There are a set of principles that govern most of my thinking and behavior at work (and in life). Whether you have written them down or not, you have them too. I find it incredibly valuable to have these principles and to vocalize and document them. They serve me well when I’m faced with a tough decision or a daunting challenge. Many of principles I rely on most, came from my mom. Here are 3 that stand out to me and have helped me become a better manager.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
I rarely rush at anything. I get this from my mother. I drive slowly, I walk slowly, I try not to rush to judgement on issues. When presented with challenges or complex decisions, I can often be heard saying, “I need to think about it ...” This can be a mild source of frustration for people who work for me and others around me, who are motivated to move quickly. But I have always found it best to think deeply about things before acting on them. This shouldn’t be confused for being indecisive. Quite the opposite in fact. I like to think through a problem so I can be decisive and be right more often than I’m wrong.
The longer I go in my career, the more evidence I see that a contemplative approach to decision making is a good one. I see a lot of managers and teams make impulsive decisions and act too quickly and end up having to reverse course or rework projects. They do damage to their reputations and to the business in the process. I should be careful to say that this perspective is not meant to be in opposition to the “fail fast” mentality. I’m not actually making a comment on the speed of overall execution. Pace to market is important. In fact, I would argue, when you tally it all up, a slow and steady approach is as fast if not faster at reaching a positive outcome than what might appear to be quicker methods. (My mother would be so proud) My advice to managers is to spend more time upfront weighing the options and forecasting potential outcomes so that you can be decisive and swift in execution once you’ve landed on the correct path – measure twice, cut once.
If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Don’t Say Anything at All
Many managers spend more time than they should in conflict with peers and gossiping about people at work. Nothing good comes from this. You should never allow yourself to be bullied, but you shouldn’t be seeking out conflict with people you work with either. I see some managers wearing conflict like a badge of honor. They want to be considered tough. But like all bullies, they are confused about what toughness means.
I try to build strong, positive relationships with everyone around me, and I find it helps me get things done in an organization. If I do enter into conflict with someone, I try to resolve it as quickly as I can. Prolonged conflicts and rivalries at work have no long term benefit I can think of.
Gossiping is also a weakness. I fall into this trap from time to time like we all do, but I try not to. Nothing positive comes from gossiping about people you don’t like or peers you find to be incompetent or a boss who is hard on you. When you gossip, you raise a very unfortunate question about your character to those around you. If this guy is gossiping about these people, what does he say about me when I’m not around?
Gossiping creates a slippery slope. It may seem innocent enough at first, but over time, your entire character can be called into question. In the long run, gossiping at work is a classic negative upside proposition – there are no wins in it for you – only losses.
Look People in the Eye When You Speak to Them
There is a literal interpretation of this and a metaphorical one. Both will serve you well in your career, but for today I’m going to focus on the metaphorical one. As a manager, you face difficult situations almost every day. You must give people feedback on performance, you must make tough hiring and firing decisions. Your life is about making decisions and communicating them to your team and to the company.
I’ve known managers who had all the natural tools, but were ultimately held back because they couldn’t make and communicate the hard calls. They couldn’t purposefully make a decision that would negatively impact a person or group for the good of the business, and then have the strength to break the news to them in a kind but concise manner.
Anyone can be a good manager when things are going well - when all news is good news. The great managers can keep a team motivated even when things are going badly. The best managers I’ve worked with communicated with honesty and integrity. They took no joy in delivering bad news but they weren’t afraid of doing it either. They had the strength to look employees and peers and superiors in the eye and be honest with them. For the aspiring managers reading this, I can assure you that sounds easier than it is. Even when every fiber of your being is telling you how much easier it would be to sugar coat something, or just avoid it altogether, great managers grit their teeth and take the harder path. This is something my mother tried to instill in me and something I try to do as much as possible to this day.
I guess it’s not surprising that these timeless edicts translate so well into valuable business lessons. What is surprising, is that of all the technical learnings and practical experiences I’ve had over a two-decade long career, these three lessons I learned from my mother, are the ones I point to most for contributing to my success as a manager. Happy Mother’s Day!