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Weekly 3: Managing people & yourself

Summary: Believe in your employees. Manage the environment, not just the people. Be your own CEO. (~7

Idea Journal Weekly 3

June 17 · Issue #39 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Believe in your employees. Manage the environment, not just the people. Be your own CEO. (~7 min read)

#1. The best managers are also the best coaches.
In her book Beyond Measure, author and businesswoman Margaret Heffernan cites the findings of Google’s Project Oxygen, a multi-year study to better understand the qualities of the company’s best managers.
Many people involved in the project assumed that technical expertise would be most important.
In fact, technical expertise came last. Of the top 8 qualities of managers in the study, being a good coach and believing in their employees was what mattered most.
For Heffernan, the Project Oxygen findings reflect a key lesson from her own experience as an executive and manager: “one of the simplest ways to elicit great work from people is to show you believe in them.”
It isn’t about simply being friendly. It’s about taking an active interest in their lives and careers; about asking questions instead of just supplying answers; about building their confidence so they can be self-sufficient and persevere in the face of difficulties.
Companies routinely restructure themselves to unlock energy and ideas. This process frequently involves eliminating individuals who are described as “dead wood.”
But Heffernan asks: Were they dead to begin with? Did the company recruit and hire dead people?
“Of course not. But lack of time, attention, and concern had killed off the interest with which they’d begun.”
Note: We wrote about another one of Margaret Heffernan’s ideas, asking better questions to make better decisions, in a previous issue.
#2. Focus on creating a "rockstar" environment.
Authors and entrepreneurs Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s write in their book Rework that instead of trying to hire a room full of rockstars, you should worry about the quality of the room itself.
They acknowledge that people have different abilities and interests, and simply creating a rockstar environment won’t automatically generate great work on its own.
But as they point out, the environment has a lot more to do with great work than many people realize.
For Fried and Heinemeier Hansson, there’s a ton of untapped potential “trapped under lame policies, poor direction, and stifling bureaucracies.”
Creating such an environment isn’t about casual Fridays or bring-your-dog-to-work days – if those are so great, why don’t people do them every work day?
Rockstar environments develop out of autonomy, responsibility, and trust: “They’re a result of giving people the privacy, workspace, and tools they deserve.”
Note: We wrote about another one of Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s ideas, “out-teaching” your competition, in a previous issue.
#3. Better manage yourself and your career.
Management scholar Peter Drucker writes in the Harvard Business Review that although we live in an age of unprecedented opportunity, employees can’t count on companies to manage their careers.
Instead, “knowledge workers” must effectively be their own chief executive officers: “It’s up to you to carve out your place, to know when to change course, and to keep yourself engaged and productive during a work life that may span some 50 years.”
To better manage yourself and your career, Drucker suggests that you answer the following questions:
1. What are my strengths?
Drucker points out that the only way to accurately discover your strengths is through “feedback analysis.”
Here’s how to use it in 2 steps:
  • First, whenever you’re making an important decision or taking a key action, write down what you expect to happen.
  • Then, 9 or 12 months later compare the actual results with your expectations – how well do they match up?
In a relatively short period of time, around 2 to 3 years, this feedback analysis will show your strengths, and just as important, those areas where you’re not competent.
2. How do I perform?
Drucker writes that very few people know how they work best and how they get things done – even though knowing this can be just as important as knowing your strengths.
He suggests asking yourself 2 questions to better understand how you uniquely perform best:
  • Are you a reader or a listener? People are rarely both: “Few listeners can be made, or can make themselves, into competent readers – and vice versa.”
  • How do you learn? Some people learn best by writing, some by taking notes, and others by talking – the key is to know what works best for you.
3. What are my values?
Organizations, like people, have values. To be effective in an organization, your values don’t need to be exactly the same as the organization’s, but they need to be compatible.
This is especially important because sometimes your strengths may not align with your values.
In Drucker’s own case, he’d been a successful investment banker, but didn’t see himself making a useful contribution to society. He later realized that his values centered on people, not money, and he “saw no point in being the richest man in the cemetery.”
4. Where do I belong?
Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, how they perform, and their values.
A key part of knowing where you’ll be most successful is knowing where you don’t belong. For instance, if you’ve learned that you don’t perform well in big organizations or in a decision-making role, then you should say no to such opportunities.
5. What should I contribute?
For Drucker, determining what you should contribute — and not just what you want to contribute — requires asking the following 3 questions:
  • What does the situation require?
  • Given my strengths, how I perform, and my values, how can I make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done?
  • What results have to be achieved to make a difference?
Quote of the Week
“The challenge for the leader isn’t to delude himself into thinking that people are intrinsically better or worse than they really are; rather, it is to find ways to bring out the best in his followers (and in himself) while minimizing the worst.”
- Author and professor Steven Sample in his book The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership 
Idea Journal
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