Are Great Managers Truly Unicorns?

The number one reason why people leave their jobs is because they feel unappreciated or under-valued. Translation: lousy boss.

One of the main reasons I’ve left all my past jobs is a terrible boss (best boss I had was as an entrepreneur – he was great, but the pay was inconsistent).

At the core is a skill problem. Let’s start at the bottom:

As a technical worker you are paid to produce results quickly. Once you prove yourself you move up to leadership. The issue here is what made you a great technical worker won’t help you be a good leader.

At the leadership (management) level your job is to bring out the best in your team. It doesn’t matter how well you performed at your previous role because the job description is completely different.

This is rampant in Corporate America because seniority normally equates to promotion. But most managers don’t know the first thing about motivating/treating people. Managers talk to their employees as if they’re stupid or incompetent. The disrespect is tolerated at first, but over time disengagement and morale drops.

Productivity keeps a business running, but poor leadership can halt growth. Companies with high turnover are similar to below par rated restaurants on Yelp. Even if you have a great product, customer service is what you’re ultimately judged on.

Most businesses believe treating the customer with the utmost respect is good enough, but when employees feel the cold shoulder of management internal strife starts to build. When the work environment becomes sheerly political the internal trust deteriorates and your best talent already has one foot out of the door.

I understand the argument from the company’s perspective that hard, objective decisions need to be made in order to scale, but you can still treat people well and get great results. People filter their perception of leadership through interactions. Once you feel unsafe as a worker, it’s time to start applying for jobs elsewhere.

That’s why when you do find a manager who cares about you, brings out the best in you and ultimately looks at his position as service treasure him/her. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience it once in my career and during that tenure I felt I could do anything.

For some complete autonomy may feel like macro-management, so it’s important to understand what type of boss you thrive under. Culture is viewed as the thermometer, but core behaviors are the true temperature.

These days companies can pay you lip service about their environment, but only the employee experience truly defines what the culture is.

So if you have a great manager think twice about the grass being greener on the other side. Like grass most of the time if you turn it over it’s actually brown.

The Criteria You Boss Should Be Judged Against

There’s a hypocrisy when it comes to management being held accountable. Employees often claim to be micromanaged, but rarely are there any changes because it’s acceptable by executives.

Businesses determine decisions based on finances, but what happens when costs are offset by people quitting?

The ROI on employee retention is staggering. No matter how strategic the hiring process is once a worker is on-boarded it falls on the company’s side to make sure they have all the necessary training and skills to effectively do their job.

What’s lost in the boss-employee relationship is a measurement that doesn’t get the just due it deserves: motivation.

Most would argue people are self-motivated or not, which I would agree with, BUT the main factor why people leave or stay at their current role is: how their boss makes them feel.

People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.”

Maybe it’s overlooked because it’s not as sexy as performance or trackable as sales made. Those matter, but as you move up the food chain of Corporate America it takes less skill, more feel from managers.

Take the example of professional athletes. All have coaches, but how many of those coaches can outperform them? (Answer: none)

If that’s the case, why hire a coach?

For support and guidance during challenging times.

The more skilled the employee, the less they need to be told what to do or how to do it, but rather given the trust to get the job done and be judged on the results.

A manager affects the morale and engagement more than any other factor at work.

The level of morale and engagement directly drives performance.

Phil Jackson coached Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. The reason he led them to championship and his predecessors before him didn’t was his approach. Jackson focused less on micromanaging them and more on challenging/managing their egos. Great players need great coaches.

Just because you were a great widget maker doesn’t mean a thing once you become a leader. Your job was to be the best, now it’s to bring out the best in others. Most managers didn’t learn this skill set and it’s the reason why so many workers complain about their boss and leave.

Think about the best and worst manager you’ve worked for. I bet on the high side they cared about you as a person. On the low side, they treated you as a cog in the wheel. At the core is how they made you feel.

Chances are if you love your boss, you see the glass as half full moving forward. But if you hate your boss, you’re actively looking for your next gig.

How does your boss make you feel? 

The Forgotten Part Of Networking

friends-at-work

Your network is your net worth.

The assumption is networking is done “externally,” but what if you actually like your job and don’t want to leave, yet desire to expand your network?

Do it internally.

Similar to sales: return customers have a greater value than new customers.

That means co-workers you connect with and strengthen bonds over time can be more instrumental to your career success than grabbing coffee with a new contact on LinkedIn.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m that guy who connects with people locally on LinkedIn and grabs coffee, but those relationships take time to blossom.

Meanwhile your work relationships have the potential to grow much faster because of the frequency and ease of scheduling.

Too often job satisfaction is determined by what happens to you, not what you initiate. Some opportunities are all about timing, but others are about choice.

Once you understand the company culture figure out how you can connect with people at work: grab lunch, go for a walk, chat on Slack, etc.

Most likely there are too many people at your company to talk with consistently, but that only makes the challenge fun.

  • Be the person who asks others how they are doing.
  • Instead of going on break alone take a friend.
  • Make it a goal to grab lunch with someone weekly.

At my company we’re fortunate to have catered lunches twice a week so that leaves three open days for me.

Some days I make phone calls and other times I need to decompress alone, but imagine how fulfilling your day is with a stimulating conversation!

As an introvert/situational extrovert I prefer quality over quantity…

Making networking part of your lifestyle versus a goal starts by doing it consistently.

The trick isn’t to keep “score” on how many people are in your network, but how often you network with others.

Make it a habit and watch your work fulfillment level skyrocket!

The Limitations Of Having A Growth Mindset

strong-brain

Do you have a growth mindset?

Having one isn’t good enough. In fact, I’d argue to say there are some limitations when it comes to this type of mindset.

The little engine that could(n’t).

I think I can. I think I can I think I can.

That little train did make it up the mountain, but then what? Believing you can is the foundation for any change, but that doesn’t equate to action. People are who they are. You can’t change that. Dating couples are told by therapists not to try and change their partner (because it’s not happening).

Poor listeners can learn how to actively listen, but they’ll always default to talking.

Micromanagers can be told to use empathy, but task accomplishment will always be most important.

Planners can be asked to be more spontaneous, but last minute changes will always frustrate them.

We are who we are. We can’t be anything we want to be; we can only be the best version of ourselves.

Talent is innate.

People can grow, but each person has different heights of potential.

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, but if talented people work hard they perform better.

A talent is defined as something you have a natural affinity for. You and I are gifted in areas others aren’t. Once you identify your talents, they can be developed into strengths over time.

Talent is an advantage when used correctly widens the gap and separates us from the rest.

Focus on your strengths.

Less is more and when it comes to energy you should spend your time on what you can be great at.

With everything else ask for help or delegate to others.

There’s nothing wrong with learning new things, but if you have no passion for it, don’t align with the purpose or just aren’t good at it you’re wasting your time.

A growth mindset would say keep at it, but is that a good use of your time?

The best organizations have the right people in the right seat on the bus.

That means hiring specialists and letting them do work. Filling people’s plates with other tasks (outside of their talents) is diluting their strengths.

There’s nothing wrong with having a growth mindset, but when I hear people use that as a default response to everything challenging you’ve missed the point.

Attitude is crucial to everything we do, but at a deeper level self-awareness produces maximum results not having a growth mindset.

How Relationships Should Evolve (In My Eyes)

We tend to view the world from our own lens and rightly so.

So how does being built for human connection actually play out?

In my eyes relationships are an endless conversation. You pick up next time exactly where you left off previously.

But in my experience that rarely happens.

Factors such as effort, memory and focus determine the quality of exchange.

If one person puts in the energy, but the other doesn’t it ceases to grow.

If one person forgets where you left off, the next interaction is like meeting a stranger for the first time.

If one person has an agenda or task needed to be accomplished, it’s merely a one-time transaction.

I admit when my goal is to know someone deeper I put in the effort. I don’t always succeed, but most of the time I do.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, he uses the term “thin slicing” to make quick judgement of people. It’s a form of stereotyping, but it’s how our minds create schema.

It’s at the crux of how we decide to proceed.

In some cases people don’t have the soft skills to connect effectively. Technology is somewhat to blame, but intention, empathy and practice carry more weight.

Task-driven people believe others exist as a means to accomplish their ends.

Relationship-driven folk view people as an end in itself.

Similar to an ambivert, you can be both, but usually you lean more towards one side than the other.

Neither is better, but your personal life reveals which position is more important.

I joke with my friends that online dating has killed relationships, but that could be a generational preference. The reason I go there is because if I met my wife through a dating site, how much risk would I take getting to know her? (If the answers are already revealed, what’s the fun in discovery?)

Don’t get me wrong, I am more introverted than extroverted, so my goal isn’t to become close to everyone I meet. In fact I choose quality over quantity, so when I intend to “invest” in someone I dive in head-first not knowing if there’s actually water in the pool.

head-first-dive

Is that reckless behavior? Possibly.

But then again it’s my life, not yours.

No risk. No Reward. That’s how I see it.

Why Coaching Trees Don’t Work

coach-k-phil-jackson

There’s a belief out there that leadership can be taught. Skills yes, but replicating no.

Take for instance two all-time basketball coaching greats: Phil Jackson & Mike Krzyzewski.

Both have disciples trained under them, yet given head coaching duties the success rate isn’t nearly as high. Why is that?

First of all, people can’t be scaled. You can have a mentor, but the goal of the mentee should never be to clone their model. Leadership is grounded in self-awareness so your style needs to be conducive to your personal strengths. You can’t be anything you want. You can only be the best version of you.

Second, there’s an art of leadership that is instinctual. Almost impossible to teach. Both Jackson and eventual Coach K successors have huge shoes to fill. Their replacements will be forever compared to their career success. Unfair as it is, each leader has to create their own legacy. Leaders are less focused on who came before them and more locked into where they want to go. As technology improves so does the sharpening of people skills. In sports the truly great coaches have a sound strategy, but what sets them apart is their ability to manage superstar egos. No book, online resource or manual can teach you that. You learn best through experience and since each individual is unique there’s no formula for optimal results.

Third, confidence in vision. Many would argue charisma, but that comes from a strong belief in self. The confidence in vision needs to be strong enough to take the team to a level even the leader hasn’t reached before. A leader’s vision should be bigger than themselves which further defends the idea of focusing on the future instead of looking back. Vision casting can be taught, but the size of the goal is directly tied to the confidence of the leader. Most successors aim to maintain past standards, but that’s peering in the rear view mirror. Beyond prior records, data and research, leaders must push on regardless of the struggle. That type of perseverance is a character trait developed over time.

Leadership development is real, but not as simple as following a set number of rules. Great coaches create a legacy that can’t be caught. Besides observing and having a deep appreciation for great leaders, it’s about identifying your greatest strengths and leveraging those on a daily basis for maximum results. Coaching trees don’t work because humans are too dynamic to be simplified down to a system. Train up leaders, but give them autonomy to spread their wings in the way they choose. That’s how a tree really blossoms.

 

Corporate America’s Missing Ingredient

empathy

There’s something missing in Corporate America, but it’s not what you think.

Technology gives us the opportunity to work remotely and scale businesses.

Outsourcing labor multiplies growth while saving massive amounts of time.

Investors provide the resources to transform a hobby into an empire.

But the one thing that retains the top talent worldwide is: empathy.

In a broadcast-driven society, rarely do people put themselves in other’s shoes.

Managing egos and customizing messaging is the difference between success and failure.

Here’s why:

Even with the best technology you still need people to run it. Salaries are competitive, social impact is rampant and perks are plentiful. Therefore how you treat people defines their company loyalty.

Take for instance managers. The top reason most people leave their jobs is because they feel disrespected or undervalued. Simply viewing the impact of your decisions from the receiver’s point of view makes all the difference in the world. Most managers are ill-equipped to lead others. Just because you’re a great widget maker doesn’t translate well to a manager of widget makers.

Empathy is a learned skill (although it can be argued some have a higher ceiling than others). Kids are taught at a young age to think about how their actions affect others. Somewhere between preschool and adulthood that lesson is forgotten. Money and power corrupt our ability to serve.

Personally I’ve witnessed many conflicts started because of a failure to empathize. The same reasons countries go into war on a macro-level happens to co-workers at a micro-level. Stress has a tremendous drain on productivity and the majority of it can be avoided by showing empathy.

The downgrade of soft skills will only continue to get worse and at the core of the deterioration is a lack of empathy.

Empathy is not something HR can teach or a motivational speaker can inspire you to do. It takes making a commitment to servant leadership. Stop thinking positional leadership puts you on top. Instead understand supporting others from beneath actually pushes them to reach their fullest potential.

Will you do your part?

Where Scalability Doesn’t Work In Business

scaling_business

If you really want to grow your profits asking how you can scale your idea is key.

With technology today there are several ways to outsource, automate and delegate tasks that are both time consuming and replicable by others.

But what if scaling isn’t the best option, then what?

For most business models to scale their parts its a very objective process. Making money depends on putting systems in place to maximize efficiency.

Yet there is one particular area that is almost impossible to scale: customer service.

Even the best training can only safeguard a business so much. In a data-driven world, how people are treated is subjective.

Take any fast-casual restaurant. Most frontline workers are paid minimum wage salaries, but expected to perform at a high level. Pay tends to attract relative talent so when you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel you can’t expect the best customer-employee transaction for a low value.

I’ve always found it interesting how little priority is paid to hiring people with high EQ or soft skills. As a manager I could care less how much experience or technical skill someone has if they don’t know how to talk to or treat people. Believe me empathy is hard to teach.

I work at an education-based startup that is slowly systemizing their processes. Objective measurements are very important, but in the people business brand experience makes or breaks your company.

Believe it or not, clients pay high prices for deliverables, yet what converts them into return customers is: how you make them feel.

As a relationship-driven person myself I admit if you only focus on making people happy you’re running a hobby, not a business. But discounting each interaction both internally and externally will result in higher turnover and a weaker brand.

Scaling your business should be the goal, but how to achieve that needs to be high-touch. Simon Sinek said it best, “If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business.”

Why Industry Experience Is Overrated

previous_experience

If you think you didn’t get hired at your last interview because of lack of experience, you’re wrong.

Lack of experience is a strike against you, but if that employer didn’t see potential beyond your resume you wouldn’t even have an interview in the first place.

Your resume is like a Driver’s License. It qualifies you for the job, but you have to prove your value to the company in-person.

In fact sometimes industry experience can be a bad thing. For example if you were at your previous job for 10+ years and didn’t know anything else, how adaptable and flexible can you really be moving forward?

In my current role as a Faculty Manager for an online test prep/academic tutoring company I was on the outside looking in. The tutors I manage remotely know way more about the SAT/ACT than I’ll ever care to know. So when asked if I had any experience in the education space during my interview, I responded by focusing on my strengths for the position.

Since I am managing tutors, not teaching students, I talked about leading people. As for former youth pastor I dealt with parents of teenagers (most clients are high school students). As an entrepreneur I am organized and specialize in time management (managing programs and learning the system is 50% of the job for our tutors). Knowing the technical skills of high school academia is irrelevant for me. As long as I can prove I can get the results from the tutors I add value to the company.

My situation may not suit yours, but my point is simple: know thyself.

Self-awareness is the most important trait of any leader. Know what you’re great at and also what you suck at. Most jobs ask you to multi-task, but within those responsibilities there are priorities. Nail those and now you have leverage.

Selling yourself is having confidence in your abilities and knowing who you are. Every time you decide to pivot careers you’re at the same place. You will switch careers frequently for the rest of your working life so get used to it.

An employer notifying you didn’t get the job because of lack of experience is a scapegoat. What they really meant is they don’t have the confidence that you can get the job done despite experience. If you understand that going in, you’ll focus less on what you don’t have and leverage your strengths to the fullest.

Don’t use lack of industry experience as an excuse. It’s only one if you choose it to be.

Why You Shouldn’t Set New Year’s Resolutions

new-years-resolutions

With the start of a new year, resolutions come to mind, but come mid-January (or February at the latest) you’ve already broken your promise. Why is that?

Resolutions, similar to goals, are set up to fail from the start. Here’s why:

The main reason why accomplishing your goals have such a low success rate is because even the best effort doesn’t result in perfection. This isn’t a scapegoat for not trying, but rather working the odds in your favor.

New Year’s Resolutions can be compared to starting a new business. The failure rate within the first 3 years is 80%. Now 3 years is longer than one month, but the concept is the same. Resiliency and patience are hard to come by. Call it a result of our fast-paced society, but we suck at waiting for results.

There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, but making behavior changes is hard work.

If you’ve ever set a goal and failed at it, you remember the feeling. You’ll do whatever you can to not revisit that feeling because its debilitating. Hence the reason why we avoid goal setting in the first place.

Instead shift your focus to creating good habits. Not only are habits better than goals, but they are process-oriented meaning progress is the desired outcome not perfection.

For example: losing 20 pounds is a goal while living a healthy lifestyle is a habit. You may lose the weight (doubtful), but chances are you’ll gain it back and then some shortly after. But if you decide to workout 3 times a week (on average) and cut your weekly sugar intake not only will you lose the weight, but it’s a sustainable change because you give yourself grace for special occasions.

It’s popular to set New Year’s Resolutions in January because the calendar is a trigger for fresh starts. Beyond that there’s not a real good reason why then is the best time.

When you want to fix or achieve something following the the right process is almost more important than the desired outcome. At it’s core nothing is wrong with goals, but if you want to set yourself up for success in the new year focus on habits and the results will come in time.