gallup’s research on millions of managers over the past 7 years revealed that companies choose the wrong manager 82% of the time. And if that’s not disconcerting enough, they found only 1 in 10 managers possess what they describe “the natural talent to manage”. 

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Don’t solve the problem.

What makes a great manager isn’t the problems they solve, but the questions they ask. Start with these 16 questions here.

An employee comes to you and says, “I have a problem.” If you’re trying to be a great manager, what do you do?

Your initial instinct might be to roll up your sleeves. “Time to be the boss,” you think to yourself. You’re ready to step in, solve the problem and save the day.

Or something like that. You just want to be helpful.

In reality, your instinct is the opposite of helpful. Startlingly, when you jump in to solve a problem as a manager, it’s one of the biggest leadership mistakes you can make.

Keep reading “Don’t solve the problem.”

The 3 most effective ways to build trust as a leader

Based on data from 597 people, the best ways to build trust as a leader aren’t what you think they are.

How do you build trust as a leader? The answer seems intuitive enough.

For many of us, we hold company off-sites and run team-building activities. Informal lunches, monthly social get-togethers, and one-on-one meetings are part of how we build trust at work.

We also thank our team publicly and give employee recognition for a job well done. And, we strive to be transparent with company information during all-team meetings.

These are among the most popular ways to build trust because they work… Right?

Wrong.

Keep reading “The 3 most effective ways to build trust as a leader”