Simple beliefs about management, Plucky-style

This morning I responded to a prospective client who is weighing bringing me onsite to teach So Now You’re a Manager to their leadership team. She asked me to address how this training’s content addresses the biggest problems in the org, which are:

  • Managers can’t get out of the weeds and are too busy with their own day-to-day to manage their reports
  • Lack of leadership from the management team
  • Managers not pushing down responsibilities and not really understanding how to manage people
  • Reports not managing up
  • Fear of failing

Here was my off-the–cuff response, which seemed worthy of sharing for others considering sending folks to Philadelphia’s training in March:

Based on the list of 5 concerns, here’s what I’d say:
  • Managers cannot successfully lead unless they see themselves as leaders. So the first thing we’ll do is leadership mission statements in which all managers in the room must craft their own interpretation of managing and leading. Then they share them with the room. This is important because it’s the first step towards OWNING the experience of managing and leading and publicly interpreting that for their peers. This action will help with #2 and #3.
  • Then we’ll build on the concept of what the heck management is (short story: I believe all managers have a double major. Building trust and finding opportunities. That’s it. If they ONLY take this away from our time together, it will be a big win). Building trust and finding opportunities looks like a number of tactical things (1:1s, tracking resources’ paths, listening closely at leadership meetings, meeting with peers, sharing appreciation and reward systems). This portion of our time together will help with #1 and #4.
  • And regarding #5, I’m sure I’ll say this 10x/day while we’re together, but life is a giant science experiment. TRY THINGS! You must be willing to try things, assess and adjust as managers. This belief is my entire vibe in the room, I will encourage people to practice elements together, I will endlessly brainstorm with you all about what hasn’t been working and pull new ideas and experiments out of you.
  • Fundamentally I believe managing is like parenting. You never graduate. You will continue to hone these skills for your entire career – delegation, patience, managing UP, building trust, etc. Even if you get decent at one in Q1, you may struggle in Q3 because the humans you are working with and for will evolve! They’re like moving targets. 🙂 But with awareness and intention, commitment and a peer group of folks who are also managing alongside you, managing is incredibly rewarding and growing and the years of experiments and anecdotes they build up will make really fascinating and stretching careers for them all.


Does this sound like something your org needs? Send me your managers! There are still spots open for So Now You’re a Manager, Philadelphia edition on March 22-23, 2018. I would love to help empower your leaders and send them back with some GUMPTION! And tools!

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.

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 Your Friends

“I’ve had to delete texts lately,” my client said. “I start typing but realize partway through that it isn’t cool to share what annoys me at work with her anymore.”

Holy cow, the complexities of promotions in friendly workplaces.

You used to be peers. You talked over lunch about your days, you rolled your eyes together about That Person on the team… and now you’ve been asked to manage the team. Now not only are you in charge of That Person’s career path, you’re also responsible for your friend’s performance reviews, too.

The anxiety about encountering such awkward social situations keeps many people from management in the first place. Why trade friends for responsibility?

I don’t think you have to. Like any uncomfortable identity shift, life will hand you moments in which you cross a bridge into unknown territory. Some friends will follow you along the twists and turns and some will stay back, taunting you and throwing stones on which they’ve painted “WHAT A SELL OUT.”

It’s not your job to control your friend’s ability to reimagine a new version of your friendship. But here are some tangible steps you do have control over:

1. Call a spade a spade. Go out for a coffee together and say something like “I’m excited about this new stuff at work but I know it might be weird for a while while we navigate new roles. How do you feel about it?” The important thing to emphasize here is this: if you don’t talk about what’s awkward, you either seem stupid or dishonest. Of course this is going to be tricky. But inviting conversation about how it’s tricky for both of you opens the conversation enough to recommit to the next phase of your friendship.

An ability to talk about hard things and have faith in the friendship (despite the fact that some periods will be more challenging than others) is a defining quality of leadership.

2. Identify a role model. Somewhere, somehow, you know a leader who can talk like a real person but is also reliably professional. You trust her instincts, you know that you could approach her for guidance and there is something really soothing about the fact that you never hear her speak badly of others.

Once you identify this leader, mentally bounce your hardest social situations off of her. What would this leader say in response to your friend’s passive aggressive text? How does she handle the boundaries of friends at work? How would she handle a conversation with a team member who needs to start wearing deodorant? (Welcome to management.) 

Managing can be overwhelming; role models helpfully remind us that we’re not the first to do anything. 

3. Find new peers. You need new people to text. Developing relationships with others at your management level gives you a safe peer group among which you can discuss confidential information. If you’re not finding connections internally, reach out to manager friends in other workplaces. It is helpful to normalize your managing experience by hearing about the stuff going on at other companies (AND HOOO BOY IS STUFF GOING ON OUT THERE HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF UBER I MEAN REALLY.)

You will be less tempted to share confidential information with internal friends if you have a healthy channel to absorb it. Vent upwards and outwards, no exceptions.

4. Stay in your lane. It isn’t your job to make sure your friend can sleep at night because you were promoted. Don’t apologize for your progression or feel guilt about his feelings — and you do not need his permission to grow in your career. If you follow the above advice, you have demonstrated that you are glad to have a new work opportunity AND you’re eager to evolve your friendship too.

But. He may not be ready to receive this generous offer. 

At the end of the day, you cannot control the emotional growth or maturity of anyone but yourself. So if your friend is going to hold it against you, if they’re going to be resentful and stick their tongue out when you’re not looking, then you keep on keeping on. An inability to accept change is your friend’s Achilles’ heel — not yours’. Continue being reliably professional and, if he’s lucky, he’ll save the friendship by growing through it.

Are you a manager? Have you ended up in weird social dynamics since becoming a manager? Join us this summer for manager training. We’re going to talk about it all, normalize modern managing and help you find your way through it.