Redefining Success

The way you define success radiates into many aspects of your professional and personal lives. What is your definition of success, as you manage your team? If your definition does not quickly come to mind, take a moment to create one now.
What is the primary focus in your definition of success? (For example, it can be bottom line results, a high performing team, your own career satisfaction or many other things.) Is your primary focus getting you to the success you desire? How is it influencing your performance and results? Take a look at this, because what you focus on is what you get.

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A Manager’s Monday Morning

Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day
The Mamas and the Papas, Monday, Monday song lyrics

What is it about Mondays? Sometimes you’ve rested over the weekend, sometimes not. It can be hard to gear up either way – whether you are tired from working on the weekend or if you were just getting into the weekend time off.
Mondays are a transition time. Recognizing this, you can treat Monday for what it is and consciously make the transition in a positive way.  What do you observe about the energy and mood of your team today? Does this give you any insights about their transitions?
Why focus on Monday morning? Because recognizing and managing your and your team’s transitions improves performance. The Monday morning transition gives you a good viewpoint from which to gain insights for managing transitions successfully.

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When Managing Becomes The Year of Living Dangerously

In the book and film, The Year of Living Dangerously, a young reporter tries to navigate political turmoil during a coup in Indonesia. In today’s climate, many managers are familiar with living dangerously. As a manager, you navigate budget reductions, uncertainties about the future of your organization, competitive agendas of other managers, heavy workloads and fluctuating markets.

Currently, you may not anticipate or recognize danger in your workplace. But, it can be there and you must be ready to deal with it when it shows up.  Often, there are no guides and allies, as there were in the movie. You are on your own. You must navigate for yourself as well as for your team. Paramount to being successful in this navigation is knowing the territory and the uncertainties you are navigating in. Our human instincts have built – in indicators of danger. What are the indicators of danger in your organization?

To be ready for danger know, to the best extent possible, what is happening in your organization. When danger shows up, identify what caused it, how upper management is dealing with it, what expectations they have for you and what risks the danger presents for you and your team. Acknowledge that you need a different game plan to navigate a dangerous time.

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When Manager Creativity is Hindered by Collaboration

Several weeks ago, I read Susan McCain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  It is a mind-changing book. In the book, she quotes Steve Wozniak’s memoir where he offers advice to kids who aspire to great creativity:

Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me – they are shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone where they can control an invention’s design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don’t believe anything revolutionary has been invented by committee.

What is your experience: is your creativity supported or hindered by collaboration? The business world is flooded with accolades for collaboration and working in teams. What Wozniak and Susan Cain point out is that some of us access creativity from within and creativity can be hindered by collaboration.

When it comes to manager creativity, discernment is called for.  Know how you access your creativity and when you need to, create on your own.  Find that time alone and honor your creative process.

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When Managers Are Clueless

Some managers appear to have no idea of what is needed for their operations to thrive. Sometimes their disconnect is so huge, it can stop you in your tracks.  They neither listen nor speak. Well, perhaps they speak, but are so disconnected they may as well not be speaking. What do you do when your manager is clueless? I suggest first determining, as best you can, if their apparent disconnection is the result of an agenda. Sometimes managers do not want to hear. They are pursuing their agenda or others’ agendas and what is needed for their operation to thrive is irrelevant. In this case, face reality and decide from there what you want to do about it. Beware of trying to convince yourself they care, when they don’t. In other cases, managers truly are clueless. What to do then? Well, you are not Sigmund Freud – I suggest not trying to figure out why they are clueless. Rather, find a way to communicate to them what is really going on and make suggestions of what they can do.

It is truly unfortunate that we have to deal with managers who are clueless.

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Seth Godin: Managers Are Not Leaders

Seth Godin posits in his book Tribes that managers are not leaders. He says managers manage by using the authority the factory has given them; that leaders don’t care much about organization and authority, they use passion and ideas to lead people. Later, Godin provides an example of a researcher at the Pentagon who acted as a leader and changed the way generals think about the military. If this can be done at the bottom, it can be done in the middle.

Managers must lead. They cannot let the organization constrain them. They must know the environment they manage in and figure out how they can make change effectively. It takes a lot to know the game and not get wedged in by it. Managers must transcend their organization and lead creatively.

If you are a manager caught in the chaos of an organization, step back.

Think strategically about how the change you want can happen. Consider the hinges that keep the organization together and which ones can be moved. Who are the movers in your organization? How do they make change? What is the language of change in your organization — profit? savings? bottom line? competitive edge? How does the change you want to see get communicated in that language? What is within your control and what is not? Do you have allies? Can you create a tribe to lead the change? Is there a tribe working against you?

Know your boundaries. Is the change you seek essential to your work? Will harm be done if it is not made? Can you live without it? How far are you willing to go in seeking it?

Act. Without leading, you atrophy. Leading requires agile, savvy steps. Keep your focus on people and results. Change the organization you are managing in by leading.

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Managing Your Priorities By Doing Nothing

Yes, sometimes you can best manage your priorities by doing nothing. What is a priority anyway? It’s a task at the front of the queue. The doing nothing comes in for tasks not in the front of the queue. Can you ignore these secondary tasks until your priorities are handled? Yes, you can. Because getting distracted, voluntarily or involuntarily, often ensures that nothing at all gets done.

One way to manage your priorities is to limit what you define as a priority. There can’t be too many of them in one day.  Schedule time to complete your priorities realistically, considering things such as “must go to” meetings. Your priorities may be big ones that can’t be completed in a day. If that is the case, “chunk them down” into daily tasks that move you forward to completion.

As I faced this issue of how to manage my priorities, I came up with a system that was very effective for me. At the beginning of each day, I would determine what priorities needed my immediate attention. I would schedule several tasks for that day that would move me forward on my priorities. I would limit the tasks I scheduled to things I could complete in half of my day. I would focus on these tasks until they were completed, not allowing distractions to derail me. Once they were done, I still had time in my day to do other things.  This system created movement and accomplishment and increased my capacity for focus and completion.

What about those distractions? You have to practice discernment and create boundaries to deal with distraction. True emergencies must be dealt with, but you don’t have to let yourself be thrown off course by “the crisis of the day”.  Sometimes distraction can be caused by overwhelm and not knowing what to do next. Doing nothing on non-priorities and non-emergency distractions allows movement. You will get things done. The distractions will minimize, both through sharpening your own focus and as others realize that your focus is on your true priorities.

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‘Round Midnight’ – A Marker for Balance

(a 1944 jazz standard by pianist Thelonious Monk)

Where you are ‘round midnight’ may tell you something about your life and career. As a manager, it is a given that you have a lot on your plate. Round midnight there are many possibilities-you are still working, you are worrying about work, you want to sleep but can’t, you are out partying, you are sleeping soundly, you are relaxing.

Life gets out of balance easily. Boundaries are essential. Fantasy is a killer-you must face the realities and truth of your responsibilities, if you are to find balance.

Where do you want to be ‘round midnight’?

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“Make It Happen” – Are You Ready to Lead?

As a manager, how often do you hear the phrase “Make it Happen” in your workplace?  Translation: “Get it done, I can’t help you.“ Sometimes you hear it because your boss wants you to be more resourceful and independent. Other times, you hear it because your boss cannot help you, but still wants you to get it done. In the latter case, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have what you need – the pressure to deliver is forcing your boss to force you.

If you can be more independent and resourceful, stretch and get it done. If the reality is that you do not have the resources, support or what you need to get it done, how do you respond? Here are some things to think about.  Look at the priority of this situation-does it warrant your attention at this time? If not, let it go and come back to it later. If it is a compelling priority, assess what is possible with what you have. Can you push a bit harder with your team and get it done? Can you do a quality job with what you have now? If the answer to these questions is yes, do your best and make it happen.  If the answer is no, it is time for you to lead. Use your brains, innovation and manager smarts to figure out a path forward. Will you say “no, I cannot, but this is what I can do”? Will you ask for help? Will you come up with an alternate plan?

Next time you hear “make it happen”, be ready to lead.

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