The Weekly Reid: How to overcome an IMPOSSIBLE task

Every so often, we are faced with what seems to be an impossible challenge. A task so large and so complicated and so difficult, its hard even to imagine what a win could look like. These don’t come along very often – thank goodness. Maybe once every five years or so in my experience. But when they do come along, the journey they provide tends to change the course of your career. Your response and actions and attitude when faced with an impossible challenge, give you character – they define you as a leader – they shape the future (better) you.

I should say, in my career, it’s the impossible challenges that I go back to over and over again. These moments have become the stories I tell my team when we’re up against it. They are the stories I share with my friends and former colleagues. I should also say, not all of these stories are of victory. That’s the exquisite beauty of an impossible task. Even in failure there is greatness to be found (which is a good thing, because failure happens a lot when you take on impossible things).

I don’t have a nicely packaged set of tips to overcome whatever impossible task you are facing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. That’s the nature of the impossible task – it’s impossible. I can’t change that for you anymore than I can change it for myself. But what I can do – what I hope to do – is share some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years that have helped me make it through some pretty daunting challenges. And in so doing, I hope I can help make your next impossible challenge a tiny bit less impossible.

Observe your situation from a distance

When you’re right in the middle of an impossible task – stressed to the max, taking heat, working around the clock – you can easily lose perspective. You can get sucked into a crashing wave of work and worry that makes it hard to know which way is up. Days and weeks can go by in the blink of an eye. And if you’re not careful, this wave can push you off course – your mind and your work.

I find it helpful, when I’m facing an impossible situation, to observe myself and my situation from a distance. What do I mean by that? It’s about detaching yourself for a moment and watching yourself as an outside observer would. It’s about being aware of what’s happening – in the way a scientist would be aware of an experiment. It’s about noticing what’s going on. It is far different from being inside the situation. It’s actually about taking yourself outside the situation (to the extent that’s possible).

If you can detach yourself for an hour or even a few minutes, you can gain valuable perspective on your mental state and on the tasks at hand. You’ll find in doing this, you can see things in a different way. You can relax a bit more. You can notice flaws in your logic. You can find wins you didn’t realize you had.

Cut everything until you find something to win at

If you are a regular reader you will not be surprised to hear this one. I have always been a huge proponent of doing less - ruthlessly prioritizing. I have spoken out against multi-tasking on several occasions. But sometimes, when you have an impossible challenge, with eight million components and complexities, it’s impossible not to multi task a little.

The risk, when your volume of challenges is so great, when there are so many problems to deal with, is that you end up accomplishing nothing. You improve ten issues by ten percent instead of one issue completely. From an outsider’s perspective, you haven’t actually accomplished anything. But you worked so hard. The effort it took to advance those ten issues by ten percent each was huge. You’re tired, your team is tired, and yet it appears like nothing has been done. This is a massively demoralizing situation.

When I have a huge number of tasks to take on – all of which seem to be urgent – I still apply the same ruthless prioritization approach. The first thing I do every morning is make a list of my major issues, and then I cut everything out until what is left is something I can realistically win at that day. I refuse to let a day go by without finding a win. The benefit of this approach is that I win at something. My team wins at something. We see progress. Outside stakeholders see progress too – as fractional as it may be. And with that progress comes a hit of energy to fuel the next push.

The challenge with this approach is I have to let things wither and die. Important things. There is no other option when you’re faced with an impossible task. So, I quarantine issues where I can. I tie off problems, so they don’t spread or get worse. It takes a lot of strength to do this, I can assure you. As much as I can, I speak openly about my choices and sacrifices with my manager, so she understands the situation and is not surprised or embarrassed by the issues I’m not able to focus on yet.

Embrace the lessons learned

When I’m feeling particularly stressed out or overwhelmed by the impossibility of a situation, I remind myself that the lessons I’m learning have value. And that, so long as I make good choices and apply sound judgement, I will have nothing to regret when I look back on the challenging period. I try to take note of the lessons I’m learning even as they are happening and point to those as wins in and of themselves.

My recommendation, for those of you facing impossible tasks, is to take note (like actually write down) the lessons you’re learning. Be grateful for that. Find a win in that. It can have a profoundly positive impact on your perspective and energize you for the daunting challenge that lies ahead.

Put yourself in the best possible mental and physical state

I won’t dwell on this one because it’s been written about a thousand times. But, if you’re not careful, you can let the stress and anxiety of an impossible challenge make that challenge even harder to overcome. There can come a point when you start getting anxious about being anxious. Getting stressed about being stressed. Allowing the fear that you are failing manifest the very failure you fear. This can snowball on you. You may think this is easier said than done (perhaps it is) but you need to try to present your best self in front of an impossible task.

Sleeping well, eating well, doing some physical activity – these things can make all the difference in the world when you’re in front of a seemingly impossible challenge.

Every so often, as leaders, we are faced with an impossible task. The deck is just stacked against us. Inevitably, these are the moments that define our careers and give us the toughness to lead others through difficult challenges. There is no magic list of tips to make impossible things possible. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. We can only put ourselves in the best possible mindset each and every day, make good choices, and stay positive. I hope this perspective is helpful to you as you take on your next impossible challenge.

The Weekly Reid: 3 Tips to Lead Through Change in 2019

How do we lead a team through uncertainty and change?

This question gets to the heart of what it means to be a leader. The answer to this question is the answer to just about everything. Here’s my perspective:

A former mentor of mine used to tell this story during periods of change.

When you’re on an airplane, and it starts going through turbulence, the first thing people do is look up at the flight attendants. If you look up and the flight attendant is calm and happy and serving customers, you calm down, you relax, you assume everything is going to be ok. But if you look up and the flight attendant is nervous or panicking or visibly concerned – if, when turbulence hits, the flight attendant blinks - you start to panic, you start to worry.

Our job, as leaders during times of turbulent change, is not to blink.

This anecdote has always resonated with me. I remind myself of it whenever my team is faced with change. It has served me well, and I hope it will serve you well too.

What does it mean to “not blink”? It boils down to three specific things for me:

Be purposeful, not reactive

Inexperienced managers react to change. They take in a flow of inputs – complaints, concerns, frustrations – and they try to react to each one as they come. They favor speed of response over substance of response. They try to move quickly. They are uncomfortable in a state of flux. They exacerbate tension and anxiety with their own frantic energy. That leads to more panic, more chaos.

Experienced managers, on the other hand, are purposeful. They’ve been through change. They have the patience and calmness to sit amidst a chaotic, frenetic environment and make sound decisions. They communicate effectively, purposefully. They don’t react just to feel like they’re taking action. Instead of making 100 frantic reactions, they make 3 or 5 strong, purposeful moves.

Next time you’re in a crisis or managing through change, stop reacting. Stay calm, don’t blink, and take purposeful actions only.

Explain the context to everyone

One of the primary contributors to anxiety during change, is a lack of understanding for WHY the change is occurring. In the absence of proper context, people speculate – often leaning towards the worst-case scenario. The company must not be doing well. We’re definitely getting laid off. This is surely just the first of many changes.

When you don’t give people proper context, this is where their heads go. It’s a natural reaction. It’s understandable. But it’s also deadly if you’re trying to make productive, positive change.

My advice to leaders is to give people the full context for change as soon as you possibly can. Tell them why. Give them the business context. Empathize with their position. Walk them through the logic that has led to the current situation and decision making. Some leaders mistakenly assume people won’t understand or don’t need to know the context for change. I think this is misguided. Give people context – early and often.  

Be honest and direct

Another mistake inexperienced managers make when leading through change, is to sugar coat things. Or to speak of changes in a manner that is unclear or convoluted or patronizing. They assume (wrongly) that people can’t handle the naked truth. That they need to be placated. In my experience, this is not the case.  

My advice to managers, when leading through change, is to be completely honest and direct in communication. Tell people what is happening, what it means for them. They can handle it. It’s much better for people to have an accurate picture of what is happening, than it is to preserve some false sense of security.

With the beginning of a new year, we almost always see changes. Our teams change, our goals change, our industry changes. Things change, and most people struggle to handle the uncertainty and anxiety of it all. I hope these tips for leading through change were as helpful to you as they have been for me.

Happy New Year!

The Weekly Reid: 3 Things Every Manager MUST Do in December

We’re winding down the year. It’s easy to take your eye off the ball. It’s easy, in between the holiday parties and family festivities, to overlook a few best practices that can be very important to your team’s momentum and your own career advancement.

Today I’m going to share three things I do every December to put the cherry on top of the current year, and to set my team up for success in the year to come. They won’t take you a ton of time, but in my experience, doing these things can be extremely valuable.

Publish a year-end highlight real

It’s very easy for your boss and other company leaders to forget all the great things your team has done this year. Even you may have forgotten some of them. If you’re not careful, some of your great efforts and accomplishments can be inadvertently swept under the rug.

One of the most important jobs you have as a manager is to create visibility for the great work your team has done. That recognition is critical to building a winning culture where people feel their work has value. It’s great for the culture of your team. It’s also great to set you up for a strong performance review in the new year, since your accomplishments will be top of mind.

Each December, I create a highlight real to summarize my team’s greatest accomplishments for the year. I spend time on it. I go back to projects from January and February and March so I don’t overlook anything. I find wins from across the team, and I remind everyone of them.

A highlight real can take several forms … a PowerPoint deck you present at a team meeting, a booklet you distribute to your team members and leaders in the company, a fun video you make with your team. It doesn’t matter so much what format your highlight real is in. What matters, is that you take the time to summarize all the great things your team did this year and tell people about it.  

Publish a vision for next year with key strategic initiatives

Too many teams start slow in January. Some teams barely get going until February. A slow start makes the rest of the year harder. You can lose momentum. It can cause the leaders in your company to question your vision and plan for the year. It can make you appear to be stagnating. It can cause anxiety on your team.

Every December, I bring my entire team together to share a vision for the year to come. I try to paint a picture for how we will evolve and change to get better. I give context for why this change is important, and how it relates to the highest-level goals of the company. I break this vision down into key strategic initiatives so every member of my team can understand what we are doing and how they factor into it.

By sharing a vision for the year to come, you allow your team members time to process and understand it. This way they can enter the new year with confidence and purpose vs. questions and concerns. By sharing a set of strategic initiatives, you demonstrate to your team (and to leaders in your company) that you have a plan, that you’re evolving, that you’re improving. Every leader needs to do this.

Individually thank your team members

You may think this one is obvious. Maybe it is for you. I’m not sure it is for every manager. We can all agree it’s important to thank our team members for a great year. But I want to highlight how important it is to do this individually – personally. I don’t think it’s enough to send a “thank you” email to your team or hand out some templated holiday cards. I think you need to do more.

I’m not talking about expensive gifts or grand gestures. Quite the opposite. In my experience, the most impactful thing you can do to show your team members how much you value their contributions, is to personally thank each of them. I write a personal letter to each of my direct reports to thank them for their great work and partnership. I spend time on this. I think back on the year, where they’ve come from, what they’ve had to overcome – the ups and downs – and I put it all in there. They’ve worked so hard, on so many things, they deserve this depth of acknowledgement.

My recommendation to managers is to get a little more personal this year. Spend a little more time on your recognitions. It will mean a lot to your team members.

December is an easy month to get distracted. But that is akin to slowing down at the finish line. If you’re not careful, you can dull the impact of all the great things your team did this year, and lose momentum going into next year. I hope these three tips are helpful to you, as you close out another great year. 

The Weekly Reid: Do you need to be liked to be a leader?

Do you need to be liked to be an effective leader?

The answer to this question is not simple. I wish it were as easy as saying yes or no. It’s not. Although that would make for a very clear and concise blog, wouldn’t it?

The truth is, I have seen leaders who were incredibly effective and universally disliked.

I have seen incredibly well-liked people who were extremely ineffective leaders.

As you ponder your own career, my guess is you’ve seen something similar. It’s just not that simple.

What I can do is share my personal experiences with you. And hope that in so doing, I can offer a perspective you can use as you shape your own career strategy and mindset and plan. It’s entirely possible you won’t agree with me. I suppose some of it has to do with who each of us is as an individual, how we see the world, and others in it. Nevertheless, here we are, so let’s talk about it.

Do you need to be liked to be an effective leader?

My simple answer to this not so simple question is, “No, but it helps.”

Let’s start with what makes a great leader. Some things that come to my mind:

Can inspire and motivate a team.

Can develop and operationalize a strategy.

Are decisive and have integrity.

Can communicate clearly.

Can activate a group of people to work in unison towards a desired result.

Great leaders do these things well. But do they need to be liked to get it done?

The reality is, there are highly effective leaders who are not likeable. There are monsters and tyrants and bullies who are very successful, at least in their own definition of what success means. They direct teams (or entire companies) to achieve amazing results. They technically hit on all the points above. They do this through brute force, leverage and fear. It happens all the time and there is no sense in pretending it doesn’t.

I should say, these leaders – who are effective but not liked – seem to be rare. They’ve chosen, in my opinion, a harder path. Typically, they are very unique people in very unique scenarios. If a young leader came to me and asked what type of leader I thought they should strive to be, I certainly wouldn’t guide towards being a tyrant.

I have found, over the course of my career, it is much easier to be effective as a leader if you are liked. Note, I did not say “soft” – I said “liked”. If you build strong personal relationships with your team and your peers and your manager, the path to success is cleaner, with fewer obstacles. I imagine it also feels better on the inside. Being liked is not mandatory for a leader, but it’s easier.

But what do I mean exactly?

What does “being liked” mean in different contexts? For your peers? For your boss? For your team? Let me spend some time on each.

With your peers

Being liked by your peers is extremely important in my experience. Especially when we talk about peers from other departments in the company. Working with people, over whom you have no legitimate authority, requires diplomacy. It’s a constant negotiation to get things done. You need to influence these people. You can’t tell them what to do. They aren’t obligated to help you with anything. It helps if they like you.

When you don’t have positive relationships with your peers, they tend not to share information with you. They tend to avoid working with you. Sometimes they purposely oppose you just to take a stand. These are massive headwinds to your performance. By contrast, if your peers like you, they will share more information, earlier. They seek you out to work on projects. They search for reasons to support your projects and initiatives. These are all tailwinds to your performance. They make things easier.

My advice to leaders is to invest more time building positive relationships with your peers. Find ways to help them. Spend more time with them. Listen to them. It’s a much more pleasant way to operate, and it makes being successful a lot easier.

With your boss

There are people who say it’s not important to be liked by your boss. That you just need to deliver results. I have not found this to be the case in practice. In my experience, it’s extremely important to have a positive and personal relationship with your boss. You want your boss to see you as a partner. As someone they can trust. You want your boss to enjoy spending time with you.

Being liked by your boss provides a natural boost when things are going well i.e. you can be presented with more opportunities for success. It also provides some natural protection when things are not going well i.e. you’re more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt or assessed through a positive lens.

You often hear gossip around the office about a boss playing favorites. He’s never hard on this person. She loves everything that person does. This person always gets her budget requests accepted. My advice is to stop complaining about it and start building a more positive relationship with your boss. If, indeed, your boss plays favorites – try to become a favorite. You can only play the best you can with the cards you’re dealt.

By contrast, if you’re not liked by your boss, you will face a natural pullback on everything you do. It may be ok for a while, when you’re performing well. But the moment you slip up, or stumble or fail, that pull will grow exponentially.

My advice to leaders is to invest time and energy into building a positive personal relationship with your boss. You don’t need to be “friends”, but you do need to be in a good place.

With your team

This one is a bit trickier. That’s why I saved it for last. I’ve just told you it’s important to build a positive and personal relationship with your boss. Now I’m going to advise you not to be “friends” with your team members. On the surface these pieces of advice seem to be at odds with each other. And that has everything to do with my use of the term “friends”. There’s a lot of nuance in here and I’ll do my best to be clear.

Some managers fail because they have a deep seeded need to be “friends” with their employees. Some managers get into trouble because they don’t know the difference between being liked and respected, and being “friends”.

When you are friends with someone and they ask you for feedback, “do you like this?” Your priority is to make them feel good. Even when you need to give a friend some tough love, you still do it in the kindest way possible. Your top priority is for them to be happy – they’re your friend. This can’t be your mindset as a manager. Yes, you care about your employees. Yes, you want them to be great. But you can’t sugar coat feedback. You can’t package it. You need to be brutally honest. And you can’t do that if you’re trying to be “friends” with your team members. You wouldn’t fire your friend.

In my experience, to be an effective manager, your team members need to know that you care about their wellbeing, that you want them to be successful. This is mandatory to build a high-performance team. BUT … and this is a big BUT … you must be completely honest with them to accomplish this. And this is where we depart from the friend zone.

When it comes to the relationship a manager has with her team members, my advice is to focus more on being honest, than on being friends. When your team members see your honesty comes from a positive place, they will like you … just maybe not in the same way they like their friends.

The question of whether or not we need to be liked to be effective leaders is more complex than it appears on the surface. There are just too many examples of unlikeable leaders who are successful (at least in a business context). In my experience, it is not mandatory, but it certainly helps. Being liked provides a natural tailwind to everything you do, and it protects you when things don’t go well. I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section.

The Weekly Reid: Delegating is way harder than it looks (3 tips to make it easier)

Picture a manager you know who is NOT a strong delegator. If I ask for your theory on why that is the case, you’re likely to say things like:

She never made the transition from individual contributor to manager.  

He doesn’t believe anyone else is as good as he is.

She just can’t let go of the details.

He’s a micromanager, and gets stuck in the weeds.

She’s a control freak.

As you may be anticipating, I don’t believe this is always true. A lot of these descriptions focus in on personal shortcomings. Personality issues. Hubris. Control. Obsession. I will admit there are some managers out there, whose inability to delegate stems from these personal flaws, but most do not. In fact, I would argue most managers are weak delegators, even those with all the personal qualities we respect and admire.

Most weak delegators I know, would LOVE to be better at it. They long for it. They admire leaders who can delegate. So, if it’s not about a flawed personality, what is it that prevents so many of us from delegating effectively?

A few possibilities come to mind.

Our teams aren’t strong enough … yet. Most of us are part way through a transformation of some kind. We don’t yet have all the pieces in place. We don’t yet trust our team members to take on the level of work we need them to.

We are under resourced. We don’t have the time or the people to delegate work to. If there is nobody to give the work to, how are we supposed to delegate?

We are under pressure. We worry about the consequences of delegating work and having it backfire. The risk seems too high. We’re scared of the potential repercussions. So, we promise to look for another opportunity in the future to delegate. And then we do it again.

If I could put you in the mind of most managers, these are the things you’d see; fear, risk aversion, stress. Not hubris or control or obsession.

Like most leaders, I’m somewhere along the delegator’s journey. I’m definitely better than I once was. But I’m certainly not all the way there yet. Here are three tips I’ve used to get a lot better at delegating work. More specifically, to build the environment wherein I can more confidently delegate work and have a reasonable expectation of success.

Build an apprentice culture

Every member of your team should simultaneously be an apprentice and mentor. You should have at least one apprentice. Rather than have team members work on projects and present them back to you for approval, you should work with them as a partner. This is how learning (and teaching) works. Many managers believe giving clear feedback is the magic bullet. They wait for work to be submitted and then critique. It is certainly important to give feedback, but this approach doesn’t go far enough. There is no substitute for working side by side with a team member on a tough project. That’s where the best learning takes place.

My advice to managers is to build an apprentice culture. Don’t worry so much about doubling up on a project. Don’t worry so much about being perceived as a micromanager. Get in there and work alongside your people and encourage them to do the same with their people. Building an apprentice model will protect you from unanticipated turnover and make you a more confident delegator.

Build procedural safety nets

One of the biggest reasons for not delegating (at least for me), is fear. What happens when I delegate and everything blows up? What happens when the work isn’t good, the employee is humiliated and I’m embarrassed, or worse? In my experience, you can delegate and de-risk at the same time. You can build processes that allow delegation to flourish but protect from the scary downside. It’s like pure delegation but with training wheels.

My advice to managers is to build in procedural check points, dry runs, and buffers to soften the edges of delegation. Create an environment where risks can be taken and hard lessons can be learned, without dire consequences. The impact will be a more empowered team, and better track record of success, and more effective delegation.

Build scale into your team

This may seem a bit harsh, but if you can’t find anyone to delegate work to, you probably don’t have the right team in place. At least not yet. Sometimes you need to have a hard conversation with yourself. If I can’t trust this person to execute, why are they on my team? Too often managers are reluctant to hire senior people - people as senior as they are. They find reasons not to; budget, levelling, salary boundaries, other team dynamics. As a result, they never achieve scale. They hire and hire and hire, but never get scale. In fact, some managers, lose scale through hiring. They hire people who need a ton of coaching and hand holding. So much so, it reduces their own level of contribution.

My advice to managers is to do whatever you can to hire people as experienced and talented as possible. Look at your team objectively. Are they skilled enough? If you could start over, what would your dream team look like? What would a team look like where you had to do no work whatsoever? Now make a plan to get there over the next few years.

Delegation is misunderstood. It might be the most misunderstood management attribute. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and critique managers for being weak delegators. It’s easy to pass judgement on the personality flaws that must run underneath. It’s easy, until it’s you. Delegating is hard and its complex and I have a lot of respect for managers who are truly great at it. I hope the three tips I shared today will help you on your personal delegation journey.

The Weekly Reid: 4 tips to maintain your hiring standard … even when you’re desperate

It’s hard, seeing your team underwater, struggling under the weight of an ever-increasing workload, while you have 20 open positions to fill.

It’s painful, saying “no” to candidate after candidate when you know your team is falling further and further behind.

It hurts, to disappoint the managers on your team by pushing back on “ok” candidates, when you know how badly they want the position filled.

In times like these, when hiring is so tough, we need to add rigor to our recruitment process. If our emotions had their way, we’d hire anyone resembling a qualified candidate just to make some progress. So, we need to lean on structure and principles to help us make the right decisions in the face of such intense pressure.

Here are four tips that help me make solid hiring decisions, especially when I feel desperate. I rely on these to continue building a great team, even when the recruiting environment seems bleak. They help me double and triple check we’re hiring the right person, so we don’t inadvertently let emotions trick us into poor hiring decisions. I hope they are helpful to you.

Reward tough decisions

This one is critical if you manage other hiring managers. As much as you want to fill your open positions quickly, you cannot support hiring “so-so” candidates. There is nothing more important than building a high-quality team of amazing people. You can never let desperation trick you into hiring below your standard. As painful as it may feel to be short staffed, it is much more painful to be fully staffed with the wrong people. As leaders, we need to strike a fine balance between putting pressure on our team members to hire quickly, and insisting they hire only the highest quality candidates.

My advice to leaders is to constantly reinforce the need for high standards in hiring. Your team members need to know you support them, especially when they make a tough call to pass on an “ok” candidate. Your team members need your help to maintain the bar for quality. Whenever I get the chance, especially when I know managers on my team are feeling desperate, I make a point of recognizing them for upholding our high standard. It’s not always easy to do, when you’re feeling as desperate as they are, but your team and your company will thank you in the long run.

Add another check and balance

I often assign short projects to final stage candidates as a check and balance in my hiring process. It’s especially helpful when I know I’m feeling the pressure of a recruiting void. It’s an extra step that helps me gain a little more confidence in how a person will actually perform on the job. From a candidate’s perspective, this can sometimes feel like a burden – to be assigned work before even having the job, but I find it very effective to forecast how a personal will perform.

My recommendation to managers is to assign a 90-minute or two-hour project to all final stage candidates (usually no more than 2-3). Then invite the candidates to present their work to you as the last step in the hiring process. Most of the time, this extra step validates the decision you were already leaning towards. But sometimes, it will reveal a serious weakness you didn’t pick up on during the interview. It can save you (and the candidate) a lot of pain and heartache.

Doublecheck your forensic analysis

When I’m feeling the pressure to hire, I double down on the vetting of candidates. I review the resume like I’m a forensic detective. I search for red flags … anything that I might have missed through a cloud of desperation.

What companies have they worked for? Did they have great cultures or bad reputations?

How long have their tenures been? Do they hop from job to job? Did someone else value them enough to keep them for a long time?

Have they had promotions while at a company or have they only made vertical jumps by leaving?

Have they worked in a business model like yours? Will they give you scale or will you just have to spend more time managing them?

My advice to managers is to take one extra pass through resumes and perform some forensic analysis before hiring. It’s a great extra layer of security when hiring in desperate times.

Add a social encounter

When I’m hiring for a critical role, or if I’m not 100% sure about a candidate after the standard interview process has completed, I like to meet them socially. It’s an additional step in the hiring process but it can be exactly what you need to make a more confident hiring decision. I find a social encounter to be especially valuable when hiring senior level people, or anyone who will be a cultural leader in the organization.

We spend a lot of time testing for skills and competencies, and validating experience, but ultimately you need to enjoy working with a person for the relationship to be a success in the long run. A one-hour coffee or drink or meal, can give you one more window into the candidate, which can make all the difference in the world.

My advice to managers is to consider adding a social meeting to your process when you’re unsure about a candidate or feeling an unusual amount of pressure to fill a position. It will give you more confidence to make the right decision.

The war on talent has heated to unprecedented levels. Employers are pulling out all the stops to retain and engage their best people. The impact on hiring is being felt by all of us. Lately it feels harder than ever to find and hire amazing talent. You can go months and quarters without filling key positions. The team you have in place gets tired as you ask them to handle an unrealistic amount of work. The pressure we feel as hiring managers can lead us to make sub-optimal decisions because we’re desperate. When I’m feeling this way, I place additional rigor into my recruitment process to ensure I don’t let my emotions trick me into making bad hires. I hope these were helpful to you, and as always, I’d love to hear any tips that have worked for you.

The Weekly Reid: Are Your Team Members Lying to You?

As I’ve progressed in my career, from my first management jobs to running a large team, I’ve had to face a difficult reality. As you move higher in an organization, people (some people), find it harder to tell you the truth. They don’t want to disappoint you. They fear repercussions – real and imagined. They infer a certain power dynamic whether or not you believe it exists. And so, they package their messages, they qualify their statements, they seek out ways to agree with you.

I see this dynamic just about every day. Team members find it hard to be honest with senior leaders, managers and executives. Whenever possible, they try to find a way to be supportive, agreeable. They want to make the leader happy. They want to find common ground. It is a very logical behavior quite honestly. If that’s not the optimal career strategy, you could see how it would seem like a pretty safe one. Aligning with your boss on everything seems like a path to job security, doesn’t it?

It’s easy to sit there, as you read this, and be critical of this approach i.e. agreeing with senior leaders whether or not that means you have to tell half-truths every once in a while. But ask yourself honestly, what are you doing as a leader to create an environment where being honest is a better career move than being agreeable? What are you doing to make honesty a policy that pays off for your team members?

Do you have a tendency to overreact to bad news? Do you ever blame the messenger? Do you ever fly off then handle when you learn of some indiscretion and then explode a bunch of relationships your team members have worked hard to build? Whether you realize it or not, you may be creating an environment where your team feels you can’t handle hearing the truth.

Here are 4 specific behaviors managers can adopt that will help them create an environment where team members feel comfortable (and compelled) to tell the truth, no matter how hard those truths may be to hear.

1. Build a culture of calmness

With every passing year, as our companies move faster, the number of decisions a manager needs to make is growing rapidly. Every day it seems there is a new big issue or challenge or problem to deal with. If I overreacted to every piece of difficult news I got, my life would be a mess and my team would be anxious and stressed.

Unfortunately, some managers still react too strongly to every little problem they encounter. A campaign bombed, a new hire isn’t working out, someone did something stupid, a competitor made a big announcement. If you’re not careful, you can run around screaming from one thing to the next and leave a wake of anxiety behind you. This is not how you build a winning team.

My advice to managers is to focus on building a culture of calmness. This culture shift starts with you. Set the example. Learn to control yourself when you hear difficult news. Act logically and unemotionally when you are faced with problems. Show your team members how a leader faces challenges. Your poise will be infectious. It will trickle down. This doesn’t take years either. Start presenting a picture of calmness to your team and you’ll witness a noticeable and collective sigh of relief. The impact will be a team that can be honest with you and a team with the confidence to face difficult challenges with control and objectivity.

2. Focus on what do we do next vs. whose fault was it

I’m sorry to say there are still many managers out there who tend to shoot the messenger. They give such visceral, emotional reactions whenever faced with unfortunate news, their team members become too afraid to tell them the truth. Team members fear getting penalized just for being associated with something bad. God forbid they commit some mistake or indiscretion themselves – hiding the truth would seem like a more prudent move than being honest.

You may say, employees who can’t be honest are just not good employees. They lack a certain moral code. I say, look in the mirror. The one thing we know about companies is they are made up of people, and people are inherently flawed. We all are. If you’re operating as a manager with some misguided expectation that people will be anything other than human, you’re fooling yourself.

The best managers, in my experience, immediately jump to “so what do we do now?” when employees share tough news. They don’t dwell on whose fault it was or immediately jump to laying blame. They take the new information calmly, make a good decision and move forward. If further reflection is required, they do so constructively and only after the crisis is over.

My advice to managers is to make yourself an easy target for bad news. Don’t shoot the messenger. Don’t make the consequence of communicating failure so high people feel they can’t be honest with you. That isn’t to say you don’t hold people to account. You do. And you give feedback and make changes when you have to. But, you cannot create an environment where the cost of telling you the truth is so high that lying and withholding become attractive options. Don’t create an environment where the “yes” men and women get ahead and the honest people get left behind.

3. Get over things quickly and give second chances

Managers who hold grudges tend to get lied to a lot. The higher the price for disappointing you, the fewer people on your team that will own up to mistakes. I’ve seen some leaders who hold grudges for so long and so publicly, they create a culture of fear. They attract political animals and morally corrupt individuals around them. They’ve made the price for disagreeing with them or disappointing them so high, team members see no choice but to lie, withhold, and package information.

The best managers I know, can bounce back quickly from bad news and failures. They give people second chances so long as they still have reason to believe in the person. They tend to focus on the future and don’t dwell on the past. Team members see this. They grow more confident. They become willing to take calculated risks. They become comfortable sharing their mistakes and failures with you. This leads to better performance, a developing team, and a culture of honesty. This is what we want.

My advice to managers is to give feedback, hold people accountable, but get over things. If you find yourself holding a grudge over someone for a long time, ask yourself if you should just fire them instead. It’s not constructive, for anyone, to have someone on your team you can’t trust. When people make mistakes, but they used reasonable judgement, give them a second chance. Give them a third chance. Let people see that it pays to be honest in your organization.

4. Take and give feedback easily

It hurts when a team member gives you tough love. It always stings a little, to hear you’ve done something to upset people. Some managers react very poorly when criticism is given to them by team members. They get defensive. Their natural reaction is to justify or bite back. I know this because every time it happens to me, I can feel that reaction swelling inside me for a split section before I remind myself to be calm and embrace the feedback.

The fact is, you want your team members to be able to give you criticism. You are making mistakes, I can promise you that. And sometimes, when you’re moving so fast, it’s hard to see the real impact your statements and actions have. Sometimes your actions have unintended consequences. It happens. You need to build a team of people who feel they can be honest with you when you’ve done something to upset them. Likewise, you want to build a team of people who are willing to hear the same criticism from you.

My advice to managers is to focus on building a culture of feedback. Where all members of your team (including you) can give and take feedback easily. Where every ounce of criticism doesn’t carry existential consequence. Constant feedback and adjustment leads to higher performance. Building this culture starts with you. Learn to accept feedback well and give feedback fairly and with compassion.

When I ask leaders if their teams lie to them, the first reaction is always a visceral “no”. But then, as we probe a little further, we discover that like most things in your career, it’s just not that simple. What we do know, is that to be effective as a manager in the long term, you need to build a culture where team members feel compelled to be honest with you. They want to come to you with problems. They tell you when you’ve done something silly. Their first thought when a mistake happens, is to tell you about it. Honesty, like this, is a key building block of a performance culture. I’d love to hear any tips or advice you have for building honesty into your team culture.

The Weekly Reid: Why I worked 20 hours straight and threw it all away

Can you work your butt off for hours and days and weeks and months and have the strength to throw it all away?

Can you look at your own work and have the courage to admit it’s not good enough?

If you can’t honestly answer “yes” to these questions, don’t beat yourself up too hard. It wasn’t long ago I couldn’t do it either. But it’s important. To be self-aware. To be able to look at yourself and your work objectively. It’s one of the top attributes I look for when I’m hiring.

To move fast, we need to be agile, we need to correct course quickly. We can’t afford to dwell on sunk efforts. We can’t afford to invest good money (or time) after bad.

I worked all weekend on a project I was sure was going to be a homerun. I had it all figured out. I stayed up late. I cancelled plans. It was sunny and warm outside and I stayed inside and worked. And then, 20 hours later, when the work was done, I had to admit to myself that it wasn’t anywhere near as good as I hoped it would be. It wasn’t up to my standard. There were holes in my logic all along. The right move was to throw it all in the garbage. To cut my losses.

But was it really?

Maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe I could salvage a piece of it. Maybe with a little more work I could turn it into something good.

Maybe not.

I caught myself in this line of thinking after about an hour. I wasn’t thinking right. I was upset about wasted time and effort and money. I was no longer making an optimal decision with the information at hand. I was emotional. I was grasping for anything that would mean I didn’t burn an entire weekend for nothing.

Put up your hand if you know the exquisite pain that comes from having to throw out something you’ve worked your ass off on. It hurts. But you have to do it. And I’m proud that I did.

Here are four mindset tricks I’ve adopted over the years, that make it easier to do this.

1.  Take pride in being objective

I’ve written extensively on the power of objectivity. It’s one of the most powerful qualities I look for in leaders. It’s something I’ve worked hard to develop in myself. Self-awareness and objectivity will keep you on the right path no matter where your emotions try to steer you. To be successful in the long term, you need to be able to see yourself and your work for what it really is, not for how you wish it would be. Just because you worked hard on something does not mean it is any good. In fact, many of the projects I’ve worked hardest on were total crap. Many of the projects that came out easy, were my best work.

My advice to managers and career-minded people is to force yourself to be objective. Pride yourself on self-awareness. Nurture this skill in yourself and your teams. Objectivity begets credibility. Credibility begets trust. And trust, brings new opportunities for growth and expansion.

2.  Focus on making an optimal decision right now

All you can do is make the best decision with the information you have at any given moment in time. This is my mindset whenever I’m making decisions. Am I confident that when I look back on this decision at some later time, that I’ve made the best decision possible with the information at hand? Am I using good judgement? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, it will give you the courage to make a tough call.

Even though, as the months and years pass, some of your decisions may prove to have been wrong, you can still be confident so long as you made a solid decision with the information you had. In my case, I’m very comfortable with my decision to invest an entire weekend on a project that landed in the garbage can. Based on what I knew at the time, my approach made a lot of sense. It just didn’t work out. Things happened that were impossible for me to foresee at the outset. And that’s ok. I made an optimal decision to start the project based on what I knew, and then I made an optimal decision to trash it when I discovered new information that changed the dynamics of the game.

My advice is to leaders is to focus only on making optimal decisions based on the information at hand. It’s rare we have perfect information to work from. And waiting for more information will slow you down and make you less competitive. Make good decisions and then make new good decisions when the information landscape changes. Then be satisfied with all the optimal decisions you’ve made.

3.  Never compromise your high standard

Every time I compromise my personal standard, I regret it. Every time I let something squeak through, or give something a pass when I know it deserves a fail, it comes back to haunt me. I can’t think of any time where I compromised my standards for quality, that ultimately helped me progress in my career.

It’s easy to be tempted to compromise your high standard. I nearly was today. I made several arguments (to myself) for why I should just go ahead and publish my crappy work. But ultimately, I couldn’t do it. It takes years to build a reputation and minutes to blow it all away.

My advice is to figure out what your standard is and hold to it. Hold your team to it. Don’t take short cuts. Do great work. And when your work isn’t as great as you thought it was going to be, fix it or do something else.

4.  Take “learning” as a win

In the moment, when you’ve just “wasted” 20 hours working on a project that will never see the light of day, the value in learning a lesson is hard to swallow. But I do find, with enough time, I can point to the value in the hard lessons I’ve learned. If you can force yourself to step back, and view things with a wider perspective, you can take solace in learning from your fruitless efforts.

I will admit, if someone had told me to “take learning as a win” about three hours ago, I wouldn’t have responded as positively as I should have. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Most of my success (and ironically, most of what I write about) comes directly from my mistakes and lessons learned.

My advice is to search for the wins in admitting defeat and moving forward. They’re not always easy to find in the moment, but they are real and they will help you in the long run.

It takes great discipline and strength to be able to look at your own work, after hours and days of effort, and admit it isn’t good enough. The courage and objectivity to do this are qualities I look for in every candidate I hire. I may have wasted my weekend on a project that will never see the light, but my hope is by sharing my lesson, I’ll have created some value for you in the process.

The Weekly Reid: 3 Big Moments Most Managers FAIL to Capitalize on

Let me set a tiny bit more context before we jump into examples. Whether we want to admit it or not, career progression is a competitive game. Everything is relative. Everything is comparative. If you’re a manager – you get compared with other managers. If you’re a Director – you get compared with other Directors. The same holds true until you’re CEO and then you get compared with CEOs from other companies. This is a reality of corporate life. Your value is always measured in relative terms.

She’s one of our brightest executives

He’s been placed on a management fast track

She’s high potential employee

He’s a key manager we need to retain

The entire dialogue about careers in the workplace is comparative. And that makes sense. The higher you go in an organization, the fewer spots there are. Organizational structures, for the most part, are smaller at the top than they are at the bottom. This means we are all competing for advancement opportunities, whether we like it or not.

This doesn’t mean you need to turn into a blood thirsty shark at work tomorrow.  I’m not advocating for that. But it does help to take an accurate view of the playing field you’re on. It does help to appreciate the real dynamics at play so you can play your optimal game and maximize your chances of success.

I’m often surprised by the poor career choices I see managers make. Where they invest their time. Where they choose to focus. What upsets them. What opportunities they ignore completely. The good news is, with so many managers making suboptimal career decisions, you can find an edge. You can take advantage of the opportunities they pass up.

Here are three moments I see managers consistency fail to capitalize on. They don’t give them enough attention or energy. They mail it in when they should be leaning in. My advice, when you’re next faced with one of these, is to double your efforts, make it a priority, differentiate yourself from your peers. Your career will thank you.

1.  Your Presentation at Annual Kickoff

Most of us have some forum at the beginning of the year to present something. For some of us, it’s in front of the entire company. For others, it’s in front of a smaller team. Whatever your moment is, my advice is to quadruple your efforts to make it great.

Your annual meeting is one of the few times people will see presentations from a bunch of managers in a row. Whether we are conscious to it or not, we are rating, ranking and positioning managers in this moment.

Whose presentation was amazing?

Who was funny?

Who looked unprepared?

Who energized the audience?

Who has mad presentation skills?

Who seemed authentic?

Who was full of crap?

These are the questions racing through the minds of audience members during annual kickoff. Your boss, the CEO, other executives, your peers, your team members. It’s a huge moment.

It’s a huge moment, but also one that way too many managers squander. It never ceases to amaze me how weak most of the presentations are at annual kickoff. People just don’t try that hard. They aren’t polished or prepared. The tragedy is, many managers work tirelessly to build great plans and execute them all year, only to mail it in when presenting at the annual kickoff.

I never do this. For me, the presentation about what I’m going to do, or about what I have done, is equally as important as doing it in the first place. You’d be shocked at how much effort I will put into my presentation at a kickoff. It’s THE moment to distinguish yourself from everyone else. Even if your actual contributions were only on par with your peers, this is a moment where you can separate yourself from the pack. This is a moment where you can energize the company (or department) about your initiatives such that it will provide a tailwind for your efforts for the rest of the year.

My advice to managers is to triple or quadruple the amount of effort you expend preparing for your presentation at annual kickoff. Make it amazing. Focus on making a presentation that will set you apart from everyone else. Don’t just be good. Be amazing.

Now, you may say – I’m not a great public speaker, so what about me? – that’s fine. Be the person who has clearly put in the most effort. Have amazing materials, polished slides, great data, concise points. You don’t need to the best speaker to advance your career in a material way at your annual kickoff.

2.  Any time Your Team Members Present

One thing that might surprise you, is how much time I spend helping my team members prepare for their own presentations. Reviews with executives, team meetings, anything with an audience of significance. My job as a leader is to help my people maximize their potential and realize success. So that’s what I do. I never let a manager on my team present in front of a large group or senior leaders without helping them prepare. At first, this might sound to you like a control mechanism. Like I’m a micromanager. Like this is all about me. It’s not. The deal I make with managers on my team is that I will do everything in my power to make them successful, to make them look great. And that means getting personally invested in their big moments as well as mine.

I’m often shocked when I see people deliver poorly prepared or unpolished presentations in large groups while their manager looks on in horror. I would never allow this to happen. When my team members present, I want them to be the best. I want them to be confident and proud. I want them to know, no matter how the presentation goes, that we’ve worked on it together and I’ve got their backs. Even if it doesn’t go well - if they struggle in the moment, that we’ve done everything we could to make it great.

It should go without saying, your team members are a reflection on your management competency. Which is why I’m often shocked at how many managers leave their team members to fend for themselves when preparing for a big presentation. It’s possible they think it too controlling or micromanaging to review their team members’ presentations. I obviously disagree with that perspective. In my experience, the kindest thing you can do for your team members is to help them be great.

My advice to managers is to get more involved in helping your team members prepare for big presentations and meetings. Get in there. If they know you’re doing it because you genuinely want them to look good, they’ll appreciate it. And once they knock a few out of the park and separate themselves from their peers, they’ll embrace the process.

3. Your Quarterly Business Review (QBR)

This is another moment most managers don’t expend enough effort on. They take quarterly business reviews for granted. They view them as necessary evils – an event that gets in the way of what’s really important. This is a misguided perspective. How you present your progress and results is as important as the results themselves. I realize that sounds like quite a statement. Can that really be true? Is this one presentation every three months really as important as all the work expended the other 99 percent of the quarter? Yes.

Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. The QBR (or whatever the equivalent is at your company) is the one moment she gets to compare all the managers on her team. To see them perform on an equal playing field. In a matter of hours or days, she gets to see your management prowess on display, one after another. If you think she’s not evaluating, making judgement, mentally positioning you, you’re naïve. 

Of course, you need good results. If you’ve bombed the quarter, no QBR presentation in the world is going to save you. But if you’ve done reasonably well, this moment can differentiate you from everyone else. If your results are slightly below average, a great QBR presentation can make people believe in your potential. If your results are great, it can catapult you into consideration for promotion or expansion. The QBR presentation is your showcase opportunity, and you need to NAIL it.

Let me give you a window into how your competition might be thinking (by sharing my own mindset). When I am preparing for a QBR (or when I help my team members prepare) I am 100% committed to building what I believe will be the number one presentation my boss sees that week. I commit to spending more time preparing. I commit to polishing and practicing. No matter what happens, no matter what results I’m sharing, I make certain my presentation will be the best. Unlike the results, which have already happened, the quality of my QBR presentation is something that is fully under my control. And so, I nail it. I help managers on my team nail theirs. If you’re not doing the same, your competition is lapping you.

My advice to managers is to invest more energy in your QBRs. Commit to be the best. Presentation quality, slide design, data accuracy. Be compelling. Even if you think every other manager is just going to follow some standard template, go three steps further. Take unnatural efforts to be great in this moment.

I’m often confused by the moments managers choose to focus on (and ignore). In my experience, we spend too much time fixating on creating and executing our plans, and not nearly enough time preparing to tell people about them. I’d love to hear your experiences and perspective on the issue in the comments section.

The Weekly Reid: 4 Times When The Best Move is to Do Nothing

Most managers are action oriented. They see a problem and try to solve it. They meet a roadblock and they try to push through it. I believe you need to have more depth in your game than this. You need to know when taking no action is the best action to take.

Here are a handful of scenarios where doing nothing is usually the best approach.

1. Flaming Emails

The first instinct for many managers, when on the receiving end of a flame email or criticism, is to hit back. Many of us hit back twice as hard. We meet aggression with aggression. We stand up to the bully. We can’t stand the thought of losing. And so, we fight. There is certainly a school of thought that advocates for this level of aggression in business, I just haven’t found that it works over the long term.

Early in my career, if I received an A$$H#&E email from someone, I would instantaneously react. I would respond with at least as much aggression as was targeted at me. Usually a lot more. I reacted emotionally. I reacted quickly and without thinking. Even though it was often therapeutic to bite back, and even though I managed to “win” some battles along the way, my reputation in the long term took a hit. I became known as aggressive, immature … volatile even. It became painfully clear to me a few years in, when I got passed over for a leadership role because the executive team didn’t think I was ready yet. And then it happened again.

As I’ve matured in my career, I’ve learned to not react. To do nothing. I have built great self-control. I have learned to act with purpose. If you send me a flaming email, the chances of receiving an angry response back from me is almost zero. I will let it sit. I will let you sit and wait for me to respond. I’ll let you get impatient. I’ll let you wonder if I’ve even received it. I’ll let you contemplate what you’ve done. And as the hours pass and your emotions shift, you’ll start second guessing yourself. You’ll start wondering if you were inappropriate or unfair. You’ll wonder who I may have shared your email with, and what they may be thinking or doing. I’ll let you sit for a long time. And then, in a day or two or more, when your emotions have calmed and you’re questioning your approach, I’ll call you and very calmly address the issue, make my argument and you’ll apologize to me for being a dickhead.

Who is the leader in this scenario?

Who won this battle?

My advice to managers is to press pause every time you’re tempted to bite back at someone for an angry email or call. Just stop and do nothing. Let it simmer. And when you finally act, do so with purpose and poise. I’m not advocating that you roll over every time someone attacks you – far from it. I’m advocating to act strategically. It will do wonders for your reputation and relationships.

2. Low Priority Work

This is a very different example from the first one, but no less important. Many of us fall victim to the constant onslaught of emails, meetings, calls, minor issues. If you’re not careful, taking action on these can stagnate real progress. In my job, I could easily burn 40 hours a week responding to emails, attending second tier meetings, and answering the phone. I could spend 40 hours a week and make zero progress. I see other managers do this all the time. They just don’t seem to have enough hours in the week. They just can’t seem to move the ball forward on key initiatives.

This is another scenario where the optimal move, in my opinion, is to do nothing. I never answer emails as they come in. I only answer the phone if I know the caller and I have reason to believe the issue is a priority. I decline all non-essential meetings. I almost never schedule meetings for more than 30 minutes even when they are essential. My default response to incoming activity is to do nothing. To let it sit and simmer while I make progress on my big wins.

My observation is that many managers overvalue responsiveness as a management virtue. They respond and respond and respond and at the end of the year, have nothing to show for their work. And when they are being considered for a promotion or expansion, they struggle to show enough progress to support their case.

My advice to managers: When you see the emails flooding your inbox and the calls coming in and meetings piling up – do nothing. Focus on your wins, make progress.

3. Losing Small to Win Big

Managers need to keep their eyes on the prize. You need to know what your big goals are at all times. The decisions you make, on what to give attention and energy to, must be directed by your target wins. One of the biggest mistakes I see managers make is winning small only to lose big. This is true in relationships as well as projects and programs.

To be successful in the long game, you need to build a network of strong relationships. And those strong relationships can’t only be with people you like. The most successful leaders have productive relationships with people they don’t particularly care for. The only way this is possible is if you can keep from getting sucked into petty conflicts that turn into feuds and impasses. You might be surprised at how often I will intentionally lose an argument. You might be surprised at how often I’ll let something slide by that upsets me, that I know is wrong.

I lose small all the time. Some people will scratch their heads and wonder if I’ve gone soft or if I’m not paying attention. That’s not what’s happening. I choose to lose small in order to win big. I choose to accumulate goodwill by sacrificing for other leaders, so when something big comes up, I can cash in my chips.

My advice to managers is to look for more opportunities to lose small so you can win big later. Look for opportunities to turn the other cheek, to do nothing. My experience tells me this approach strengthens relationships, accumulates capital in your network, and strengthens your position when you ultimately do fight for an issue.

4. Unclear Risk vs. Reward

The last scenario I should mention is when you’re unable to approximate the risk/reward for a decision with a reasonable degree of confidence. This is a tricky one and should not be mistaken for tacit permission to punt every tricky call you need to make. The best managers need to be able to act with imperfect information – that is not up for debate. But even without perfect information, you should be able to assess the risk/reward dynamics of a situation before acting.

Is there a big win for me if I do this?

How big is the downside if I mess this up?

If this goes bad, am I comfortable with my decision based on the information I have?

My advice to managers is that if you can’t answer these simple risk/reward questions, it’s usually a good idea to do nothing. Wait. Pass. Take a breath. Like in investing, sometimes the smartest moves are the investments you didn’t make.

Sometimes it pays to take no action at all. This doesn’t come naturally to most managers. We are bred to execute with aggression. Most of us have realized some measure of success by being action-oriented. To do nothing, seems weak, indecisive. Don’t let yourself fall into this line of thinking. Your goal is to make the optimal move in every business scenario you encounter. And many times, in my experience, the optimal move is no movement at all. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below.

The Weekly Reid: How do you manage "ok" performers?

Most good managers act in basically the same way and with basically the same mindset when it comes to top and bottom tier performers. That’s a bit of a generalization, but true for the most part. The wider variance in management focus and approach can be found in that middle performance tier, the average and slightly below average team members. I don’t think we all approach them the same way. It stands to reason, if this variance does exist, that there is a lot of ground to be won vs. your competition by making better decisions about the middle group – the “ok” performers.

Why do I describe the issue in this way?

My mindset is always to strive for “best in the world.” In fact, the number one attribute I look for when hiring new people is a genuine desire to be great. Truly great. Irrespective of where your team may be today, you should be working towards being the best in the world at what you do. It may take 20 years. You may never have the budget to do it. Your company many be in a tough industry. I get that. But what matters to me is the mindset – the commitment to a process that ultimately (even on an infinite timescale) gets your team to best in the world status.

If your team is striving to reach best in the world status, you need to find every edge you can get. In my experience, how you manage your middle tier, or “ok” performers present a real opportunity to find that edge. Most managers tend to ignore this group. It’s easy to do that. And sometimes, frankly, it’s the right thing to do if you have many other burning priorities. It’s easy to place all your attention and investment on motivating your top performers and managing your low performers. Part of the reason for that is it’s just so much more obvious to know what to do with them. The optimal approach for managing average or slightly below average team members if a much more complex problem. As a result, most of us do nothing. And therein lies the opportunity for competitive advantage.

If similar departments in other companies in my industry are ignoring their middle performers, I want to exploit that weakness. I want to outplay them in this area of management. Over the long run, as my middle performers become stronger and their middle performers stay flat, my team becomes better and my company has a new edge in the market. That’s the point of this article.

You may not often think of your team in this way. But what else is there? You’d compare sports teams on the strength of their starting lineups and the strength of their bench. Look at my beloved Toronto Raptors. The had a great season, by in large a result of their middle tier team members. Rather than ignore this group and attend only to the top and bottom players, they focused on building a stronger middle contingent, and it led to a competitive edge (for the regular season at least ☹)

Hopefully, I’ve made a decent argument for why you need to spend more time actively thinking about the development of your “ok” performers. Here are a few tips for how I do it:

Differentiate between “ok now” and “ok forever”

I pay very close attention to forward momentum when evaluating middle tier performers. If I can spot progress, even if it comes at a slow pace, I will happily continue investing in development. As much as I can, I take a pretty long-term view when it comes to team management. I don’t want to be trading people around like baseball cards. It’s important for me to develop long terms relationships with strong performers so we can build great teams together for many years and across many companies. This is not to say I would keep someone in a specific role if they aren’t competent – I wouldn’t. But I won’t give up on a team member if I see some evidence of forward momentum. That is, if I believe there is a reasonable probability the person will someday be great.

On the other hand, when I don’t see evidence of progress in a team member, I immediately start managing in the same way I’d manage a low performer. Either find a role that is a better fit or aggressively performance manage. That may sound harsh to some people. If the person is doing ok, why treat them like a low performer? And my answer is, because I want to be the best in the world.

My advice to managers is to look more closely at your “ok” performers. Specifically, I recommend looking for signs of momentum. If you find it, great, keep challenging them and don’t give up. If you can’t find it, I recommend managing them more as you would a low performer.

Aggressively move people to where they can be great

I need to be a bit careful on this one. I am not really a supporter of moving people around the organization from one role to another when they have not been successful anywhere. You see this happen in a lot of companies. Moderate performers moving from one group to another, ostensibly for their experience, but really because it seems easier than letting them go or hiring an unknown from outside the organization. I call this group, “serial movers”, and advocate against doing this.

With that said, there are cases where otherwise talented, high potential team members are just misplaced in the company. Strong individual contributors who moved hastily to management is probably the best example. Another example are team members who were very effective when the company was small, but now that it’s much bigger, seem a bit lost.

Many managers are reluctant to take action on this group. For the reasons I mentioned above or out of a sense of loyalty to long time team members who were once successful. I think this is a mistake. In my experience, team members are happiest when they are winning. It can be demoralizing for a habitual winner to start losing for a prolonged period of time. So, while you may be reluctant to have a tough conversation about a role change with someone on your team, they may well be silently wishing for it.

My advice to managers is to study your middle tier performers and identify those who could be great if placed in a different role. But really hold yourself to that standard – could this person be great if placed in a new role? If the answer is “yes,” then I recommend moving aggressively. If the answer is “no,” then I would immediately start managing them like you would a low performer.

Hire for the desire to be great

I won’t belabor this one since I kind of already made the point. In my interviews, I actively search for signs that the person I’m talking to has a deep seeded desire to be great. I look for people who are obsessed with best practices, and are well versed in what the best companies in the world are doing. When I find these qualities, I hire. It’s very rare, that a person who genuinely needs to be great will disappoint you. They may struggle here and there, but ultimately their drive and ambition for greatness will overcome.

Note, there is a big difference between wanting to be truly great in the purest sense, and wanting the trappings of success. You need to learn to tell the difference between the two. I’m looking for people who want to be true masters of their craft – to be great ... intrinsically. That’s the kind of magic that can transform a middle performer into a future star.

It’s not always clear how to manage average performers. It’s very easy to do nothing. To ignore them and place your all your energy on top and bottom performers. My contention is there is a competitive edge to be found in out-managing your competition in this middle realm. By raising the level of your “ok” performers, you could well become the Toronto Raptors of your industry (except hopefully you won’t’ collapse in the playoffs). Have a great week.

Want to Lose Your Top Performers? Do these Four Things

I have been critical in the past about managers and media speaking about engagement as an abstraction. As some high-level program or company-wide initiative that lumps everyone together. You’ve read the stat that more than 50% of us have quit a job because of a bad manager. You’ve heard the saying, people quit managers, not companies. This completely lines up with my experience. My observation is that employee engagement is the biproduct of a very personal relationship between an employee and a manager. It’s the result of a partnership based on fairness, opportunity, challenge, and development. I get frustrated when I hear people speak about engagement at the surface level only. As though some system or program or policy is actually going to change how engaged a high performer is.

I spent some time thinking this weekend about the periods where I have felt unengaged at work. They weren’t during the most challenging times, or the times when the company was struggling. They weren’t when I had a crappy vacation plan or a when I couldn’t wear jeans to work. My lowest periods of engagement came when I felt I was being treated unfairly. My engagement withered when I felt the game was rigged, when I couldn’t win. My great efforts no longer resulted in great outcomes.

If you want to retain and engage your top performers, you should never do the four things below. You may find these to be extremely specific and tactical. They are. They are directly related to creating and maintaining a fair playing field at work. I’m sharing with you because after 20 years of career, these are the four things tattooed into my subconscious as guaranteed engagement suckers for top performers. They caused me to leave companies which tells me they’re likely to have the same effect on others.

1.       Friday-night Flames

I used to work with a leader who made a point of sending incredibly harsh emails every Friday afternoon. At first, I thought it was unintentional, but as the months and years went by I became quite certain it was purposeful. Every Friday afternoon around 3 or 4 o’clock, this manager would send a nasty, pointed, critical email seemingly designed to create chaos and anxiety. He would target key members of his team and stakeholders from groups he worked closely with. For about three years, I went home just about every Friday, thinking about or worrying about some critical message this guy had sent.

This was obviously an extremely divisive and frankly, sadistic management technique. And, as I reflect on it now, it was clearly an attempt at exerting control. We’re all nodding our heads as we read this – what a jerk – but ask yourself, do you have any habits like this?

I make a point now, of saving my harshest criticism for a time when we will have the chance to actually talk it through. This may sound like a truism, but I try not to ruin people’s evenings and weekends whenever possible. Even when something really upsets me, and I feel compelled to admonish a person, I’ll hang on to it until Monday and deal with it in a 1-1.

My advice to managers is to dial up your level of self-control. Stop sending flame emails or harsh criticism on Friday afternoons or weekends or evenings when the target of your admonishment isn’t able to talk to you and resolve it. If I’m still painfully recalling those Fridays and Saturdays I spent stewing over flame emails, you can bet your top performers feel the same way about yours.

2.       Copy Staff Members on a Critical Email to their Manager

Don’t undermine your leaders in front of their team members. There is little worse as a manager, than getting crushed on an email or in a meeting in front of your team. If I’m honest with myself, I’m sure I’ve done this more than I should. You tell yourself you want to send a message to the team, or you come up with some other justification for why a hard, public reprimand makes sense. The problem is, when you admonish a manager in front of her team, you create an amplification effect that may have unintended consequences.

When you de-pants a leader in front of the team, you give the team members tacit permission to question his or her competency. You send a clear message to the team that you’ve lost confidence in their leader. It’s easy to imagine the trickle-down effects of this. You crush the manager, the team sees this, they question the leader’s skill and career prospects, they start second guessing direction given to them by the manager, projects start suffering, the member and team perform poorly as a result. Your “message” accomplished exactly the opposite of what you wanted it to.

My advice to leaders is to give hard, critical feedback directly to managers. If you want to send a message to the larger team, I suggest first engaging with the manager and then delivering a purposeful message to the team together. That way you preserve the manager’s ability to lead the team, you have the opportunity to voice your criticism, and you get to deliver a larger message to the team.

3.       Harsh Criticism Too Soon After a Big Effort

I’ll never forget this one time my team and I pushed hard for two months on a massive project – really went above and beyond – the team was completely fried by the end of it. By all accounts it was a success. And then, not even eight hours after it was over, when we were still basking in the glow of our crazy hard effort, we received a flaming email about a mistake we’d made on some other, unrelated project.

If you want to take engagement from 100 to 0 in 5 seconds, this is how you do it.

As a manager, you must pick and choose when and how you criticize. I’m the first person to point out we need to be more critical of our teams. I wrote an entire blog on the subject. But be smart about it. If your team has just worked hard on a tough project, give them a minute to enjoy the success. Have the self-control to hold your criticism for a few days.

In the same vein, if your team is in the heat of the moment – during a big event, in a big customer meeting, about to do something pressure packed, hold your feedback until its done. I’ve never understood managers who insist on crushing their people in the heat of the moment. If they were unprepared, nothing you will say now can fix that. All you will do, by admonishing them in the moment, is make things worse. Performance and engagement will suffer. Wait until it’s over and set up a productive feedback session to share your criticism and advice.

My advice to managers is to be more purposeful in your delivery of feedback and criticism. Too many leaders operate from emotion instead of purpose. Yes, you may be pissed. Yes, your team may have screwed up. But that doesn’t mean you have to react recklessly to satisfy your emotional needs. That is short sighted. Stop reacting. Think through how you want to deliver criticism. Act from purpose, not from anger.

4.       Coddle Underperformers

I wrote about this one in my blog, How to Lose a Team in 10 Days. I won’t dwell on it. Except to say, a guaranteed way of losing your top performers is to be seen coddling or favoring underperformers. Some managers, who aren’t comfortable delivering pointed, critical feedback, or who are unwilling to make hard changes on their teams, can get sucked into a habit of lowering the bar for low performers. You must never do this. I realize it can get exhausting having to constantly provide performance feedback to low performers. It can be tempting to give them a pass just to save the energy. The problem is this behavior sends a clear message to your higher performers. It says the game is not fair.

The worst thing we can do as managers is to sacrifice the engagement of our top performers to coddle our low performers. My advice to leaders is to set a consistent standard for performance and stick to it. Your high performers need to see you pushing lower performers, otherwise you risk losing them.

I think we speak about employee engagement too generically. We rarely get past the surface level in our discussion of it. If we’re not careful, we risk missing the real point. Our goal as managers is to behave in a way that motivates, engages and retains our top performers. I’ve shared a handful of behaviors I’ve seen over the years that do the exact opposite of that. I try really hard not to do these things. I’d love to hear from you about other behaviors you’ve seen that are sure fire ways to suck the engagement from high performers.

The Weekly Reid: 3 Strategies to Reduce Surprise Turnover On Your Team

It’s getting harder to retain talent. Especially young, high potential team members. There are a bunch of reasons for this.

A few that come to my mind:

The widespread availability of salary information and benchmarks can make people impatient. Employees, especially those early in their careers, can earn relatively large salary jumps by moving from one company to another.

There is a near universal expectation of empowerment and autonomy, even from entry level employees. There is almost zero tolerance at this point for menial work, rigid direction, or tough performance management. It can be easy for a team member to justify making a quick career move in search of what may seem like greater freedom and responsibility somewhere else.

These days, company culture is marketed as aggressively as the products companies produce. More than ever, the grass can appear to greener at other organizations. It’s easy for your team members, especially the less experienced ones, to imagine themselves in the job of their dreams at some utopian company they’ve read about in promoted articles on LinkedIn or Glassdoor.

As managers, we need to stop pretending things haven’t changed. We need to stop bemoaning the situation and start changing our behaviors. I had to give my own head a shake a couple of years ago when one of my favorite employees left the company. It was a total shock to me. It made me question everything. Here I was thinking I was being a great mentor, a great teacher, and then … she was gone. I was forced, in that moment, to confront the truth of my management practices. I took a hard look at what I was doing and what I was not doing, and made some specific changes to my approach.

Here are three strategies I adopted to reduce the amount of surprise turnover on my team. I can’t promise this will eliminate it entirely for you, but it will help.

More Dedicated Career Conversations

Most managers will claim to conduct career conversations with team members. You need to be honest with yourself about this one. The occasional 5-minute conversation during performance review time is not enough. Waiting until your employee comes to you asking about career path or asking about a raise is also not enough.

In my opinion, managers need to have an ongoing, active career conversation with every employee on the team. What I mean by “active” is that it is something YOU make happen. Some managers espouse that it’s the employee’s job to manage their own careers – I disagree. That perspective is too passive. It ignores the reality of the situation we’re in. A manager needs to get personally invested in the careers of team members. “Active”, in this sense, also means “purposeful”. You need to schedule time that is dedicated only to having career conversations – in addition to the ongoing dialogue you have in your regular 1-1 cadence. This may seem like a lot to you, but my recommendation is to have one career conversation every month with each employee. In this meeting you only talk about career. That’s 12 dedicated career conversations a year with each of your team members. It’s a lot – but these are crazy times – I believe it’s necessary.

If you are not personally invested in the careers of your team members, who is? If you don’t understand what your team members are striving for, who does? A manager should never be surprised when an employee leaves. That is not to say your team members will never leave – they will. Sometimes there is a disconnect between what they want for their careers and what you can offer. Sometimes there is a gap between their assessment of their abilities and yours. It happens. By having more career conversations, you can’t prevent people from leaving entirely, but you can make sure you’ll never be surprised when they do.

Give More Context for Everything

A big reason employees leave is they don’t feel like their work is meaningful. They can’t see a connection between what they do and the highest-level strategy of the company. This is especially true of entry level employees. When you can’t connect the dots between your work and the outcomes the company is pursuing, it can be demoralizing. It can also make that start-up down the street seem extremely attractive.

While you can’t give every team member a job on the strategic front lines, you can help them find meaning in their work. Since I vowed to change my behavior, I’ve made a point of investing more time providing the full business context for every request I make and project I assign. Some managers feel they don’t have time for this. They just want to give direction and have that direction followed. In my experience, this leads to lower quality work and dramatically increases the risk of surprise turnover.

My recommendation to managers is to begin every project or task request with a clear articulation of what the company is trying to achieve and how the request is connected to it. The task in question may be multiple steps removed from company strategy but you should still have the patience to connect it. Since I have started making this investment, I’ve seen a dramatic improvement in overall work quality and employee engagement. When your team members understand why something is important and what you’re ultimately trying to achieve, they can act with greater creativity and purpose.

Engage in a Longer-Term Plan

Most employees are too short-term focused. Most managers are too. That’s easy for me to say given I’m 20 years into a career, but bear with me. When you’re two years out of school, still living pay cheque to pay cheque, it’s hard not to be short sighted. The challenge is, without the benefit of experience, it’s almost impossible to appreciate the real value of patience in a career. It’s so easy to convince yourself that making a quick jump to the company down the street for a 10K raise and “Senior” on your title is a good move. For an entry level employee, that can be the difference between getting car and taking the bus. It can be the difference between living with roommates and getting your own place. Job hopping can be extremely appealing.

Managers should not restrict the scope of career conversations to the next rung on the ladder. If your conversation with an Associate is restricted to what it will take to make Specialist, you’re not looking long term enough. Go all the way with your career conversations.

My recommendation to managers is to create a long-term plan with employees. They don’t need to have all the answers right away – they may not even know what they want to do in 15 years – but you should still have the dialogue. Help them see multiple moves ahead. Help them understand how salaries will change dramatically three or four levels from where they are today. Where a 10K difference in salary isn’t as significant as it may now seem. Show them how you’ll help them develop and grow. Get them thinking more long term and you’ll get surprised much less.

You can’t eliminate regrettable turnover altogether. It’s impossible to keep everyone engaged. You can’t always offer exactly what your team members want. But you can avoid getting surprised when people quit. Get more invested in your team member’s careers. Start really caring about them. Dedicate time to talking about them. Since I’ve adopted these strategies, I’ve noticed a marked reduction in surprise turnover. I hope they’ll help you too.

The Weekly Reid: 3 Management Lessons I Learned from my Mom

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!

The Weekly Reid: How to be a Great Manager Even When You're at Your Worst

Finding success in your career takes many years (decades even) of consistently high performance. You need to build a track record of achievement to keep advancing. One or two blemishes on your record can easily stall out your progression. It’s hard enough to perform when everything in your personal life is great. But when things are bad, it’s easy to let that bleed over into your professional life.

I won’t pretend there is some magic checklist of things you can do to keep it together when your world is falling apart. There isn’t. But there are specific things you can do to partially quarantine your professional life from your personal life when times are tough. Having just gone through one of these periods myself, I thought it would be helpful to share the tactics I employed to keep the momentum at work going at a time I could have easily let it sputter out.

Rely on Structured Management Cadence

When your mind is elsewhere, it’s easy to let things slip at work. When I’m distracted by my personal life, there is always a temptation to skip non-essential things at work. I’m tempted to cancel 1-1s, push out team meetings, take a pass on a review session. My mind tries to convince me that anything not desperately urgent can be skipped so it can focus on the other issues weighing on my emotions.

When I’m feeling down or distracted, I stop being proactive. I stop taking action unless I’m compelled to do it. It won’t surprise you to know that if you behave like this for many weeks or months, your performance will suffer.

I recognized this tendency early on, and made a deal with myself. I vowed, no matter what, I’d stick to a structured management cadence. I also added some additional structured touch points to make up for the fact my natural proactive energy might be suffering. I made a conscious choice to add formal cadence to counter a lapse in natural proactivity and attention.

For me it was weekly 1-1s with every direct report, a weekly full team standup, a weekly leaders meeting, and quarterly 1-1s with every member of my extended department. I felt that if I could stick to this, at a bare minimum, I could maintain a reasonable enough connection with my team to keep performance improving even if my own energy and emotions were not fully engaged. But upping the amount of formal cadence I did, I was protecting against any natural drawdown in activity and attention I might be experiencing.

Build New Routines and Follow Them Religiously

When you’re having problems at home or your energy is being consumed by something other than work, it’s really hard to make professional progress. As regular readers of The Weekly Reid will know, I’ve always been a huge proponent for continuous learning. When my personal life is calm, I find it easy to naturally build learning into my daily routine. My mind is free, I’m intellectually curious, and so I just find opportunities to learn. But when life is chaotic, when I’m down or preoccupied, learning is one of the first things to go for me. Innovation is another - I all but cease to be creative. For whatever reason, I just can’t summon the creative energy to do these things when my mind is elsewhere.

When I started realizing this tendency in myself, I decided to add more rigidity into my routines to force myself to do these things. I won’t lie to you and say it always worked. It didn’t. But it did help.

For me it was going to work 30 minutes earlier every morning and spending that time reading and learning and brainstorming. I still had to battle with distractions, but this routine got me to focus more on learning and being creative than I would otherwise have. I came to love this special 30-minute period every morning and I still do it now, even as my personal life is as happy and healthy as ever. I also started doing private yoga classes. I realize not everyone can do this (or wants to) but for me, committing to a private session where someone would be waiting for me at 7 am, was exactly what I needed to force me into a behavior my mind didn’t really feel like doing.

The act of building a specific set of routines and committing to them, was exactly what I needed to keep my momentum building when my natural inclination was to retract into my own thoughts and concerns.

Focus on Helping Other People

I have found that when I’m upset, when I’m fixated on problems in my life, it helps to shift my focus onto other people. I tend to obsess about things. And that has served me well in my career but has the opposite effect when I face challenges in my personal life. When I catch myself brooding over my personal problems, I purposely try to shift my selfish energy onto helping other people.

One of the great things about being a manager, is that when you’re doing it right, its inherently a selfless endeavor. You must have empathy to be a great manager. You need to put yourself in the shoes of others. You need to put the team first. Whenever I catch myself stuck in my own head, I’ll find someone on the team to help.

For example, I might to a special mentoring session with a team member. I may do a round of career conversations with my team. Anything to redirect my self-centered energy. I have found this helps keep my management performance high, and calm the obsession I might otherwise focus on my personal problems.

Make a List Every Day and Keep Track of Your Wins

I won’t dwell on this one for very long since it appears in every book ever written on personal productivity. It works. When I’m not at my best (and when I am) I start each morning by writing a list of target accomplishments for the day. Then I order them by impact. I tackle the biggest impact ones first. As it happens these are also often the toughest. I find it best to take these on as early in the day as possible while I have maximum energy and positivity.

At the end of the day I reflect on my list and make note of a few wins I had during the day. I find a minute or two spent acknowledging your wins, goes a long way to building and maintaining momentum especially when you’re down or distracted. That may sound a bit corny to some, but for me, it makes all the difference in the world.

Finding success in your career is challenging enough when your life is firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, none of us is immune to the inevitable ups and downs of life. I hope these tips were helpful for you, and I’d love to hear what has helped you keep performance up when other aspects of your life are down.

The Weekly Reid: How to Lose a Team in 10 Days

If you manage teams for long enough, you’re going to lose them every so often. You’re going to get busy or distracted. You’re going to make mistakes. The company is going to go through ups and downs. It’s impossible not to lose the team once in a while. We all do it. Through my own reflection and self-assessment, I’ve identified 10 specific management behaviors you should be on the lookout for. When you see these in yourself or in leaders on your team, you should be doing whatever you can to eliminate them.  

Here’s how you lose a team in 10 days:

Day 1 – Protect underperformers

It’s easy to trick yourself into believing that terminating underperformers is bad for morale. You tell yourself firing people makes team members nervous, that it signals larger systemic problems, that it brings people down. I’ve seen many managers talk themselves out of a termination they know in their heart is the best thing for the business. Managers who apply this line of thinking are, more often than not, rationalizing a fear of making tough decisions. They use this flawed logic to defend it to themselves and others.

In a performance-based culture, protecting underperformers does more harm than terminating them. When you allow low performers to flourish, it tells top performers that there is an unfair playing field. If you’re not careful, your inaction will cause you to lose the high performers in favor of the low performers.

Day 2 – Cancel 1-1s

For some managers, the first thing to go when things get busy, are regular 1-1s. You should never do this. In fact, the crazier things get at work, and the busier people are, the more you need to prioritize these check-in meetings. Cancelling 1-1s is a sure-fire way to lose touch with your team and ultimately have them slip away entirely.

When I notice things are uniquely chaotic for my team, I make a point of doing more 1-1s to give them the opportunity to talk things through, share challenges and feel supported. Its counterintuitive, but I’ve found doubling down on 1-1s during turbulent times to be extremely effective.

Day 3 – Disparage departing employees

Some inexperienced managers are unable to control their emotions when people leave the company or get terminated. They can’t help but speak negatively about their former team members in public. This is a huge mistake. Your team is always watching. And when they see you disrespect or disparage former employees they naturally imagine how you’d speak about them if they left.

Managers should make a point of speaking positively in public about employees who have left, no matter what the circumstances of the departure were. There is no downside to this approach that I can think of. Control your emotions, always be kind and respectful when speaking about departed team members, or risk losing the team you still have.

Day 4 – Sugar coat everything

Your team is smart, don’t lie to them.

Some leaders have a nasty habit of trying to paint everything as a positive. They tell themselves it’s to keep morale up and to prevent panic, but it’s actually a great way to lose a team. In my experience, it’s much more productive (and positive in the long run), to be honest with your team. Don’t tell them things are ok when they’re not. Tell them what is going on, and ask for their partnership in overcoming whatever obstacles you face. They can take it. They will surprise you.

Day 5 – Pay inequitably

10 years ago, it was uncommon for employees to talk openly about their salaries. They do now. Glass Door and other sites have made pay so much more transparent. The new generation workforce has completely abandoned the conventions we had when it comes to talking about money. It’s time to acknowledge everyone on your team knows what everyone else makes. For this reason, (and for the obvious ethical and moral reasons) you must make a point of paying equitably.

You can lose a team in a heartbeat if they discover you’re not paying fairly across gender, race, performance, and experience. I realize there are many practical realities that make consistent pay equity more challenging than it appears on the surface. New hires tend to come in at higher salaries, some people negotiate harder than others, your company doesn’t always make it easy to fix pay gaps that may exist. I get all that. But your team needs to believe YOU are committed to doing the right thing. If they don’t, you’ll lose them.

Day 6 – Talk badly about staff when they are not present

Many leaders, when frustrated, will talk disparagingly about staff members when they’re not in the room. It often happens in front of that person’s peers or subordinates. This is another byproduct of leaders not being able to control their emotions. It’s inexcusable. When you speak badly about a team member in from of their peers or subordinates, it sends a terrible message.

If my manager talks about him like this, how does she talk about me when I’m not here?

When I’m in the presence of others, I try to use the classic rule – if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. It’s not always easy. I will admit, I still catch myself from time to time, criticizing a team member when they’re not present. This behavior serves no purpose. There is no upside to speaking negatively about a person in front of others and we all need to eliminate it or risk losing our teams.

Day 7 – Apply standards inconsistently

Have you ever had a manager who seemed to be very hard on certain teams and very easy on others?

Have you ever had a manager who seemed to care more about some functions than others?

I think we all have. Sometimes this happens because of a leader’s personal experience and interests. Other times it happens because of personal relationships. Whatever the reason, leaders risk losing their teams when they’re seen to be setting the bar differently across people and groups. It sends a very confusing message. It seems unfair. You can lose the team entirely if you’re not careful. I’ve found it helpful, in my self-reflection, to make sure I’m pushing all teams and people to the same standard of excellence.

Day 8 – Miss team meetings

I catch myself, from time to time, cancelling the full team meeting I run every week. Most of the time it’s for unavoidable reasons, but not always. If I’m travelling or engaged in a big project, a regular team meeting seems like an easy thing to push. In fact, this is the opposite of what I should do.

The more disconnected you feel from your team – due to travel or high priority projects – the more important your team meetings are. If you’re feeling disconnected, your team is likely feeling that at 10X. If you get too disconnected, you can lose them entirely. Next time you’re about to push or cancel your team meeting, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Day 9 – Make yourself unapproachable

This is one I’ve thought about a lot over the last five years. Some managers create an aura about them that makes them difficult to approach with bad news or challenges. I have been accused of this in the past and it bothers me every time I think about it. As a leader, your team needs to feel comfortable bringing bad news to you. You want to be the first person they think of when sh&t hits the fan. If they’re afraid of telling you, if they think you can’t handle bad news calmly, they will internalize problems and you won’t find out about then until it’s too late to take action.

Day 10 – Stop communicating

Communication has been a recurring theme in this list. As soon as you stop communicating with your team, you will lose them. Some managers prefer to operate at an arm’s length from their teams. They sit in an office and pat themselves on the back for not being a micromanager. The problem is, when you’re not actively communicating with your team members, you run the risk of missing too much important stuff. I have always favored a much more active management style than some experts advocate for. I want to be in the middle of things with my team – not to micromanage them – not even to direct them – but to be in the struggle alongside them.

Whatever approach works best for you, I recommend to all leaders to engage in a continuous, active dialogue with your team. Do save your conversations for regular 1-1s and update meetings. Keep communicating or lose your team.

If you’re anything like me, you see a few of these in yourself. I’ve found it helpful to practice regular self-reflection and self-assessment. I actively look for weaknesses in my management style and act to shore them up. If you’ve got some other bad habits I may have missed, please send me an email or share in the comments.

The Weekly Reid: 5 Attributes Every Great Leader Needs

While there is no single formula that makes a great leader, there are some traits most great leaders have in common. I work to develop these traits in myself and my team members. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these attributes and if you think I may be missing some.

1.  Calmness

The longer I go in my career, the more I value calmness as a leadership attribute. Things change so fast these days. Our companies are changing. Our technologies are changing. It feels, to me at least, that we are spinning faster and faster. The pace of change can be overwhelming even for the hardened veterans among us.

Calm leadership is more important now than ever. Your team needs you to be stoic when everything around them is chaotic. When a plane goes through sudden turbulence, the first thing passengers do is look at the flight attendants to see if they’re panicking. If the flight attendants are calm, it calms everyone. If the flight attendants blink, everyone panics. Panic and worry are contagious. The same is true at work.

I council the leaders on my team to make calmness an attribute they strive for. It takes practice, but you can develop it – at least outwardly. None of us are immune to a certain degree of worry and panic – I do it all the time on the inside. But I make a point of presenting a calm demeanor, especially when things are chaotic. When my team members look at me, I want them to see someone who is under control, so they in turn, will stay controlled. I want to make the contagion work for good instead of bad.

2.  Clarity

I used to think I was clear in my communication until I started doing performance reviews and terminations on a larger team. I realized in a hurry, that the messages I thought I was communicating to people, were not exactly what they were hearing.

Many of us focus too much on what we think we are saying, and not nearly enough on what our audience is actually hearing. How many times have you left a meeting believing you were crystal clear, only to learn later there was a huge disconnect? It’s happened to me more than I’d care to admit.

How many times have you given someone a negative performance review, only to discover they had no idea there was a problem in the first place? It can be quite vexing for everyone. It’s easy to blame the person on the other side for not listening, but is that really fair?

Your job as a leader, is to be clear with people. To give clear direction. To provide clear feedback. To be honest. There’s a big difference between speaking and communication. What matters most in communication, is that both parties are aligned. With that goal in mind, I have worked over the last few years to make clarity a priority. At first, that meant being a bit robotic. I could be quite clinical when giving direction and feedback. I’d document things. I’d list things clearly. I’d speak in brief, direct language. It felt a bit awkward, but it was effective. It solved the clarity problem. And, over the years, with more practice, I have learned to be clear without being so clinical. It’s become more natural for me and just as effective.   

My advice to leaders is to make clarity your top communication priority. Focus more on what is being heard and less on what you are saying. I realize that sounds a bit odd, but it has worked wonders for me.

3. Objectivity

Long time readers of The Weekly Reid may be bored of me talking about objectivity. I do it a lot, because I have found it to be extremely important in my career. Some leaders struggle to be objective because their passion clouds their judgement. They get locked into a way of thinking. They become rigid. They become blind to alternative ways of thinking. I’m sure you know managers like this. You may even see this tendency in yourself sometimes. When you lose objectivity, you miss opportunities that could be roads to greatness for you and your team.

I’ve had a few unfortunate experiences working with leaders who lacked objectivity. They became unable to see beyond their own perspectives. They became TOO passionate about a program or approach or strategy, and it eroded their performance and credibility. If you’re not careful, a dogmatic allegiance to one way of thinking can chip away at your reputation over time. You want to be viewed as a manager who can take on anything, who can adapt to change – not a one trick pony.

By contrast, the best managers I’ve worked with, were ruthlessly objective. Passionately objective, if you will. They were open to new ideas, counter arguments, input from others. They could embrace being wrong as strongly as they could embrace being right. They took advantage of changes and new perspectives. Their teams were loyal because their ideas were heard.

My recommendation to leaders is to focus on embracing a spirit of objectivity in yourself and inspiring it in your teams. If you want to read more about my views on this subject, check out this blog I wrote a while back:

4 Tips to Move from Director Level to VP Level

4.  Empathy

We hear a lot about empathy these days. To the point where it’s easy to ignore the concept when you see it. I would advise against that. If there was one attribute I would credit most for any success I have had as a leader, it would be empathy.

When you hear the word … “empathy” … most of us hear something very soft. Not me. For me, empathy at work is about taking the perspective of others so you can be effective. When I’m in a negotiation, I’m using empathy to put myself in the other party’s position. When I’m building competitive intelligence, I use empathy to understand why my competition is behaving the way they are. When I’m developing people, I use empathy to discover the best possible ways to motivate my team members.

Tactical empathy, as I call it, is one of the most valuable (and underutilized) leadership skills. If you haven’t already, I suggest checking out this blog I wrote on the subject.

The #1 Workplace Mistake I Saw in 2016

My advice is to take empathy more seriously. Develop in yourself. Spend more time placing yourself in the shoes of others, and less time focusing on your own perspective. It has been immeasurably valuable for me and I think it can help you too.

5. Decisiveness

In chaotic times, your team needs you to be decisive. It’s rare that you will ever have all the information you need to be certain about any decision, but you still need to be decisive. That’s one of the great challenges of being a leader. Indecision or waffling from a leader can kill a team faster than just about anything.

I spent many years playing poker at a reasonably high level. That experience taught me to be comfortable making tough decisions based on incomplete information and loosely calculated probabilities and expected returns. In poker, you never know exactly what hand your opponent has, but with some practice and a little math, you can narrow the possibilities down to a range of possible holdings. To be successful at poker, and at work, you need to be able to take whatever information you have, evaluate the probable outcomes of your available options, and make a confident, decisive decision. And then learn to live with the results. You won’t always be right, but if you do it often enough, in the long run, you will come out ahead.

It’s hard for leaders to make confident decisions knowing that some percentage of the time they will be wrong. But the alternative is worse. Not making firm decisions leads to chaos. Your team will lose confidence in you. Your peers will lose respect for you. And you won’t come out any further ahead in the long run anyways.

My advice is to focus on being decisive, even when you don’t have all the information you need. Embrace the concept of making logical, well-formed decisions without perfect information. As it becomes a habit, you’ll get more confident and your team will embrace it too.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of leader I want to be. And as I continue to learn and gain experience, my image of model leadership is evolving. I’d love to hear your thoughts on leadership attributes. What stands out to you? Send me an email or write in the comments to share your experiences.

Weekly Reid - How to Develop Leadership that Scales

For the past 10 years, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to manage teams of all sizes. From very few to many. I’ve experienced firsthand, the unique challenges that arise at specific inflection points along the way. I’ve shared many of my mistakes and learnings with you. In my journey, the only constant I’ve discovered with certainty, is the need to be humble. Just when you think you’ve mastered the art of management, something changes and you realize how little you really know. There are levels to this thing and those levels are rarely apparent until the next one is staring you in the face.

For all the debates about management styles – collaborative, autocratic, coercive, facilitative, situational – there are not nearly enough about management scale. All styles optimized for managing a team of 2, fail on a team of 20. What works brilliantly managing a team of individual contributors, fails when managing a team of senior leaders with their own teams to manage. Today I’m going to share some of the lessons I’ve learned for building scale into my own leadership style. I hope it will be helpful to you.

1.   Deleverage from You

The most important starting point for leading at scale is to embrace the goal of deleveraging from yourself. Failure to do so will inevitably transform you into a bottleneck to the success of your team. This is a hard one for new leaders. Especially those who have found success up until this point as individual stars. A mindset shift is required.

At a certain point, to be an effective leader on a large scale, you must evolve from being a star in your own right to being an agent for a team of stars. That transformation is harder than it sounds and takes real commitment to execute. There is always a temptation for a manager to dive in and solve problems. To fix things. To save things. To make sure things get done the way you know how. Don’t fall into this trap.

It takes discipline to embrace work from your team that you think is only 90 percent of what you could do yourself. But that is a profitable tradeoff in exchange for scalability. It should go without saying, though it often doesn’t, that a team of 10 people executing at even 70 or 80 percent of what you believe you could do, is more productive than 100% of your personal quality at a scale of one. Yet, so many leaders struggle with this.

If you never give your team the opportunity to operate unburdened by you, you’ll never get the chance to see the truly creative and innovative work that is possible. You will miss out on the opportunity to surpass your own potential. Don’t make this mistake.

My advice to leaders is to deleverage from yourself as early as possible. Your goal, from the outset of management, should be to architect your own irrelevance. If often talk about the best manager I ever knew and how he seemed to do almost nothing. That is the dream. You’ll know you’ve built a scalable team when you no long have anything to do. The good news is, for the career minded managers out there, this is when bigger opportunities and new challenges will be presented to you.

2.   Start by building values and operating principles

Architecting a team to scale means you need to empower people to make good decisions without you. Most teams I observe are not well set up for that. They depend too heavily on one or two leaders to be the source of all judgement and decision making. If you’re not careful, you can inadvertently build a team with no capacity of making well-reasoned decisions without you. I’ve seen entire companies that operate in a leadership vacuum because a controlling leader failed to build the necessary infrastructure for decision making at scale.

As a leader, it can be hard to let go. We all want to empower people to make decisions but we also worry about the consequences of bad ones. When the pressure gets high, we revert to controlling everything. I do this all the time. Like all managers, I am a work in progress. What I have found to be effective is to invest time in building and evangelizing core values and operating principles. Developing a set of principles your team can point to when making key execution decisions. Even though you may not be able to weigh in on each individual decision itself, your values and principles, if developed effectively, can be everything the team needs to make well-reasoned decisions and give you peace of mind in the process.

My advice to leaders is to invest more time building and communicating values and operating principles for your teams. Invest less time making decisions for them. Values can be cultural, but they can also be operational. You should be quite broad in your interpretation of this. For example, I run a marketing team, and we are constantly building campaigns and content that require many decisions and approvals. Rather than make all the decisions about what kind of language and tone our marketing campaigns are written with, I invest upfront to communicate a set of core values and principles for our brand. For example, our language is always smart and fun. We use human imagery whenever we can, and we never use a long fancy word when we could use a short simple one. A very simple set of principles like this can build scale into your model for leadership. Fewer people need to come to me to make decisions now. they have a set of values and principles to point them in the right direction.

3.  Teach models and frameworks

In a similar vein, I try to build scale onto my team my investing more time in teaching the core models and frameworks for the functions I manage. This way I can spend less time investing in day to day approvals and reviews. There are many benefits to leaders and teams in taking this approach. Teaching models is akin to the “teach a man to fish” proverb. Rather than have my team come to me to brainstorm and review messaging every time they are working on a program; I invest time upfront in developing and teaching a model for building messaging that can be applied to most scenarios.

You might be surprised at how few managers invest the time to understand their functions at a deep enough level to be able to build models to support it. If you can do it successfully, you will save yourself countless hours in reviews, you will build confidence in your team members, and the quality and consistency of the work will go up. Moreover, you won’t have to worry so much about key team members potentially leaving. The power will be in the models your team operates on – not in any one person.

The model for messaging I mentioned is just one type of example where investing in frameworks is effective. I do it for everything. As you probably know from my blog, I love building templates. I have templates for annual plans, quarterly updates, strategic plans … everything. By investing time in building templates, I free my team up to be more creative on the substantive things and expend less energy worrying about planning and operational frameworks.  

My advice to leaders is to invest time in building out the models and templates and frameworks for the most important things your team does all the time. Processes, plans, presentations … all of it. These models become a key ingredient in the scalability of your team. They deleverage you or any one individual or group on your team.

Leadership is journey that never ends. The moment you think you’ve got it figured you, you will be shown something that reminds you have far you still must go. In this latest phase of my personal leadership journey, I have been focused on building scale into the teams I lead. I hope this was helpful to you and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Weekly Reid - Setting Career Goals for 2018

This year I’m focusing on three professional goals. But before I launch into them, I think it’s important to share my methodology with you. I should warn that the goal setting purists may get offended by my approach. Unlike typical business goals, which are meant to be results oriented, I purposefully do not focus on outcomes in my annual goal setting. For me, the process is much more important than the outcome. I want to create new behaviors and habits that I think will lead me to positive outcomes, and then let the results take care of themselves.

The challenge with outcome-based goals, in my experience, is that they tend to be quite binary. You either lost 15 pounds or you didn’t.  So what if you worked out every day and ate well but only lost 13 pounds? Is that a failure? What was actually the most important thing, the outcome or the new lifestyle you adopted? Outcome-based goals can lead you to discount the amazing value that can come from adopting the right behaviors even if you fall a bit short of the desired outcome. To be honest, the older I get the less I care about outcomes and the more I care about habits. This applies to my professional life too.

Back to my professional goals. I have three categories for these: Learning goals, Leadership goals, and Coaching goals. For my career, this makes sense. First and foremost, I am a manager, so these categories are a good fit for me. If you’re an individual contributor or a hybrid contributor-manager, you might select slightly different categories.

Within each category I typically have one goal with a few behavioral commitments tied to it. This way I have something to shoot for AND a set of behaviors to ensure I stay on the right path.

Here are my professional goals for 2018:

Learning Goal:

Operational Mastery

Someday I would like to be a CEO. I have wanted that for a while now and most of my learning goals tend to be centered on the areas I think I’m missing to be successful at that level. When I look at the best CEOs I’ve ever worked for, they all had an amazing command over the financial and operational engineering of a company. I don’t have this yet. Most of my career has been spent working in the Sales, Marketing and Product areas of companies so I’ve got a gap to fill on the operational side if I want to reach my full potential as a leader. This year, my learning plan is going to focus primarily on the pursuit of mastery in financial and operational disciplines. I’m excited to dive in and improve in these areas.

My Commitments:

Read one book per quarter on corporate finance and operations.

Take one online course per quarter on corporate finance and operations.

Find a coach or mentor and commit to one session per month to develop my skills.

Find one opportunity or project this year at my company to expand my operational experience.

Leadership Goal:

Quiet Leadership

As I wrote about in a recent blog, I am very focused on speaking less and listening more. I have noticed, in myself and in leaders around me, a bad habit of leading by directing vs. leading by inspiring collaboration. I want to change this in myself.

I think you can get by for a while as a leader just by giving clear and precise direction and holding people accountable to execution. But at a certain point, you reach a limit. The best leaders in the world facilitate greatness in others. That is leadership at scale.

This year, I’m going to focus on leading by inspiring others to collaborate and to be creative. To do that, I’m going to talk way less. I’m going to wait longer before sharing my opinions. I’m going to find new ways to make people feel more comfortable to be creative. This hasn’t always been my strong suit. When I’m rushed or impatient I have a tendency of dominate and direct. I’ll just jump to my answer instead of facilitating real collaboration. I’m excited to develop in this way.

Commitments:

Start all project discussions and brainstorming by polling the room for ideas before sharing my own.

Start all new project meetings with a basic statement of the objective but no direction on tactics.

Make my team more comfortable by lowering the consequences of having a “bad idea”.

Host a coaching session with leaders on my team to create similar behaviors in them.

Coaching Goal:

Unleash the Introverts

I am an introvert. I always have been. There are unique challenges to being an introverted leader but it’s not impossible by any means. Many great leaders are introverts. Over the years I have developed a mindset and a collection of tools that help me succeed as a leader even though I struggle in some areas extroverts find easy. When I look around me, I see a lot of introverts who struggle with the same things I have had to overcome. My goal in 2018 is to share those methods and models with this group to help inspire a new generation of leaders.

Commitments:

Write one blog per quarter focused on leadership tools for introverts.

Hold one coaching session per quarter with the future introvert leaders I see on my team.

Create specific opportunities for the introverts around me to push their boundaries.

I love goal setting. I always feel great right after I do it. I realize the goals as I’ve presented them today aren’t as measurable as you might normally see, but it’s the behavioral change I’m after. I’m excited to pursue these new habits and committments with all of my energy and enthusiasm this year. I hope you’ve found my perspective to be valuable and I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on goal setting and what you’re shooting for in 2018.