By Marty Nemko Ph.D. – Psychology Today
I am developing a leadership/management boot camp for students at a local university. Here, I adapt it for you, the Psychology Today reader: I offer its core content plus an easily doable activity that enables you to apply that content even if you’re not currently in a managerial or leadership role.
You can complete this boot camp by yourself or with one or more respected colleagues or friends.
- Default to kindness. Long gone are the days of the authoritarian boss. Yes, there are times to make a crisp, unilateral decision and times to be tough on an employee, but default to kindness: praising where deserved, asking for employees’ input, listening to them, and just being friendly. That doesn’t mean being their BFF. It means showing appropriate caring about them as human beings. They’re not just headcount.
- One size does not fit all, even if a supervisee objects to your not treating everyone the same, you usually should stay firm. The manager/leader’s job is to facilitate each supervisee’s being their best. That often requires an individualized approach: more supervision or less, a heavier or lighter workload, etc.
- Hiring wisely may be your most important task. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to hire a supervisee(s), rely primarily on referrals from trusted colleagues. Unfortunately, especially in our COVID-restricted economy, too high a percentage of job seekers make themselves seem much better than they are and make it difficult for you to unearth the truth. For example, Monster.com’s research found that nearly half of job seekers’ applications contained dishonesty.
In the interviews, ask the candidates to walk you through a couple of the key accomplishments listed on the resume. That will help you assess how substantive their work really was. Even more important, ask candidates to demonstrate how they’d tackle a couple of the new job’s common difficult tasks.
Activity: Write and/or discuss with your boot camp partner, the steps you’d take with a supervisee whose work was marginal and too-slowly produced. Recognize that you need to be time-effective in your efforts to try to get the supervisee to improve.
- An ounce of prevention. If you’ve managed well, most employees are more likely to let small perceived annoyances roll off their back. That said, at some point, some conflict will likely occur. Consciously decide whether time will heal and so you should do nothing or whether you should intervene. If the latter, a light hand is usually wise. If the conflict is between two supervisees, a manager is often wise to ask the two, “Do you want to try to put on your statesperson’s hat, see if you can resolve it privately, and if not, come to me to help mediate?”
- Easier said than done but patient listening often resolves the conflict. That’s particularly difficult when you are the target of the complainant’s ire. Carefully listen, maybe even take notes to let the person know you’re taking the concern seriously. Then, if it seems appropriate, ask, “So what resolution might be wise, one that both parties can feel OK about?”
Activity: Imagine that one of your supervisees is claiming that you’re being racist or sexist. How would you respond? What if that didn’t work? And what if that didn’t work?
- Realize that, compared with a scripted talk, your natural self, ad-libbing with a few notes, will likely be more persuasive and pleasurable, a needed antidote to the over-prepped, sanitized, chemistry-leached speaker.
- Face failure. You can survive even an utter failure: You get tongue-tied, confused, even need to stop and say you don’t feel you can continue. You’ll either get better over time or realize that public speaking just isn’t your thing. Plenty of people have good, successful lives without being a public speaker. But chances are, you’ll be better than you think and get at least good enough, especially if you follow the aforementioned relaxed approach to preparing and delivering a talk—whether you’re giving a one-minute update at a staff meeting, toasting a loved one at a wedding, or giving a keynote.
Activity: Pick a topic that you know a lot about or one on which you’ll be giving a talk. Write a word or phrase that stands for each of the one to four points you want to make. Next to each, write a word or phrase to remind you of a supporting anecdote or statistic. With just those words in front of you, give your talk into your phone’s Voice Memo or Voice Recorder app. Critique it—you’ll probably feel better about it than you may fear. Don’t worry much about ums, ahhs, and even retracements. Unless you’re a pro speaker, a human, credible talk containing such flaws is usually far better than a polished scripted talk. Then demo your talk, again ad-libbed with just your few talking points, to a person or three. Consider but don’t necessarily accept their feedback. |f it’s an important talk, practice it one more time and then stop. Over-practicing leaches the aforementioned chemistry and makes it more likely you’ll be so tied to your plan that if you get distracted, for example, by a question or stray thought, you’ll have a harder time getting back on track.
- Think of it as your own money. Is this initiative worth funding? If so, what would be the most cost-effective way to do it—not necessarily the cheapest way or the best way but the most cost-effective way, that which would likely yield the most benefit per dollar.
- Consider the opportunity cost. If you saved money on X, what could it be used for that would yield more benefit?
- Think of cost-benefit in terms of all stakeholders: customers, coworkers, society. It shouldn’t be all about profit-maximization. Yes, increased profit creates and saves jobs, means that customers are deriving sufficient benefit to part with their money, and perhaps that investors get a return on their usually hard-earned dollars. But the wise manager/leader also considers the impact of resource allocation on the employees and on society: locally and even beyond.
Activity: For your work unit or if you don’t have one, a group that you could envision leading. identify three major priorities. What would be one or more cost-effective approaches to each, considering profit, employees, and society?
- Avoid the cliched. Too often, organizations develop a strategic plan by convening a meeting which, because of its desire to build consensus, end up with only the easily agreed-on, for example, “Our organization needs to put ethics first and serve our customers with great products.” That’s rarely very useful—too often, it becomes just an empty slogan hung on a wall or on an organization’s site.
A strategic plan should be anchored by one to three actionable, not-obvious core pillars. For example, a human resources group might conclude that for the next year, a focus will be on helping new employees transition from the halls of academe to the realities of the work world while acknowledging Millennials’ often wanting more agency and growth opportunities, and that the organization be not just about profit maximization but societal improvement.
- Consider the megatrends. For example, we are in an era of accelerative focus on race, gender, and income inequality. The implications extend to a wide range of for-profits, non-profits, and government. In developing your strategic plan, consider that and other megatrends such as data-centric decision-making, global competition, increased government-mandated employee rights and benefits, and a likely shrinking middle-class, less able to afford purchases beyond the basics.
- Do a SWOT analysis That acronym refers to your organization or work-group’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Activity: Pretend that you and perhaps your boot camp’s co-participant(s) are identifying three pillars of your organization’s strategic plan. If you’re not currently employed, create one for the sort of organization you’d aspire to manage or lead. In creating those pillars, consider (make them up if needed) the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. After developing those pillars, play devil’s advocate. What’s wrong with the plan? How should it be revised or even replaced?
If you don’t currently have sufficient management or leadership opportunities, try to get more so that you can apply your boot camp’s learning. Ask friends who are involved in a nonprofit if there might be an opportunity for you to manage a project or group of volunteers or even join its board.
If you participated in a management/leadership boot camp with another person(s), consider staying in touch, even meeting (if only virtually) monthly so people can share their successes and get input on challenges.
Wise leadership may be the most important subject not taught in college. Perhaps this boot camp can help you become a wise leader, and in turn, make a difference while feeling good about how you’re living your life.