It’s Cherry Blossom season. And that got me thinking about one of my old bosses.
For the first half of my career, I was a software engineer. At one point, the team I was on had grown to where we needed to divide. There were too many of us for a single manager. One of my peers became my manager.
I have always made it a point to learn from the mistakes of others. I learned a lot from this guy. He made many of what I now understand to be classic first-time manager mistakes. (Side note: To all of you who had the misfortune of living through MY mistakes as a first-time manager, please accept my apologies, many years too late.)
One of the biggest mistakes this particular manager made was cherry picking the projects he wanted to work on, and then divvying out what was left to the rest of us.
1. (transitive) to choose or take the best or most profitable of (a number of things), esp for one's own benefit or gain
Up until this point, we had been equals, with a pretty fair distribution of fun and exciting projects between us. To go from that to picking up the leftovers was not fun at all.
Are you a “working manager?” Do you still do much of the same work as those on your team? Beware of cherry picking your projects.
Instead, seek to nurture your staff. Provide them challenges so they can blossom.
Have you seen or heard the ads for Zip Recruiter? They are running a major campaign in my area, with a steady stream of plays on both radio and TV.
Their message is clear: Hiring is hard. You have more important things to do. We make it easier and save you time.
I hate these ads. They perpetuate the belief that hiring is hard (it’s not). They reinforce a belief among so many hiring managers that they have more important things to do than spend it hiring (they don’t).
Hiring is not hard. But, it does require time, energy and effort.
Hiring is important. If you have a position on your staff that truly needs to be filled, then there is no more important task than devoting the time to finding the right person for the job. If you don’t find this to be one of your highest priority items, then you are saying by your actions that filling the position is not that important.
One of my former places of employment had a system for hiring that I came to appreciate. It was similar to the airline model of overselling seats on a plane. There would be a limited number of positions that could be filled, but they would allow more than that number of openings to be posted. It created somewhat of a race to fill your posted positions. It forced you as hiring manager to devote time and energy to the process. If you didn’t act quickly, your posted position could be shut out by someone else hiring faster.
While there were people who complained about this, it did enforce a truism: those departments that had real need to fill the posted positions found a way to devote the time and energy to make it happen. Those departments that dragged their feet and managed to continue to do their jobs as-is, demonstrated that they could get by just fine without filling that position.
When my kids were young, we took them to a local park for the annual Easter Egg hunt. It was more of a race than a hunt. Scattered around a field were plastic eggs filled with candy. The kids would line up on the edges of the field with baskets in hand, waiting. When the horn blew, the mad dash was on. Each kid went running onto the field to grab as many eggs as they could. There were only so many eggs to go around.
Some kids got it. They knew they had to run and act quickly. They walked off the field with overflowing baskets. Other kids were a bit slower to catch on. They stood back, watching. They’d eventually head onto the field, stuck with picking up the few eggs left behind, overlooked by those who went first.
Hiring is like this. It is a race. There are only so many candidates out there. It is your job to rush onto the field, cull through the candidates quickly and select those who will be the best fit for your team. If you hold back, if you spend your time watching, or looking up in the sky at the clouds and the birds, you’ll be stuck with only what is left over.
I am sure that Zip Recruiter, Indeed and their competitors do make the job of hiring easier. I am sure they provide a valuable service. But, let’s not allow their message that you have more important things to do become our operating model. Rush the field. Fill your basket.
3. a fixed or established mode of procedure or course of life, usually dull or unpromising
3. a fixed routine
Based on these definitions, you might say a groove is a rut without the bad attitude. A rut is a groove we don’t want to be in.
Sometimes what starts as a groove becomes a rut. Sometimes, a rut can transform into a groove.
If the Colorado River could talk, would it say it is more in its glory at the beginning of the Grand Canyon? Or would it be happier flowing through the vast caverns of the high walls it created?
Many times, the difference is a matter of who put us there. Is this something we do the same way every time by choice? Or are we doing this over and over again only because it is expected?
That’s not always the deciding factor. Airline pilots are well known for following a preflight checklist. They go through the same list every time. Yet, I’ve never known a pilot to complain about this being a rut.
Often, the only part we can control is our attitude. Is there something you have to do on a regular basis that has you feeling like you are stuck in a rut? Sometimes all it takes to feel unstuck is to change the environment.
Even a rut can be comfortable. A friend of mine says, “I like to get into a rut and decorate it.”
We all have coping mechanisms. Mine is music. The easiest way for me to get into a groove while doing a repetitive task that has me feeling like I am stuck is to put on some music. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly that will lift my mood.
What simple steps can you take to go from rut to groove?
I can’t remember the last time I was bored. There is never a shortage of projects going on at any given time. As a home owner, family guy and self-employed business owner, there is always something new coming up – from mundane maintenance projects to exciting new business ventures.
How long is your to-do list? We are constantly adding more to it. Sometimes this is by choice. Other times it is like having dinner at your friend’s house with the Italian mother who keeps heaping more onto your plate without asking. You don’t dare refuse.
The problem is, each new project takes away time from completing what is already in the works.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could complete one project before we start in on the next one?
I will admit that sometimes I take on a new project specifically as a way to procrastinate the next step on a current endeavor. This next step is going to be hard. I don’t know how to do it. Or, any other selection from a long list of excuses.
Perhaps you can relate.
Have you ever been to a potluck dinner? What is your strategy? Mine is to plan on two trips. The first trip is to grab a small sample of as many different things as possible. Then the second trip is to get more of the one or two things I most enjoyed. The trick is that when you go back for that second trip, you have to enter the line with a clean plate – either because you finished what was on it, or because you tossed the undesirable items in the trash.
Lately I have been applying this strategy to my to-do list. Each week I start with a fresh, blank to-do list – a clean plate. As I plan out the week, some items from the week before get added to the new list. But, many items that seemed so important last week don’t. By starting with a blank list each week, it forces me to reconsider which items are the most important.
I recently started a project to rebuild the screened porch on our house, replacing sections of rotted wood. Part of the preparation work involved removing all of the existing screens and the door from the frame.
One of our two dogs realized immediately that the door was no longer there and she could go in and out freely. This same dog also quickly realized that the screens were not there and she could go on or off the porch anywhere she wanted.
The other dog, the one shown in the photo above, was not so quick on the uptake. When he wanted to come in, he continued to stand at the now empty door frame and bark. For 3 full days, I had to go out to the porch and stand next to the empty frame before he would make the leap over the threshold. The first day, I had to mimic the motion of opening the non-existent door. He now goes through this empty doorway without further encouragement. But, he still uses the doorway, not any other open area of the porch.
Which dog are you?
We all have this tendency to varying degrees. We have done something in a certain way for so long, it never occurs to us to try it a different way. Or, we have hit the same resistance so many times that we believe we can’t do it.
What barriers are standing in your way? Are they still there? Are you sure?
Where do you push the limits? And where do you watch each step, being careful not to offend?
As a comedy ventriloquist, specializing in corporate events, I am constantly challenged to determine where the line is that I should not cross with any given audience. One of the greatest skills of a corporate entertainer is to discern where that line is, and push against it without going too far. Where that line is can vary significantly from one group to the next.
My clients appreciate that my material is clean. Being somewhat of a Boy Scout by nature, what I consider to be edgy is still pretty tame. After all, I’m the guy who once ordered milk to drink at the Playboy Club (a story for another time…) While they appreciate that people don’t get offended, there have been times when the only complaint was that it was maybe too clean. So, lately, I have been pushing that line harder.
Recently, I performed for a large group that I knew would have a much broader definition of “acceptable” than my usual highly sensitive corporate audience. The event included an open bar – always a clue to a group expecting material farther away from a purely G rating – and it was being well utilized.
I came prepared with my most edgy material, specifically from my Gus character. Gus’ material runs the gamut from workplace acceptable office curmudgeon humor to his roots as a rough around the edges country boy at heart. He loves his beer. He’s far from blue humor, but even in the most politically correct versions of his routine, he rarely comes out to play if there are kids in the audience. So, it was a bit disconcerting when I saw a number of families with kids arriving for this particular event.
As the group continued to gather, I decided I’d better check the sensitivity meter with the client. He gave me the green light, telling me my understanding of the group was spot on, and that included the kids.
The show was a great success – including Gus. I received comments and notes from people afterward telling me how much their whole family enjoyed the show.
We can’t always check ahead of time. Sometimes we just need to put it out there and go for it. As a friend of mine likes to say, “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” I also have friends in the comedy business who say, “If at least one person wasn’t offended, you’re not trying hard enough.”
How does this relate to your work? How hard are you trying to find the line? Are you always holding back out of fear of possibly offending someone? Or are you willing to push harder, to probe, to find the line?
What I am discovering in pushing harder on the line with my comedy material is that the 98% of people who laugh appreciate that someone finally had the nerve to cross the line set in place by the 2% of people who were offended, because those same 2% have been blocking their progress.
I am not suggesting dropping more F-bombs, literally or figuratively. But, there is a case to be made for pushing the self-imposed limits that are holding us back. Be willing to be the one who crosses the line. You might be surprised how many people will cheer you on and follow your lead.
Have you ever drawn a line in the sand that you refuse to cross? What are your self-imposed limits? Are you OK with the consequences?
Here’s an example:
I was working for a company with headquarters in Reston, VA, near Washington, DC. My office was in a satellite office in Columbus, OH. I had teams reporting to me in Columbus and Reston. My boss was in Reston.
My boss made numerous attempts to get me to relocate to Virginia. Each time, I refused. Finally, I think in a fit of frustration, he said, “You know, David, staying in Columbus is a career limiting move.”
I asked, “Is it career ending? Or just career limiting?” He said it was only career limiting. I responded, “I’m OK with that.”
My family was well established within our community, the schools, and our friends. Columbus was our home. Uprooting my family and starting over in a new community was a line I refused to cross. The possibility of career advancement beyond the level I had already achieved was not worth it to me.
I have never regretted that decision.
When we come upon lines that we refuse to cross, we must consider the consequence and ask ourselves, “Am I OK with that?” If we are, then fine. But, if we really want what awaits us on the other side, we must pluck up our courage and take the steps necessary to step over that line.
In my scenario above, I was fortunate that it was a career limiting choice, not career ending. Had the consequences been different, I would have been forced to make a different choice – either to relocate or seek other employment.
Where’s your line? What are the consequences of not crossing it? Are you OK with that?
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, “Drop by any time. I have an open door policy.” I’ve even seen an executive suite designed with no doors on the offices to enforce the concept.
This is all well and good. But, I disagree. Strongly.
I believe in having a closed door policy.
Don’t get me wrong. I encourage people to drop by and talk about anything that might be on their mind. I welcome the conversation. Even if all you want to do is complain. Even if the person you need to complain about is me. Even if what you need to complain about is the person whose cubicle is right outside my office.
You see where this is going? Seems obvious, doesn’t it?
How can someone feel comfortable sharing with you their deepest issues and concerns if they are concerned others can overhear the conversation? Especially if the issue at hand is sitting right outside the office; or is best friends with the person sitting there. You get the picture.
It’s not always an issue of complaining. Sometimes the conversation is extremely private in nature. They might be having a crisis in their personal life. Some conversations are difficult to start in the best of circumstances, and nearly impossible to begin without a sense of privacy.
So, the first step is to create an environment of privacy. Close the door.
Here’s something I learned from raising kids. Let them vent. Let them scream. Let them express their frustrations. Then pause. … Wait a beat. … Breathe. … And then … Ask them, “What would you like me to do about that?”
Not in a sarcastic voice. An honest, caring, empathetic way.
It is amazing how many times an employee, a staff member, a coworker has come into my office and simply needed to vent. No action was necessary on my part – other than to hear them. Allowing them to vent, to blow off the steam that had built up to the point where they came marching (sometimes storming) into my office was all they needed. It totally defused the situation. They were then able to go about their day. Other times, there were things they would ask of me. But, they could only ask in confidence.
To facilitate that level of open conversation we must make it safe to say whatever needs to be said. And a simple way to do that is by closing the door.
My policy is simple. Come in. Close the door. Say anything you need to say. What is said there stays there. The only thing that leaves is the action (if any) that is needed to address the issue.
Give it a shot. Create your own closed door policy. Encourage people to come in, close the door, say what they need to say. Then, when the door opens, walk out with a fresh perspective.
Many years ago I was involved in a corporate merger. I was on the side of the company being purchased and subsequently absorbed.
During the lead-up to the actual papers being signed, executives from the soon-to-be parent company visited our location as part of their due diligence.
One of these visits was in the midst of a winter storm going on at the location of the parent company. As we were walking through our local campus, there was casual discussion of this storm. One of the executives told us that whenever bad weather approaches, he drives his Porsche to the airport, leaves it there, and rents a car that is more suitable to winter driving. I commented that I could not imagine being in a position where I could have such a fancy (and expensive) car, and choose to take on the additional expense of renting something different.
He responded by saying, “You will.”
My key takeaways from this offhand remark were:
He viewed me as someone who would continue on with the company after the merger.
The company had a philosophy of sharing the wealth.
Both of these turned out to be true.
This simple statement, “You will,” impacted my work greatly. I felt motivated, included, engaged. “You will,” became, “I did.” For that, I am extremely grateful.
As a leader, do you believe in sharing the wealth? Do you actively seek ways to include others in the benefits that you have received?
Or do you view the perks and benefits you have received as something to guard and protect?
I’ve had lots of dreams over the years. Great ideas that I never took action to bring to life. Or, didn’t act fast enough and saw others put them into practice before me.
Here are a few of the ideas I’ve had, all of which now exist:
Color score board for baseball and football stadiums. Now they’re even in HD!
Automatic equalizer for professional sound systems.
Automatic feedback suppressor – an extension of the automatic equalizer.
Solar-powered roof exhaust fan.
Some days I pine away for these dreams, wishing I had done something to bring them to life. “If only …”
Other days, I look back at these dreams, see the way others have implemented them and feel good that my dreams have been validated. Seeing that these devices exist gives me a sense of satisfaction, even if I was not the one who made the dreams come true.
As my career moved from software engineer to manager to director, more and more of my job became that of enabling others to bring dreams to life. Over time, I came to enjoy the role of enabler at least as much as I enjoyed that of doer.
Many times, sharing my dreams, my vision, with my staff was the spark they needed to take a project in a totally new direction, adding their ideas as well, and the project was better because of it.
Yes, we need goals. Yes, we need action plans. But, we also need dreams – those images of a better world that seem so far out there that we can’t yet fathom the path to get there.
Share your dreams. Celebrate when they come to life, regardless of who makes it happen.