Becoming a Better Manager
Imagine that you’re speeding through a tunnel. You’re focused. You’re fast. You’re getting places. Actually, you don’t even have to imagine it because you’ve probably spent most of 2016 racing through this tunnel. Deadlines, challenges, and goals push most of us to keep our heads down. Tunnel vision isn’t just a metaphor. Research shows that stress literally causes our vision to narrow.
In a world of constant digital distractions, shoulder taps, and “quick questions,” tunnel vision might sound like an evolutionary perk. And that’s true… unless you’re a manager. As a manager, you have the unique challenge of needing to look down and look out. You have to cross item after item off your to-do list, and you have to think strategically, innovate, and develop your team for a future nobody can predict.
Most of us are good at looking down and getting things done. Not only do we have more experience being doers, we also get instant gratification and quicker feedback on heads-down type tasks. Looking outside the tunnel requires more practice, patience, and discipline. And if you want to be a great leader, you have to spend time outside the tunnel. How?
Here are 3 resolutions you can make today that will take your leadership skills to the next level in 2017:
1. Schedule “look out” time.
Literally. Do it as soon as you finish reading this post. Open your calendar and block 1 hour every week. Is an entire hour too rich for your blood? Start with 30 minutes. Ask yourself questions like:
Which objectives am I trying to reach. Why?
Are there better ways to reach these objectives?
What can make my team (and each person on the team) more productive? How about happier?
How might we save more time? Money? Stress?
Who should I meet in my company? Industry? World?
Pro-tip: Behavioral economist Dan Ariely found that we tend to be most productive in the mornings. Schedule your “look out” times when your brain is most alert.
2. Increase your question variety.
While we’re on the subject of questions, commit to asking more of them in 2017. Push yourself, your direct reports, your manager, and your entire company to think in new ways:
What’s working well?
What can we learn from other industries?
Use questions to understand how people see the world:
What’s important to you about it?
How did you come to that decision?
And default into questions mode with your direct reports to help them become more independent:
How would success look?
What are your next steps?
For more fun with questions, give yourself a challenge of asking one new question every week.
3. Pull for feedback every month.
Research shows that when surgical teams fail to learn from one another, patients are more likely to suffer major complication and death. Yikes. Even if you aren’t performing surgery, consider what accidental “deaths” poor information flow and a lack of feedback might be causing in your work.
In the new year, pull for feedback from your reports, your manager, and cross-functional collaborators on a weekly or at least monthly basis. To extract out juicy information and foster a learning culture, ask questions like:
How do you feel this project went? What process can we optimize?
What should I stop doing, start doing, and keep doing to support you better?
How might we improve the way we work together by 10%?
Pro-tip: Before we leave the death metaphor, I want to mention a new learning tool we’ve noticed more and more of our clients using. It’s called a pre-mortem. Here’s how it works: before you start a project, imagine that everything about it will go horribly wrong. Then discuss what steps you need to make to avoid the imaginary disaster.
P.S. Don’t worry. I’m not asking you to slow down in 2017. In fact, with these 3 new resolutions, you’ll get to where you need to go faster (and you’ll enjoy the ride even more).