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: 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: 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.