7 Habits of Highly Successful Managers

Jul 21, 2011 by

Welcome to a new installment of my semi-regular ‘7 Skills/Habits’ series (travelers, coworkers, supervision), an idea stolen blatantly from Stephen Covey.*

A couple of months ago, I was asked to present a training on leadership and management. I was told that I had 3 hours and about 15 interns to work with in the session. And that was it. It was intimidating to say the least. I mean how do you talk about leadership and management in a way that gets across some useful lessons in 3 hours? It seems like both too much and too little time.

But then I took a deep breath and started to focus on the ‘7 Habits’ model as a way to design the training. What I came away with was a distillation of many of the management habits – best practices really – that I consistently harp on within this blog. Now, I’m going to share them with you:

  1. Listen – You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.
    • Listening is one of the most difficult, but also one of the most important management tools you have. Some people never listen, some listen occasionally and some listen a lot but still filter everything they hear through their own biases. You must strive to avoid being any one of those people and instead seek to be a person who truly listens to what people say and even what they don’t say. Doing this will make you both unique among your peers and better able to manage everyone around you.
  2. Prepare – Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance.
    • Make no mistake: proper preparation requires time, effort and energy. But it also makes for success in everything you do. Making a list and checking it twice isn’t only for Santa.
  3. Prioritize – Figure out what is most important. Do that first.
    • I’m not claiming that figuring out what is most important is easy; it is not. However, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean you should avoid it or not even bother trying.
  4. Follow up – If you say you’ll do something, do it. If someone else says they’ll do something, make sure that they do.
    • This one seems so simple and yet so many people don’t do it! I’ll give you a perfect example related to career development: in my first job, I worked with hundreds of college students all around the country, many of whom were nearly ready to graduate. Now, I was only 22 and fresh out of school myself, but I had gone through a job search, moved to a new city and had some contacts from my job. How many of those hundreds of students followed up with me to ask for help, advice, support to contacts. None. That’s right – not one of them followed up with me. Would I have noticed if one of them did? Of course.
  5. Manage Up and Laterally – Ask for guidance and be explicit about what you need.
    • As you begin your career, learning to manage up can be one of the most daunting tasks you face. How do you approach your boss? How do you get what you need? How do you figure out what you’re supposed to do on particular tasks? The key for managing up and laterally is to ask questions and be explicit. None of us are mind readers – you have to tell people what you want and need.
  6. Delegate – Give responsibility, authority and accountability.
      1. Responsibility – you must set clear expectations, but not step-by-step instructions on how something should be done.
      2. Authority – the person you delegate to must be given the right to make decisions
      3. Accountability – the person you delegate to is responsible for the work, but you (the delegator) have ultimate responsibility for the task
    • Out of all of these habits (with the possible exception of listening), this is the one I see screwed up the most. Delegation means “transferring decision-making authority to another employee for a task not necessarily within their job description; the delegator still retains ultimate accountability for the project.” (Apologies, I found this quote several years ago and I can no longer remember the source of it.)
    • Here are the key takeaways – and the things that people screw up about delegation:
  7. Take Responsibility and Give Credit – Own the bad, share the good.
    • This one is fairly self-explanatory: don’t take credit for other people’s ideas or work, share the credit when you both get it done and take responsibility when you – or someone you delegated to – messes things up. Simple, but maybe not easy.

Are there other tips you have for good managers? What do you do to keep at the top of your management game? Let me know!

*To further pay homage, I’ll note that most of the content from this post comes from lessons I’ve learned from Peter Drucker, one of world’s foremost management experts and one of my personal mentors in absentia (obviously I don’t know him personally and he sadly passed away a few years ago). I encourage you to purchase or borrow any one of his books right away.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Leo Reynolds
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Becoming a Networking Master (from #YNPNdc11)

Jun 3, 2011 by

I’m here at the YNPNdc Annual Conference, attending fantastic sessions on everything from networking and positive psychology to board service and technology. As part of the YNPNdc, I’m live-tweeting sessions all around and wanted to compile some of the tweets into a quick blog post. To follow all the live tweets, check out the hashtag #ynpndc11

Here are the details from “Becoming a Networking Master: Making the Most of In-Person Events and Creating Your Own Online Brand” with presenters Caitlin Fisher of Hellerman Baretz Communications and Jung Lim from The Washington Center.

What is Networking and why should you do it?

  • Part of your ongoing career development; building relationships; developing alliances; ongoing communications
  • When networking, think about the skills, knowledge that you can offer to others; its not just about getting something from others
  • Networking is not a popularity contest nor is it a bitch session – it supposed to be mutually beneficial

How to build your network

  • Start  with educational contacts, personal & work contacts
  • Volunteer with nonprofit organizations
  • Do informational interviews with people in your field
  • Other ways to build your network: career fairs, events, panel presentations (like the YNPNdc Conference!), online contacts including LinkedIn and other social networks

3 stages of networking

1) Getting started

  • Assemble self-marketing materials including resume, reference list, online presence (LinkedIn profile, etc.), business cards
  • Join a professional organization like @YNPNdc
  • Take action – go out and find the party!
  • Find the party – go to @YNPNdc happy hours, Biznow events, DC Chamber of Commerce, etc.

2) At the event

  • Put your name tag at eye level, dress for success, bring business cards
  • Food & drink
    • Eat beforehand so you don’t spend the entire event at the food table
    • Watch out for bad breath at networking events! Honestly: stinky food and breath is a turn off
    • Try not to drink too much (alcohol) at a networking event – you don’t want to get sloppy in front of new networking contacts
  • Have a 15 second elevator speech about what you do or what you’re looking to do
  • Elevator speech includes name (loud and clear), your job or career identity, the ‘so what’ – what you’re doing, what you’re looking for, why they should be interested
  • Create a more extended version of your greeting: the power greeeting which includes your area of interest, your credentials, experience, what you like to do.
  • Conversation starters: ask people about themselves, ask them about the space/location of the happy hour or their job
  • Know when to end the conversation – use a white lie to get out of it if you need to
  • Being an active listener is more important than being nervous about what to say

3) Relationship building

  • Get in touch quickly (2 days max), connect via email/phone/social networking
  • Remind them who you are & how you met; try to remember personal details
  • Gently indicate why you want to keep in touch – is there a business connect? opportunities to collaborate? mentoring?
  • Do NOT rule out any contacts no matter what their industry
  • Keep an eye on people’s profiles on LinkedIn and directly reach out to them about new jobs, articles posted, events, etc.
  • Go out of your way to be a resource to your network so that when you need something, they’ll respond
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Three steps to start (or improve) a relationship with anyone

Apr 18, 2011 by

In my day job, I spend most of my time building and maintaining relationships. Some days that task is easy, some days it is very difficult; but at the core, it is always simple (remember that simple and easy are not the same thing). And of course, its one of the most valuable skills you can have.

Whether you’re looking for a job, trying to keep your job, networking, making friends, moving to a new place, meeting your in-laws or anything in between, you need to have and grow good relationships. After years of doing this professionally and personally, I’ve boiled the science of relationship maintenance down to three steps for you:

  1. Know – If someone doesn’t recognize your name in their inbox or on their voicemail, the likelihood of them returning your email or call is minimal. Therefore, your first step is to get to know the person you need to have a relationship with and let them get to know you too. That means introducing yourself first instead of immediately asking for something from them. It also means providing basic information about yourself or your issue/problem/question instead of assuming that they know what you’re talking about.
  2. Like – Once someone knows who you are, the next step is to get them to like you. You can do this by providing useful information to them, offering help before its needed and then helping them when they ask for it. You can also do this by taking them out for coffee or a meal and talking about their interests and experiences; again, do this before you ask them for anything. Everyone likes to talk about themselves, so you can win by asking about them and genuinely listening.
  3. Trust – Once someone knows you and likes you, its a short step to having them trust you. If you do what you say you will on time and don’t overburden them with requests for help, they will trust you that much sooner. And once they trust you, they will step up to the plate on your behalf whether its by providing a recommendation, introducing you to the right people or going out of their way to help you.

The implicit fourth step here is to keep up with all three of the previous steps. Even if you move away or something else happens to take you out of someone’s immediate circle, you need to cultivate that relationship by staying at the top of their mind and maintaining the trust you’ve built. If you do that, you won’t have to worry about losing connection no matter what happens in your life.

*Photo courtesy of Flickr user susanvg
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Networking is not a dirty word

Nov 17, 2010 by

I’ve had some disturbing conversations with coworkers and others lately about networking. I’ve heard some young folks at the very beginning of their careers vehemently eschew networking and claim that they won’t do it; in fact that they don’t NEED to do it to get ahead. Well let me be blunt: they are dead wrong. And if they don’t correct themselves, their careers will suffer for it.

A 10 second Google search will bring up thousands of results for networking (computer, social or otherwise) and why it is important – so you don’t have to take my word for it. Let me instead explore the root of this fear and distrust of networking.

Courtesy of Flickr user yummyporky

I think many people equate networking with selling; furthermore they equate selling with something that is bad. Right away I want to challenge the assumption that selling something is bad. I know most people don’t want to feel ‘sold to’ but let’s be honest: this is America and our existence as a country virtually depends on selling…everything. How do you think the founding fathers and mothers got other colonists on their side? They sold them on the idea. How do we manage the country’s debt and keep the economy moving? By selling it (our debt). And on a more personal level: how do you get a good job? You sell your skills and knowledge to an employer. Whether you like it or not, it is a fact – so deal with it.

Now that we’ve gotten over that, let’s move onto the most common form of networking and what most people think of when the word is mentioned: happy hours and receptions. Many people (most?) have a very understandable fear of talking to people they don’t know. I’m an extreme extrovert and even I get intimidated by the thought of attempting to make conversation with people with which I may not have anything in common.

If this is you, then I’d like to offer a few alternatives to build your network without subjecting yourself to the trauma of happy hours:

  • Don’t forget about the network you already have – If you’ve lived anywhere for more than a few months, you have a network (small though it may be). Even if you haven’t lived there long, you have co-workers, schoolmates or other folks that went to your college in the area. The point is: you have a network. So work it! Take colleagues and co-workers out for drinks or coffee and pick their brains. Ask questions about their professional experience, education, interests and tips for getting ahead in your field. Ask them for other people that you can meet with based on your interests and offer to introduce them to others that have shared interests.
  • Informational interviews with people in your field – Start with the recommendations from people you already know and grow outward from there. Some of my best friends have been those I’ve met through social media or through my own contacts (including Rosetta, Julia and Andrea to name just a few). Again, take these people out for coffee and pick their brains. You can find them by searching Twitter for relevant hashtags, connecting through LinkedIn or by paying attention in external meetings that you attend as part of your job. And don’t worry about getting rejected for an interview; though people may be super busy, there is nothing that they like more than talking about themselves (that includes me) so if they say no it certainly isn’t personal.
  • If you do decide to go to a happy hour, take 2 or 3 friends with you when you go – This is a great strategy because at first you’ll have someone to talk to and it will make starting conversations with others easier. Stand near the bar (which everyone else will visit at least once or twice) and be careful to avoid standing in a really tight circle. Hang out in a loose group and make small talk amongst yourselves – don’t get into any deeply personal conversations that will exclude others. And of course, make sure to smile at everyone that passes by; that will encourage them to stop by and chat with you. Finally, make sure you have at least a few easy topics of conversation or questions at the tip of your tongue; these could be the basics like jobs, where people are from or where they live currently or could go into the specifics of the happy hour topic or issue-focus.
  • Follow up, follow up, follow up – Once you do some basic networking, you can’t drop those relationships! The whole point of networking is to get to know more people, get some information and leverage that information to get further ahead. If you have an informational interview, send a thank you note. Then send an email every 3 to 5 months to let the person know how you’re doing. I recommend sending a useful article or by sharing something you learned from one of the contacts that person recommended to you. Of course, make sure you connect with them on LinkedIn. And when the time comes, you can ask them for help or advice landing that job or finishing that big project.
  • Pay it forward – Networking is a two-way street. I think people misunderstand this and that is part of the reason they are leery about it. In a good networking relationship you each benefit. That can mean a lot of things: you share useful info on new developments in your field (see the bullet above), put in a good word when a contact is looking for a job and agree to do information interviews with others coming up in the field. By giving back, you can get even more out of that relationship in the future (who knows when that young go-getter will become ED of a nonprofit you want to work for?).

Now that you’ve got some new ideas and a new approach to networking you’re ready to get to it right? Good. I’ll see you out there.

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Secrets to Success, Job Seekers Edition: Know What You Want

Apr 10, 2009 by

Flickr photo by Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library

Flickr photo by Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library

As I discussed in my last post in this series, you should always know what your professional goals are for the short- and long-term. But we all know that just because we know where we want to be, doesn’t mean we know how to get there.

I myself have faced this issue, especially in the last few years as I have moved up ‘the ladder’ toward my ideal job of managing the organizing department of a major national nonprofit. Figuring out how to get there can be daunting. What skills do I need to work on? What type of position can help me both utilize the skills I have and develop more?

Some people suggest that you sit down and list all the things you want out of your new job including responsibilities, pay and benefits. I’m not opposed to that and I think that may be helpful, especially if you’re younger or at the beginning of a career shift. That doesn’t quite work for me though. At this point, I have a pretty good idea of the kind of skills I want to utilize and what I need in terms of pay and benefits. Plus, I find that listing out those items (and potentially boiling them down into job search terms) can be a bit limiting. What if you miss a great but unusual opportunity by being too narrowly-focused?

So here’s what I do: I have subscriptions to several job lists including Idealist, the New Organizing Institute, the Feminist Jobs Digest and JobsthatareLEFT. Plus, I put out the call for leads to all of my friends, colleagues and contacts (more on that in a later post). I take a look at any job that has a remotely interesting or relevant sounding title. If the description has a few of the elements I’m looking for, I print it out and put it aside. Putting it aside is an important part of my process. I never apply to a job immediately upon seeing the description.

(Yes, it is true that I had the luxury of already having a job during my latest search. But even if you’ve been laid off and you really need a job, it is far more useful for you to take the time before you apply to determine if you’ll be a good fit – again, more on this in my next post.)

What ends up happening is that at the end of a week, I have a folder with several interesting sounding jobs in it. I then go through them one at a time, carefully rereading them, highlighting the key responsibilities, requirements and application instructions. Most of the time, I end up recycling (i.e., not applying to) the great majority of the job descriptions I originally printed out. Upon second reading, it usually becomes clear that most of them are jobs I don’t really want for a variety of reasons.

That brings us back to the subject of this post: knowing what you want. My contention is that you don’t have to know exactly what that is with 100% certainty at the beginning or even the middle of a job search. Over time, as you apply to those jobs that sound the most intriguing, you’ll figure it out. And when you get called in for an interview, you’ll come across as someone who is dedicated, passionate and knows what she wants.

To keep up to date on the rest of the posts in this series, make sure to bookmark this page or subscribe to the RSS feed.
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