Manager training: behind the music!


Every day I coach emerging leaders as they move into managerial roles and I hear the same themes in all of our conversations:
– How do I know if I’m doing well?
– I miss being in the weeds of the work.
– Humans are exhausting me.
– I hear about the problems but I don’t have the power to solve them.

These same themes come up in all verticals, from tech to healthcare to advertising to education to finance. Employees newly-promoted into manager roles are all wondering the same thing: was this the right move? Why does it feel so… hard?

Sometimes you get more money if you’re managing. But the money doesn’t help when you’re about to go into your 14th meeting of the day, unable to complete the work decided on in meetings because your schedule is full of, well, other meetings. The money doesn’t help when you stress about translating difficult messages from more senior leadership to your own reports.

And the money doesn’t help when you burn out tragically fast, quit and go freelance.

So there has to be a more compelling reason to become a manager and I feel authentic when I say this: managing is one of the most important opportunities you may have. Ever.

Managers lead other humans, assembling and motivating them to work together towards a common goal. Leading humans is a killer skill to have, especially if you do not use it for evil!

For this reason, I recently launched So Now You’re a Manager, a 2-day mini-conf for people who have less than 5 years experience as a manager! Let’s make some great future leaders, shall we?

The first one happened in Brooklyn, NY. The second one is happening in a few weeks in San Francisco. If any of this post resonates with you, you should totally come. And if your boss needs convincing to approve budget or time off, you can send them this post so they know what to expect:


Leadership Mission Statements
If you have never considered yourself a leader before, you are going to have an inefficient time leading. Who are you as a leader? What values do you believe in? How will your reports see you and what will they lean on you for? SNYAM attendees defined their leadership values, style and the skills they wanted to focus on for the next 6 months.

You could see attendees come alive in Brooklyn as they read their statements aloud. This also proved that all of the humans in the room were not the same! Some spoke of transparency, others of diversity and others of kindness. It was fantastic to see attendees grow self-aware about their own career paths.

Team as Product
If you’re building a product, you face many decisions about adding features, clarifying priorities and holding a vision for it so all can see. What if you thought of your team as a product? How would you hire differently if you knew you had a bunch of quiet people already on the team? What skills and personality traits would help the team be more successful?

SNYAM attendees were asked to design their current teams with play dough… and then explain their designs to the group they were sitting with. Sitting among peers who understand managing UP and corralling independent team members was so useful; they made smart observations about each others’ teams and many future decisions became obvious along the way.

1:1 practice
Why are 1:1s helpful? How often should you have them? What do you do if the person sitting across from you is a cold, stone wall of emotion and is acting like a robot? (Yeah. That’s the real talk right there.)

After covering some basics, attendees paired up and took 45 minutes to practice 1:1s with each other. From a variety of industries, they came back together to share that they felt helped and like helpers, that there were many similarities in their problems and victories! Getting an outside perspective from another person was refreshing, whether they did a walking 1:1, found a bench outside to sit on or made their way to a coffee shop. (Changing venues for 1:1s was a good experiment, too!)

Blame Jen!
Maybe you’re new to management and you know you need to evolve your identity (especially if you’ll be managing people who used to be peers!), but it seems cheesy and lame to start doing trust falls, SNYAM gives you the superpower of BLAMING JEN!

Attendees were given folders of manager tools, including work wheels, career planning guides, job description guidance and team dynamic activities. When they got back to work and wanted to try something new, they could always blame SNYAM (or Jen!) to build momentum around the new tool! Identity issues resolved.

Take-aways
If you are taking time and budget to be somewhere for 2 days, you better get something out of it. Attendees got Take-away Breaks twice a day so they could keep notes about what they and their specific teams need.

Coaching call 6 weeks later
Let’s be real; these attendees were out of the office for two days and then returned back to mega-emails, meetings and the grind. They brought instincts back with them and a new energy, but change has better odds when it’s monitored.

Six weeks after SNYAM, attendees booked 30 minute coaching calls with me to check in on how things were going. Sometimes they asked questions about their specific teams, sometimes they vented and sometimes we problem-solved together. Either way, it was a strong finish to the experience and compelling to see the ways they were integrating what they learned into daily managerial life.

If you’re a new manager (or an experienced manager who needs a new take), please join us in a few weeks. Tickets are limited to 20 attendees and we would love to see you there.

Because this conference will change things for you. It will give you a break in your schedule, a much-needed 2 day breather from the normal grind and it will allow you to consider, intentionally, who you are and what you’re leading. Successful careers and companies are built by the strong leaders who serve them; investing in yourself will give you the best shot at doing just that.

Companies who have sent their leaders to SNYAM in the past: Citi Bike, ExpandTheRoom, Fastspot, Four Kitchens, Glossier, SkyHi, The New York Times, VTS, Yellow Pencil, ZeroCater… and more!

On Managing Millennials

Dear Plucky,

There are a variety of junior employees on my team. It’s been a joy to mentor them, but I’ve noticed that they interpret feedback in a very different way than I do. A small dose of constructive feedback can lead to a tailspin of anxiety, negative self-talk or even tears. Often, these conversations require a follow up to refocus the situation and move forward which can be draining for both parties.

On the flip side of this, this team really exhibits a need for constant vocal, positive reinforcement. One high five can lead to a massive uptick in productivity, but the absence of this regular feedback can sometimes lead to assumptions that the unspoken feedback is very negative.

How can I keep my junior team focused on their development and provide them with the skills to rely less on the feedback of others? I don’t have any participation ribbons left!

From,
Millennial Manager

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Hey MM,

First of all, what a thoughtfully-worded note. “I’ve noticed that they interpret feedback in a very different way than I do” is a generous way of saying what the rest of the world has been muttering under their breath for the past few years. (… aka, “MILLENNIALS, AM I RIGHT???”)

When I read your note, I hear a soft alarm ringing underneath nearly every sentence, a gentle alert that reminds me about the problem of confidence.

I know the world is handling many other tragic epidemics these days, but from my corner of the planet I see lack of confidence as the most pervasive one out there. And since I’m using a word that is thrown around in weird ways these days, I’ll define what I mean by it:

Confidence means that you feel at peace with the direction you’re going because you know that THE ONLY LIFE YOU’RE LIVING IS THE ONE YOU GOT. No matter what’s going on around you (insults? trolls? idiotic senior leadership, illnesses, political turmoil or just a grey morning), confidence is the absurdly rare ability to say “I know who I am and I act accordingly.”

(Btw, confidence does not mean that you think you’re better than other people or that you always have the right answers or that you deserve a $10k raise, pronto.)

So, back to your question. When you describe the juniors on your team, what I hear underneath it is a whole bucket of folks who do not yet know who they are.

Likely, these folks grew up in a generation that had access to participation ribbons and loads of positive encouragement from their parents and teachers. But the world they were dumped into after graduation was one that suffers from a real lack of community. They’re building relationships online (both personal and professional), they’re moving away from their families at young ages… instead of the slow build of identity formed in communities, they are left to figure out who they are based on Facebook likes and retweets.

I’m not complaining about this new world; that seems like clickbait and a total waste of time. But I point it out because it’s the math behind how this generation operates. Work represents much more than a paycheck and the opportunity to churn things out; work may be the deepest place of community they have.

Because of this, it makes total sense that their identity stuff is showing up at work, that they are trying to define themselves according to the people they sit next to, the coworkers who got high fives and those who didn’t, the fear that a piece of growing feedback will lead them straight out of a job.

That fear is great because they wouldn’t just be losing a job. They’d be losing their community.

As their manager, here’s what I’d do: I would instantly shift my language to be very focused on the individual. In a 1:1, I’d ask about what she was proudest of lately, what she wants help with. I’d compliment the way she reacted to a client and I’d ask how she would fix Uber if she could. I would reiterate concepts like growth and development, I’d tell an anecdote about how I screwed something up last week and ask if she ever did something similar.

In short, I would demonstrate that this human is so interesting and has so much possibility that we could spend the whole 1:1 without mentioning coworkers or the company at all.

Side note: they won’t all make it. Some of your juniors have such a long way to go in growing their confidence that they will need another 10 years of hopping around jobs to find themselves. This is not your problem to solve. You cannot control the pace of someone else’s emotional growth.

What is your problem is finding the ones who will make it and helping to build the foundations of their identity and self-confidence. Achieving lofty company missions are possible, but they are more possible when you’ve got a bunch of confident individuals on-hand.

How lucky your juniors are to have you for a manager! And how interesting to consider your own career path moment in all of this, your opportunity to be a springboard for a team of confident, capable humans, willing and ready to report for duty.

Thanks for writing. Hope this helps.
xo Jen

Are you a manager? Do you manage millennials? We’ll talk about the nuts & bolts of managing, plus the bigger conversation about empowering humans at Plucky’s manager training in San Francisco this October! I’d love to see you there.

A Human Disappointed Me.

Dear Plucky,

A human disappointed me today. What should I do?

Love,
Everyone

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Dear Everyone,
Oh, friend. Want to come sit for a few minutes? Let’s walk over here to this bench, the one that overlooks some nature. I like looking at nature when I’m having trouble with humans. Nature has so much less… mega-brains.

Let’s sit here and look out until it feels like we can tackle this big question.
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You know, the vast majority of my job is spent talking to people individually. Sometimes I wish I had a best friend who was a marriage counselor or peace treaty diplomat and she could give me advice over weekly wine because it’s hard for me to hear all sides of a story and realize that no one is wrong. (By the way, no one is right, either.)

How can it be that no one is wrong?! This is a hard question. Let’s look back at those hills for a while.
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When I hear about a conflict, the first thing I do is try to assess the facts. Who said what? Who else was in the room? What time was it?

Then I ask about your intuition. Why do you think this happened? What does your gut tell you? Why would the person act this way? Why would the group act this way? (This illuminates a lot, by the way. Sometimes this step unknots the whole thing and we realize that it was someone else’s fear that led to the whole conflict. That’s easier to excuse and act on — or at least show some empathy towards.)

If you’re still a mess, we focus in on you. When is the last time you encountered this type of person or conflict? Why does it trigger you? How did you deal with it in the past and can you leverage that now?

Then we look to the future because, no matter what it is, you will encounter this kind of person or conflict again. What do you want to learn from this? What do you want to be able to leverage next time? What if your future memoir was titled “Everything I Learned From That Dumb Person”? (I like being funny sometimes during conflict because HEY LIFE! Take it down a notch.)

Does it sound like I’m not listening to you? Does it seem like I’m taking their side? Let’s look at that nature again.
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By the way, look at the way that little sandbar is sticking out of the creek down there. Isn’t that weird? Last time we were here, the sandbar was under water. I guess that happened because there hasn’t been rain in a long time. I guess the creek doesn’t have as much water in it, so it’s starting to dry up.
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People are like that, too. They act differently, depending on the season.
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By the way, you mentioned that a human disappointed you. I’m sorry about that.
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That redwood tree over there has been alive for a long time. I bet there have been a bunch of storms in his lifetime. Look there, how the roots of that tree are all folded around that rock. They just grew around it! And on the other side, they managed to thread through the other trees’ roots.

I wonder if nature is ever disappointed by the cast of characters it has to contend with. Humans that build roads or deer that mow down the fields or droughts that threaten creeks and create islands in rivers…

Some of your disappointments can be solved because the people or the conflicts are amenable to change. But, Everyone, sometimes you are going to encounter a rock or a drought that is out of your control. In those moments, I think you need to ask yourself how you can grow despite it, around it, away from it, above it.
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Remember how I said that no one is wrong? Maybe I should be more clear. I think that humans act in accordance with what they believe is right. Humans are always doing what they know how to do.

This is why I generally feel okay after handling humans all day long. I can see that they are all trying their best. I can also see that they have blind spots, that there are things to learn, that some conflicts arise because of plain old boredom. They’re really hard on themselves and even still they somehow disappoint someone.

All this to say, I think you can make the assumption that the other human you mentioned was somehow trying her best.
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You can always take a walk in nature to forget about humans for a while. Ants are pretty inspiring. Bees, too. Don’t even get me started on butterflies (THEY LITERALLY GO FROM GOOP TO A NEW ANIMAL I CANNOT EVEN.)

Humans are nature, too.

They have giant amazing brains, but humans are nature too.

I hope that helps.

xo Jen

P.S. Interested in hearing more about humans in the workplace? I send a monthly newsletter; sign up here.