Lessons I’ve Learned: The Management Recipe

To be effective over the long haul, you must fill your tank and fuel your passions. Overload and burnout are always waiting. Some of my long distance mentors are Jack Welch and Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne.
I am a strong proponent of Jack Welch’s core principles: being a winning organization, mission and vision, candor, differentiation, and voice and dignity. In his books and now discontinued podcast, he offers specific guidance on how to instill these attributes in your team.
I can camp out on philosophy, but management is about execution, not ideas.
I am a strong proponent of Mark and Mike’s Manager Tools podcast for practical, actionable advice: How to run a staff meeting, How to coach a direct report, How to write a thank you note, etc.
Get a coach (even through a book or podcast) and establish core principles (even if you borrow them from Jack Welch) that you can filter ideas and situations through.

Candor is mission critical. Pay attention to your temperature. If you are upset over an issue or person, then you need to have the difficult conversation. The best ideas flow out of a culture of candor. When we can challenge each other, and aggressively pursue good ideas, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to be effective.

Even though teams can be a great tool, we manage people not teams. Management repositions you from the realm of task efficiency to organizational effectiveness. Management is leveraging the hours and strengths of your people to accomplish a set goal. The best way to do that is through relationships. This is where the Managers Tool’s Trinity (one on ones or O3’s, coaching, and feedback) is practical and useful. My experience has proven Mike and Mark’s advice that O3’s are the most effective tool a manager has. O3’s help you build relationships and keep your fingers on the pulse of your department. More often than not, the O3 helps me provide what my direct reports need and helps me remove any roadblocks that are slowing them down. It’s not them serving me, but me supporting them. You cannot do that well if you don’t know what’s going on.

Understanding we manage people and not teams underscores the need for differentiation. If someone is struggling (or doing well), they should know that you know. Differentiation also applies to the things we do and not just our people. Keep your eye on the prize. If something does not add value, put your effort somewhere else, with your strongest assets–people and time–where it matters most. Although value takes different forms, value is not money, but Kingdom building.

Make an effort to build bridges with others. Have concrete plans that put something on the calendar–whether it is lunch or a quick face-to-face office meeting. Building a bridge is not a thought you have, but a thing you do. To be successful, you need a lot of bridges. They don’t build themselves.

Don’t forget that you are also the lead marketer for your team. Protect your team’s reputation. This isn’t about shaving the truth. This is about managing the perception of others. You influence that. How you say what you say to others, and when you say it, is key. If someone’s behavior is hurting the team, call them to account and explain the unintended effects and expect a change.

Management is like baking a cake. You follow the recipe and you get specific results. It is not an art that few possess. It is a skill with definable actions. Do them, and work hard at it, and you will achieve great results.

Lessons I’ve Learned: Get Organized

“You can fool everyone else, but you can’t fool your own mind.” David Allen

Next to ownership, the most important job a knowledge worker does is organization. I thought I was good at managing my to do list until I had a huge annual conference added to my plate. I needed help. I was struggling to remember all of my commitments. As one of my favorite proverbs goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

My teacher was David Allen and the GTD (Getting Things Done) system. I was listening to the 43 folders podcast by Merlin Mann and he interviewed David Allen about GTD. It had such a profound affect on me, I still remember where I was: my wife, Rose, was shopping at a bead and jewelry expo in San Antonio and I was pacing around the parking lot, smoking my pipe, devouring the podcasts. (It’s a good memory!)

GTD is a systematic process of capturing all of the variety of things you need to do (from other people and your own ideas), making a decision about what those things mean to you, planning how you are going to accomplish them, and reviewing everything until it is done. David calls these steps: collect, process, organize, review, do.

Here are some of my favorite ideas from GTD I’ve come to think of as my own:

  1. Your mind is great for creative brainstorming and generating ideas. Your mind is like a drunken uncle when it comes to remembering those ideas. Free your mind and write ideas down so you don’t have to remember them.
  2. Almost everything you do is a project (most tasks are actually a series of tasks). Outcome based thinking will help you be more productive. Defining the finished project will help you figure out the details that get you there. No one can do a “project”, you can only do smaller tasks that lead to the outcome you defined.
  3. Dividing your work by contexts removes stress. A context is a noun–a person, place, or thing. At work is not the place to think about something I have to discuss with my wife, just like driving in the car is the wrong time to think about the phone calls I have to make. That is how our minds work, but putting those tasks into the proper context, and following through, trains your mind to stop obsessing at the wrong time and place and trust the system.

Although it is common sense, GTD breaks down the barrier between what you know you should do and what you are actually doing. Like any skill, it takes discipline. It is easy to fall off the wagon, but it is easy to get back up and keep going, too.

It can be helpful for everyone on your team to have the same system, but it is not necessary. You need a system to keep track of all of your commitments. You cannot be successful if you are not executing your responsibilities. To do that well, you must be organized.

Here is a short summary of GTD by David Allen with some helpful links on the side.

Here is the Productive Talk Compilation podcast with Merlin Mann and David Allen.

Lessons I’ve Learned: Take Ownership

If you could design the perfect environment for you to work in, what would it look like?

This isn’t really a hypothetical question if you are in any kind of leadership position. I believe one of the most important attributes of success is taking ownership. I know it may sound selfish, but I think it is the core of leadership–you have to take ownership. It is a privilege but also a responsibility.

I like the idea of working at a place where we really work, but also have fun.
I like controlling my work load and the flow of work. I hate surprises, so I make preparation a priority.
I like a clean and clutter free environment.
I like good communication and, if we have to have them, purposeful meetings.
I want everyone to have a voice and dignity and a seat at the table.

I don’t always get even my own preferences right, but I know instinctively when something’s wrong.

Lee Cockerel, in his excellent book, Creating Magic, makes the point that management competence is about control. He illustrates this with the relatable example of a restaurant where the manager is present but not in control (We’ve all been there and it isn’t a good experience).

I know the “control” word is not en vogue. Too bad. If you want to sit in the big chair it comes with responsibility. Your task is to not only define reality, but own it. I’m not talking about controlling people, but understanding that things are the way they are because of your decisions.

Taking ownership is something you do on purpose.

If you are a technical director, create the kind of team where you would volunteer.
If you are a Pastor, create a church that you would attend.
If you own a restaurant, create a place where you would spend your hard earned money. It doesn’t matter if that is an upscale place with live chamber music or a karaoke bar. What matters is that it is your place.

If you are in leadership, push for your stamp, your style, your preferences.