Management 3: Which kind of person are you?

There are several types of people:

  1. People who don’t see a problem
  2. People who see a problem but don’t do anything
  3. People who see a problem and propose a solution
  4. People who see a problem and propose the right solution
  5. People who see a problem, propose the right solution, convince others, and follow the idea through to completion
  6. People who see the most important problem, propose the best solution, convince others, and follow the idea through to completion

Getting to #6 takes time, effort and persistence.  It’s easy to say “I saw that problem” after the fact, or “I brought it up but nobody listened”  It’s not easy to do something about it.

It’s ok to say “I see a problem but don’t know the right solution yet”  You don’t get to #6 in a vacuum.  But an inspiring leader is able to focus their energy, identify where best to focus, and move others to their vision.  Which type of person are you?


Kindle, much more than a device

Amazon really has their act together.

I love my Kindle device.  It’s not perfect, but I love it for what it is.  It’s a great way to read business and fiction books.

Amazon went from fulfilling books via delivery, to experimenting with just-in-time printing, to digital distribution.

In the traditional book selling and fulfilling model, they have to anticipate demand for every title, purchasing the right amount up front to meet the forecasted demand.  As a result, they have to manage the supply, and at times hold onto books for long periods of time.  In order for this to be profitable, they can’t stock every book in existence because books that only sell a handful of copies wouldn’t be very profitable.  Printing on demand has emerged as a possibility to reduce overhead, allowing Amazon to print single copies of books when desired (see The Long Tail)

Side note:  they solved a similar problem with their AWS cloud solutions.  Rather than purchase or lease IT infrastructure up front based on projections, you can quickly deploy and scale servers based on need and demand.  This is transforming the way companies are run, and allowing for new startups to get products to market faster.

Back to the Kindle.  Fixed costs are near zero.  Great.  But they’ve gone further than that.  I’m now reading more books than ever.  Not only do I have instant access to most of the books I want, but I can access the books from all of my devices.

I walked into Borders, found a few good books that I wanted to read, used my iPhone Kindle version to lookup the books, and bought them on the spot.  I then later downloaded one on my Kindle device, and later on my PC.  I just now installed it on my Mac laptop.  I’m able to read on one device, then pick up where I left off on the others. I can read for a half hour at home on the device, and read a few pages on my iPhone throughout the day.

I’m not only reading more books, I’m reading them faster.  I always have a device on me, or am in front of a computer.  And thus, I always have a version of Kindle in front of me.  The image below shows just how easy they make the experience.  Brilliant.

Management 2: Empathy

In my experience, the number one trait that makes a strong corporate leader is empathy. The proverbial golden rule applies directly to management.

From empathy is: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this”

The easiest starting point with anything relating to management is “how would I feel in this situation”.  A strong leader then takes it further and asks “how would they feel in this situation”.  It’s this ability to understand and anticipate people’s frames of mind that makes an effective leader.

Note, this doesn’t mean simply reciting “I understand how you feel.  Now do it anyway”.  You have to know your employees.  You have to know what’s going on with their lives, you have to know if they’re going through rough times or good times.   You have to know not only their current state of mind, but what their short, mid and long-term goals are.  You have to help guide them to clarify their long-term goals, even if it has nothing to do with your company or their current line of work.

As an example, lets say you have an employee named Bob that’s not performing.  Here’s a dialog from a bad manager:

Bad Manager: Bob, we’re afraid you’re not working hard enough and are missing your deadlines.  Around here we take our jobs seriously and if you don’t pick it up, you’re going to be written up.

Bob: I’m sorry, I’ll get on it, it won’t happen again.

A bad manager will tighten his grip on Bob and demand higher performance under threat of consequences.  Even if this gets Bob to finish his immediate tasks, Bob will resent his boss and the manager loses long term trust.  Instead, if the manager treated Bob with dignity and had an open discussion with him to see what’s really going on, he might learn the true cause of why Bob isn’t performing.  It might take more than one conversation, but it may go something like this:

Good Manager: Hi Bob.  In looking at the schedule, it seems like you’re having trouble hitting your deadlines.  Is everything ok?

Bob: I’m sorry, I’ll get on it, it won’t happen again.

Good Manager: I’m not as concerned about the deadlines as for how you’re doing.  How do you feel?

Bob: I’m fine, well, to be honest, I’ve been having some problems with my family…

Good Manager: I’m sorry to hear that, would it help to lighten your load here for awhile to give you some space?

The good manager puts the person’s life and frame of mind above the short term business goals.  If you want happy employees, you have to know that they’re human, and will have ups and downs.  The last thing you want is to compound someone’s downs with negativity at work.  In the situation above, Bob might need a few months of low impact work to get his life together.  Chances are high that when he turns his life back around, he’ll appreciate the space and become an even stronger employee.

The conversation could take another route, such as in the following:

Good Manager: Hi Bob.  In looking at the schedule, it seems like you’re having trouble hitting your deadlines.  Is everything ok?

Bob: I’m sorry, I’ll get on it, it won’t happen again.

Good Manager: I’m not as concerned about the deadlines as for how you’re doing.  How do you feel?

Bob: I’m fine, well, to be honest, I’m having a hard time getting motivated to do these tasks, I’ve been doing this for 2 years now and I’m ready for a change.

Good Manager: That makes sense, if we could reinvent your position and you could be doing anything you wanted, what would it be?

The only way to really get an employee to open up like this is to build trust to the point where they know there aren’t going to be negative consequences to being honest.

In management, you have a responsibility to both your employees and your company.  A truly effective leader knows that without contented, satisfied employees, there is no company.  This takes continued proactive work on your part, and really embracing the true meaning of empathy.

Management 1: Your secret manager keys

You just got promoted to your first management position.  You’ve worked hard, been a great employee, and are excited to finally get the power to be able to influence people with your new position and responsibilities.  You walk into the office, your boss whisks you away to the secret manager rooms and presents you with your secret keys.

Wrong!  Let’s examine some of what’s wrong with this line of thinking.

1. Power and influence don’t come from position

You can get short term results by barking orders, but long term people won’t be inspired.    In most situations, you gain power and influence by helping people achieve their goals.  You want to be on the right side of history as much as possible, and in order to do that, you’ll need to make informed decisions.    This is a large topic that we’ll develop over future posts, but for now, remember that you should be able to influence events and people without a formal management title.

2. Remove the curtain, even if you are a wizard

Overtly keeping secrets as a manager kills morale.  People understand that sometimes you can’t share everything you know for various reasons.  But make a strong effort to be open and honest.  It’s not about you.  No secret bathrooms.

3. What got you here will not get you there

You’ve done a good job of managing up and of contributing strongly as an individual.  Those are good skills, but they won’t make you a good manager.  As an individual you can succeed by keeping your head down and executing.   Management requires an entirely new set of skills such as empathy, being a good listener, being available, anticipating trends, proactively communicating, etc.

You spent a very long time mastering certain technical/trade skills, expect to spend just as much time learning and experimenting with what works for you.  Management can be a very rewarding experience where you can achieve more than you could as an individual.  Just make sure you become a student all over again!

MAC hints

Here’s a collection of things I’ve learned on the MAC as I’ve converted over the past few years:

  • Open a finder window from the current terminal directory:   $ open .
  • Quick zoom in on current screen location:  control + 2 pad fingers + up/down to scroll in and out
  • Take a screenshot of the current window:  command + shift + 4 then space, move to the window and click.  Saves to desktop

Thoughts on Management

I’ll be starting an ongoing series of short posts detailing my thoughts on management.

To me, management is a never ending journey.  No matter what you do, there’s always room for improvement and reflection.  There are tons of theories and ideologies when it comes to management, but to me there is no one mold.  People can’t be reduced to a simple set of traits that you can apply formulas to.

First up will be Management 101