The 12 Signs: How to know when you’re slowly but surely becoming a bad manager

No one sets out to become a bad boss. Yet, slowly but surely, it’s easy to become the bad manager we all dread.

Source: The 12 Signs: How to know when you’re slowly but surely becoming a bad manager

This is a great list and it’s a refreshing perspective that you should examine if, after coming up to speed as a manager, you are becoming jaded in your role. I would have little to add to this strong list which includes:

– assuming employees will come to you with their problems
– assuming employees should know certain things already

The only other thing I’d add is to guard against assuming employees will be static performers in time or that their values will stay stable instead of them wanting to transition as confidence builds, family obligations change etc.


Transitioning to meta-management

A piece with a lot of technical language (that I can’t entirely follow), that I think still has merit as it touches on a subject I’d like to see treated in greater depth – how to manage other managers.  In this case a specialist has moved up the ranks and is reflecting on when to wade into the fray of her roots as an engineer.  I like her prompts to ask herself: “What problems does my team need me to solve right now?”

“If I feel the itch to do engineering manager work, there have got to be good ways to do this that are absolutely not a) going to intrude on someone’s existing work, and b) not eliminating an opportunity for the manager who reports to you to learn.”

Source: Transitioning to meta-management

The Best Managers Are Boring Managers

A good article written in praise of the boring, emotionally-intelligent and even sometimes “faking it” manager:

“…[t]he more predictable, reliable, and, yes, boring, they are, the higher they’re rated on integrity, and the more morally they behave.”

Source: The Best Managers Are Boring Managers

Dealing with a Hands-Off Boss – HBR

Dealing with a Hands-Off Boss – HBR.

A solid piece that lays out the difference between the “hands on” and the hands off” boss.  The former would likely be called a micro-managing boss in more derogatory terms.

I like that the author lays out that if someone leans into a hands off style, there are valid perspectives that can accompany this lens that have nothing to do with laziness or lack of confidence in managing unfamiliar or rigorous subject matter and rather have to do with empowerment.  Hands off bosses can also focus their energy into areas of value that are more unique to a strategic role.

That said, everyone will need to see-saw between hands off and hands on approaches depending on the need of the employee or the task at hand.  Newer employees will often have a much smaller range of movement and certain projects may demand the same tight circle particularly with quickly moving deadlines or high stakes.

With luck, the long term game for the most senior employees will merit a hands off style of high degree of autonomous file management with a high degree of trust that facts have been checked, templates followed etc.

Though you’ll likely have a default style that can suit most circumstances, there will be fumbles where the style is a mis-match for the employee or the situation requiring a quick re-calibration (and perhaps an apology).

I like that this lecture suggested that you have a microscope in one eye and telescope in the other.  Perhaps the same should be said for the ability to alternate in management styles as the situation demands.

Signs That You Lack Emotional Intelligence – HBR

A wonderful adjunct to a radio program I heard today on emotional intelligence.  Part of the interview was with a poet who quoted a poem called The Emotions are Not Skilled Workers.  Yes the emotions are blunt instruments and I am more and more a convert to buffering emotions in my role as a manager because of the disproportionate effect of negative emotions on team members.

This is great article from the Harvard Business Review on figuring out if you are weak emotional intelligence. I’ve had quite an evolution on my EI as a manager.  I certainly was one to express frustration and impatience in the early days and when I realized that this didn’t help the situation I worked on moderating my responses.  I also spent a fair bit of time examining how to be more empathetic and this work continues.

As a start, here is a list to help you assess if you aren’t high on emotional intelligence.

  • You often feel like others don’t get the point and it makes you impatient and frustrated.
  • You’re surprised when others are sensitive to your comments or jokes and you think they’re overreacting.
  • You think being liked at work is overrated.
  • You weigh in early with your assertions and defend them with rigor.
  • You hold others to the same high expectations you hold for yourself.
  • You find others are to blame for most of the issues on your team.
  • You find it annoying when others expect you to know how they feel.

via Signs That You Lack Emotional Intelligence – HBR.

The three business books that I’d ask you to read

(c) abee5

Seth Godin recently posed a suggested challenge: pick three books that changed your thinking and then buy them for three admired people and ask them to read them over the holidays to advance a conversation.

Though I won’t honour the challenge to the letter, I think that doing some reflection on books that changed my thinking is a great way to end the year on the blog. Here are three books that made a difference to my thinking as a manager for the better:

1) Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen

I own multiple copies if this one and use it to prepare for most difficult conversations. Of the three books I am recommending it’s the only one that I think has genuine utility in everyday life.

The book makes the point that each conversation is really three different conversations: the “what happened” conversation (where we tend to spend all of our time to our detriment), the “identity” conversation – what is the effect of the problem on each person’s identity? and the feelings conversation. The book also has a number of tools to support difficult conversations including to enter conversations as “learning” conversations.

The support the spirit of Seth Godin’s challenge, I will give a copy of this book to the first three people who email me saying that they’d like it.

2) Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee

This is a book about the power of emotional intelligence its links to leadership. The emotions of leaders are greatly magnified for better and for worse and they change the dynamic of teams quite powerfully. This book in combination with some of the more recent writing make the link between how your brain shuts down under stress – you go into fight flight mode and can actually go deaf – it is nearly impossible to work well under such conditions.  At the other end of the scale, positive emotions, generate powerful creativity.

As well, this was also the first book to convince me to abandon the idea that leadership is innate. Most powerfully, the belief that leadership can be learned, will set someone up to be empowered for success in truly difficult situations.

3) Drive: Daniel Pink’s bestseller on motivation – it comes down to three things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

One the main findings – when you link monetary rewards to performance it only works well with rudimentary tasks.  Performance actually gets worse with pay incentives with tasks involving analytical skills.

Here are two videos which explain his main ideas for those of you not inclined to read the book:

Animated one:

TED talk:

The perils of “going under” your manager’s head | SmartBlogs SmartBlogs

The perils of “going under” your manager’s head | SmartBlogs SmartBlogs.

A good piece on a topic that isn’t discussed too much in the literature in my experience –  the open door policy used in a way that undercuts direct report managers below you.

The piece has good suggestions on how to stickhandle this if you are the superior boss who wants to be accessible at any level. Nothing earthshattering but, a useful reminder that there are options.

“Does this mean a manager can’t talk with anyone in their organizations other than their direct reports? Of course not. By all means, get out of your office and spend time in the field, asking questions and listening to those on the front lines and on the shop floor. Just don’t make promises without consulting with your management team. Ask them if they have spoken to their own boss, and if not, encourage them to do so. Make a note, and if it’s OK with the person, let them know you’ll be reviewing their concern or idea with their boss as well.”

Taking the Stress Out of Stressful Conversations – Harvard Business Review

(c) mikeyp2000

Taking the Stress Out of Stressful Conversations – Harvard Business Review.

To my mind, there may never be enough material out there on difficult conversations so happy to pass on this one which focuses on tactics to reduce stress in difficult conversations.

It’s worth the full read for some of the suggested tactics for particular types of difficult conversations.

General information for all tense interactions:

Be aware of your own reactions to stress so that you can modulate effectively.

Practice what you want to say with a neutral colleague – start with a no holds barred version and then work to dial it back.

Think, in advance, of some key phrases that you could rely on during a difficult conversation so that you can recall them.  Though it sounds a bit contrived, I have to agree with the reason why this is suggested – it’s like CPR training – you can’t always rely on finding the right words under stress.


“Honour your partner” – take responsibility for your own actions which may have contributed to the conflict.

Disarm by stating your intentions – can be as simple as saying,  “I can see how that could have been understood but that isn’t what I meant.”

Fight tactics not people – a good variation on focus on the problem not the person.

Let the Author be the Hero: What Managers could Learn from Editors – Part I of III

eldeeem / / CC BY-NC-SA

Let the Author be the Hero: What Managers could Learn from Editors 

In my job, I spend a lot of time reviewing written work. I think that this skill has been one of the hardest to learn and despite being blessed by by lots of classroom training and colleagues with many strengths, it remains a skill in need of improvement.

Most of what I know has been picked up through trial and error, observation and extrapolation from experience.  I know that I want to lean toward giving direction and away from redoing the work of my team members.  Generally, if I give specific suggestions for redoing work (crossing out sentences or paragraphs and writing new ones) members of the team will just input the change without necessarily a lot of insight into why the changes are being made and, more importantly, how to extrapolate the changes requested into strategies for improving their work over time.  As well, I consider the rewrite lazy on my own part – it’s easier to write it a new way than to coach someone into figuring out their own way to redo something.  In the earliest days, explaining what you want instead of doing it the way you want, will likely take more time.  However, in the long haul, I think it takes less time and promotes more and lasting development.

Still, I have struggled to construct a language to explain how to improve written work.

A few strategies have worked except when I falter (usually) because we are out of time:

  • I try to group my comments into the general including what is working and less so, and the more detailed line-by-line suggestions.  Sometimes this is supported by multiple reads of a document – the first macro read and the second and perhaps third, micro-read.
  • I have placed a ban on my use of track changes because that tool makes it too easy for me to lapse back into the role of the writer.  This is a role that I loved and I am easily seduced back into it.  But, alas, it is like the frog in the slowly warming pot.  It all seems good until I am well and truly cooked and I have rewritten the whole document.
  • I also tend to make clear what elements of my feedback are for consideration/suggestion (tending to be stylistic – can you flip this into active voice, remove the negative, this needs to be shorter and here are some suggestions to start) and which need to be discussed before they are discarded (these tend to be substantive – this doesn’t make sense, I don’t think this is accurate, this strategic consideration is missing, can we update these numbers? Etc.).  From the book “On Writing Well” the level of edits could be put into an even finer gradation: necessary (mistakes or omission), felicitous (smoother phrasing) and meticulous.  Bottom line, consider if all suggestions hold equal weight and how to communicate this.
  • I give general direction on do’s and don’ts for certain documents:
    • For presentations/decks: aim for more white space than less, full sentences are not mandatory.
    • Products for the Minister should use “may” over “should”
    • Emails to senior managers need to get to the point early (within one blackberry screen is best) including the use of clear titles (Media lines for review by 3pm)

In Part II, I’ll explore the types of editing and how they might provide more language for managers to review written work.

Leadership Caffeine: How to Survive a Sudden Promotion Into Leadership | Management Excellence by Art Petty

A good piece to address the situation many people will find themselves in the first time they become a manager – a sudden and unexpected promotion.

A few suggestions to survive:

“Understand and Accept Your New Situation. Realistically, no one was hoping to be reporting to you. While you may have technical credibility, you don’t have management credibility and the fact that you are now a decision-maker for work allocation and  hire, promote, fire scenarios just pisses some people off.”

“Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Developmental Support.”

“Ask Your Team. Your team knows more about working together than you might give them credit for. They’ll resent you if you start telling them what to do. Resist your urge to tell, and instead, focus on asking for ideas and input.”

“Create Risk-Free Opportunities for the Boss to Coach. Most managers have less than a clear idea how to support their first-time leaders. Just because his proactive coaching skills are lacking, you can deftly turn the tables by asking the right questions. … Fair warning, avoid the following words: “What should I do?”  Those 4 words formed in a question are universally annoying to bosses. They want to hear your ideas.”

via Leadership Caffeine: How to Survive a Sudden Promotion Into Leadership | Management Excellence by Art Petty.