It’s a Good Sign When a Manager Feels Bored

That’s right – a good manager should be trying to get to “bored” as quickly as possible .

It means you have delegated, managed and assigned all the urgent and not important work that makes you feel busy.  And it will allow you to spend serious, quality, slow moving time on the really important stuff -strategy, hiring, team building, coaching, and your own personal development.

What does bored feel like?

Many managers will never know because they only know busy.  Busy is not a bad thing when things need to get done that need a manager’s input , or their presence at 4 key client meetings and a dinner in one day, or at the end of the quarter when the financials need to be carefully reviewed and signed off.

A full day of performance reviews.  That’s good busy.  That’s busy with long term, important things that affect the whole company.

Bad busy is logging into your email at 7am and never leaving your desk.  It’s arbitrary deadlines, unrealistic client deliverables and last minute requests that are out of process – all on top of your normal day.  It’s going back to the office after you take two hours for your own personal life.  It’s logging in while you sit in bed.  It’s trying to do too many things in too short a time.

That kind of busy is pretty common and even held up as a badge of honour, especially at small start-ups or fast growing companies.  If we are moving fast and sleeping less, we must be growing and making more money.  I can sleep later.

But it’s not sustainable or healthy for a manager or their company and leads to burnout personally and a decline in performance professionally.  Unfortunately, many managers never escape the cycle of bad busy.  When they do escape, that’s when they feel bored and start looking around for another crisis, another deadline, another project or another job.  So they can find that quick rush of bad busy – which is the only rush they’ve ever known.

So the next time you feel bored – celebrate it and start adding long-term important work to your daily and weekly calendar.

Large blocks of door closed, out of office time that will make you and the company better.  Recruiting meetings with star candidates from other firms.  Industry conferences and seminars.  Workshops on new skills.  Weekly one to ones with members of your team.  Lunches with other managers in the same company.  You know, the work that is expected of a leader.

Pretty soon you will be good busy.

Should a Good Manager Take Criticism Personally?

Do any of us take criticism well?

For me, I expect to be able to take it better than I do.  I know that it’s needed and important to my growth as a person and in my career.  I know that it’s important that my decisions and behaviours are course corrected when necessary by someone who I like and trust.  Sometimes that’s my boss.  Sometimes it’s a friend.

But criticism still hurts because it’s personal.

It doesn’t matter that it’s delivered professionally and compassionately and privately by someone that I trust. It’s a rebuke of my behaviour and that is personal.

And that’s OK.

I am going to refer to Trevor Regan‘s   post called “Choose the Wild” quite a bit here, as much of what he has to say is relevant to taking criticism.  So please read his post and watch the video at the end as I cannot do him justice with my paraphrasing.

If you live in a world where no one criticizes you, you are a tiger living in a zoo.  All safe and easy. There is no struggle. In fact, you are hiding from the struggle, the fear and the failure that a jungle tiger lives with every day.

In the world of the mid-level manager, the fear of criticism and the failure it represents is one of the scariest things you will experience in the workplace jungle.  Because that project, that sale, that event, that new product is a reflection of you and if it fails, you fail.  And failure is very personal.

But it’s also part of the jungle life.  You know who never fails?  The zoo tiger.  The manager who does the minimum to keep his job.  The guy who says the right things and performs in front of the big boss but checks out with everyone else.  He’s not growing his team, pushing out new products, hunting for new clients or volunteering for a new project.  He’s hiding in his comfort zone where there is no chance he will be criticized or fail.

So if you’ve chosen to be the jungle tiger, how should you deal with criticism?

Take a moment to acknowledge the failure and to take it personally.

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That’s right, I want you to take it personally in whatever form that is for you and give it time to hurt.  I encourage you to take criticism personally because you are a person and not a cog in a machine.  If you care about your work, criticism should sting a little and hurt your pride.  In the moment, you need to acknowledge the failure and own it.

For me, taking it personally means calling the boss names under my breath and challenging their intelligence as I talk to myself on the drive home.  I think about the running list of petty grievances that I have with the world.  And I give myself time, usually until the next day, to let it sink in.

As a manager, remember how personal criticism is when delivering it to someone on your team and do it professionally, compassionately and privately.  Give them space to take it personally, even if that means they have to leave the office.  If you were in their shoes, you’d appreciate the understanding and so will they.

If someone doesn’t take it personally, that will tell you something as well.  Start to see if other signs of a zoo tiger are present in that person – hiding, being checked out, performing, or making excuses.  It might be time to force the cage open and drop them into the wild.  Or lend them to another zoo.

After you have given yourself time to take it personally, then get over it and start moving forward again.  Once you’ve made the pitch, launched the product or started manufacturing, it’s all out there with your name on it and it won’t be perfect.  Recognize that criticism and failure are part of being in the jungle.  Acknowledge the intent behind the criticism and make the changes suggested.  Fix the problem.  Go to version 1.1.

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The experience will have made you better and next time, because there’s always a next time in the jungle, the critics will be fewer and the failures will be minor.  And you will be ready for the next challenge.

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Vacation Days Are Not the Answer

There was a great article in the Globe and Mail about the trend toward young tech companies in Canada following the lead of their Silicon Valley counterparts and offering unlimited vacation. In the company profiled, this pot ‘o’ gold at the end of the benefits rainbow backfired spectacularly when less than half the employees took any time off in the first year it was offered.

The co-founder attributed the failure as follows:

“…employees may have felt uncomfortable taking time when he and his co-founder hadn’t taken a single day off themselves since founding the company three years before.”

And there you go – young teams are more impressionable more likely  to model themselves after the manager in the room.  Even when you say, “Do as I say, not as I do” they will do exactly what you do.

It’s interesting that a benefit like unlimited vacation is almost always offered at companies where the employees still have spots.  While Millennials may be part of a generation that is often considered entitled, unjustly I believe, their need to believe in a cause and commit to something bigger than themselves outweighs their need to climb the Andes.

From that same co-founder:

”…he attributes the policy’s failure in part to the military-like camaraderie of the startup world, where taking time off can feel like leaving your fellow soldiers behind on the battlefield.”

At this stage, when the company is fighting to survive and become something with staying power, everyone needs to be suited up everyday.  It’s an exciting time and who would want to leave that – even for a surfing vacation in Bali.  Something important, earth shaking and difference making might happen while you are away.

Perhaps a generous vacation policy might be better served at the next stage of a company’s development, when everyone is out of the foxholes and there is less uncertainty about the future of the company.  That’s often a pretty crazy stage, too.  At least it’s a manageable stage, because there is more people and more cash flow and some professional managers, HR people and accountants who will make sure that one person or one bad decision won’t bring the company down while you are hiking the Grand Canyon.

As a founder of a start-up, if you have to offer people unlimited vacation to recruit the talent you need, you might as well shut the doors now and save yourself the time and agony.  If your idea, your product or you personally are not enough to bring in the foot soldiers who want to make a difference, then vacation days are not the answer.

Is is Better to be a Leader than a Manager?

In the last week, the comparison of leader vs. manager has popped up a couple of times in my LinkedIn feed usually through a quote that implies that it’s better to be a leader than a manager. Here is one as an example, from someone whose ideas I admire:

Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.  –Tom Peters

While I am hoping that Tom intended to demonstrate the different skills inherent in managing and leading, it is likely taken by most people as an either or statement.  If you are a manager, all you do is arrange and tell, but when you are a leader, the choirs sing and the heavens part as you nurture and enhance your team. Most readers would also take those attributes and assign them by proxy to managers and leaders – because surely it’s better to be a leader than a manager.

But in most companies when do you start being a leader? At some executive title that is slightly higher up the food chain than a mere manager?  Can a supervisor be a leader?  How about a coordinator?  Or a customer service representative?

The good news is that you can do both, no matter what your job is.

Leadership and management are skill sets, not titles.

Managers demonstrate leadership skills every day and not at the expense of “arranging and telling”.  Most companies would fall apart without a manager that makes the shift schedules and communicates new policies to their team while creating an environment where people are motivated and engaged.

It is true that the balance tips more toward leadership type work the higher you climb the corporate ladder, but even C-suite executives are still spending portions of their day managing – with performance reviews, asset allocation decisions and directives on new product lines.

So yes, there is a difference between being a manager and an executive and one does tend to do more leadership type work than the other.  Both are valuable to the organization – precisely because they do the right amount of managing vs leading.

So let’s add an asterisk to Tom’s quote:

Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.** –Tom Peters

**and you should try to do both well.**



The Martyr as Manager

Too many managers are martyrs and that holds them back from being great leaders.

I should know.  I was one of them.

Merriam-Webster defines a martyr as :  “a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle     For martyrs that are managers, the principle that they are beholden to is some variation of “the company can’t survive without me” and the things of great value that they sacrifice are their health, their relationships at work and home, their sleep, their peace of mind and the future of their career.

In my case, my martyrdom revealed itself around vacations.  I took the days, but never planned them and most years didn’t take all the days allotted.  Two phrases that I used when vacations came up  were “I like being at work too much” (for co-workers) and “the thing the company counts on the most is that I am there every day” (to myself and family).  And in the time off I did take,  I was rarely taking it off for actual vacations.  I’d take the first week of school off, to further my martyrdom by helping my wife, who works in education, and my kids adjust to the first week back.  It was help they did not need and I was happy to play the martyr there, too.

My friend Sheldon knows all about it:

I was proud of the fact that I was rarely missed work, even when mildly sick , and looked down on people that took what I deemed excessive sick days.  I was three years without a sick day in 2012 when I landed in the hospital for 10 days with a bilateral pulmonary embolism.  But I was back to work part time a month later, when most take six months to recover I told people, and a year later almost worked myself back into the hospital by not taking vacations or sick time.

It’s a crazy spiral that only drags you and your career down.  In the moment, you may think that the big bosses can’t help but notice your dedication to the company and will reward your sacrifice with promotions and raises and praise.  But they didn’t in my case and they likely won’t in yours because martyrs are a pain in the ass and promoting you will only encourage that behaviour in yourself and in others.

So take some time at the beginning of the year to plan all your vacations for the next 12 months and include your family in the planning.

This simple act keeps your work life in perspective and keeps you looking forward instead of getting mired in the present. Your family will thank you, your team will thank you  and your company will thank you, for bringing the best version of yourself to work and being a good role model for others.

What Is With You People?

A frustrating thing for a new manager is when the team asks for training, and you deliver it, sharing important ideas to make their jobs more productive.  Then most of them don’t follow through.  They go back to doing things the way they already know.  And it happens again and again.

And each time it’s followed by your inner dialogue that goes something like this:

Why don’t they implement the great suggestions I gave them?  Why are only one or two members of the team really keen to make the changes to their work habits that I recommended?  I know these changes work because they worked for me.  Don’t they care about their job?  Why can’t they be more like me?

At which point it’s best to pull back on the crazy reins…and realize that having a team full of keen learners that want to put in the hard, hairy work of making lasting change is not likely ever going to exist in your time as a manager.  Since most of the people on your team will want to be comfortable most of the time, they will rule themselves out of the change equation:

Time + Commitment + Discomfort = CHANGE

And that’s OK.

For most of the members of your team, it’s just a j-o-b that pays the bills and doesn’t require marching or any kind of manual labor.  They like their job, understand their role and have the skills they need to perform their duties on a daily basis.

This doesn’t mean that they won’t change or won’t learn.  It means that they won’t take to it naturally and will only adopt new processes or learn new skills when their survival depends on it, or when you as the manager force it on them.  I know you’d prefer not to micro-manage, but when something absolutely, positively has to change by a certain time, there is no better way than tracking, measuring, reporting and meeting about the status of the changes. Every day until it’s no longer the new process.  It’s just the process.

So if they are not going to implement change, why do they ask for the training?  I would guess that the team is not actually asking for the training – but it’s just the one or two keeners in the group and they are asking really loudly.  And you are listening, because you speak their language, as you were likely one of them before you sat in the manager’s chair.  So it will be up to you to evaluate a training or development request from the future company rock star. Most likely you can accommodate the request with some 1-1 time with them and avoid the inner soliloquy of frustration that follows team training sessions that are interesting to only two people, you and the person that requested it.

Save the team training and the required managing by FedEx (tracking, measuring and reporting) for new ideas, processes or skills that are game changing or company saving.

Being a Manager in 2016

As part of the SOHO (Small Office Home Office) event in Victoria on January 21, 2016, I was asked to join some of the other speakers, panelists, and experts to provide predictions for 2016.

As I am a manager and my coaching is primarily with managers and business owners that manage small teams, my items are focused on what these “people managers” might see in 2016:

Your employees will get younger and they will better connect you with a younger customer.
Your younger staff will want to mentor you and your business will be better for it – so listen up!
More small business owners or sole proprietors will retire and sell their business – creating an opportunity for you!

The overall demographics of the workplace are starting to get younger as the largest generation in history, the Baby Boomers really start to retire.  2016 will be year 10 of a 25-year retirement window for most Boomers.

As the next group up, Gen Xers will move into executive roles and start or buy companies from retiring Boomers (my third point) the natural generation to fill the empty spots are Millenials, who are already the largest generation in the workforce:


This generation of workers will connect you to a younger customer – and you want these people as customers.  They are the largest segment of the working population – also known as people with regular income to spend at your business –  and will be for the next 30 years.

The long-term success of your business will depend upon your ability to sell to a Millennial.

Lucky for you, as Millennials join your team they can help you market and sell to their own kind.  And they won’t be shy about telling you how to do it (my second point) – and that’s OK.  Soak in what they have to share, give them a job with a purpose that they can pursue with passion and then lean on them to recruit more Millennials, as customers and as team members.  It’s an ambitious generation that will jump to the next job at dizzying speeds – and that is also OK.

Don’t fight it.

In 2016, embrace how Millennials can make your business better now and in the future.




Fearing the Closed Door

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a fundraising event that featured Jim Treliving as the keynote speaker.  Jim is the founder of Boston Pizza and one of the original Dragons on the business pitch show Dragon’s Den.

One of the pearls of business wisdom he shared was that he doesn’t have a door on his office and neither does his business partner.  Not just an open door, but no door.

In a recent interview, he explained that no door ensures the openness between them.  At the event last week, he expanded on that to say that when he started his career as a Mountie, a closed door meeting was almost always bad – it meant you were being fired or being transferred – and I am sure everyone in the station knew it.

He did go on to say that there is an office with doors they do use when needed.  Despite his intentions to create an atmosphere unlike what he experienced with the RCMP, I would bet that his whole office knows what happens when a door closes.   In an office with no doors, making a point to meet in a special room behind a closed door will be seen as an extreme circumstance, and it will ripple through the building in a negative way.  Conclusions will be drawn, narratives will be formed, work will not get done.

A better approach might be to make a closed door meeting so common place, that your team neither fears it or gossips about it.

The best way to do that is regularly meet with team members, either individually or in teams, behind a closed door.   Have weekly manager meetings behind a closed door.  Invite key clients in for presentations and close the door.  Remove the stigma that closed is bad (click here to read a previous post on this topic)

There is legitimate, important, future of the company kind of work that needs to be done in privacy and some of the most important work that a manager does will happen with the door closed, as they provide counsel, protection and guidance for their team members.

Every person who has needed a place of refuge and a person they can trust can only get it behind a closed door.



My Name is Chip

I work for you and I don’t like it.

We joined the company at the same time and worked in the same unit.  Everybody likes me and I am the best performer on our team.  I’m going to make a difference in this company.

But they made you the manager.  So you are technically my boss.  Even though more people like me and I am the best at what I do.

And now you are telling me how to do things.  I already know what’s best for my clients and me, so I am going to nod my head in our meetings and then keep doing it the way I have always done it.  The right way. My way.

And now you have a problem with that?  You schedule a meeting, without even asking me, in your office and when I get there you close the door.  All serious.

Then you ask me about a client project and why I did it the old way, my way.  Because I know best for my clients.  Why do I even need to answer to you?  I’m the most deserving and I was passed over…


Before Chip goes all Fredo Corleone and makes his case to Michael, let’s talk about how to manage someone like him.

Being promoted into a managerial slot from a group of people that you will then have to manage is pretty rough – and passive aggressive people like Chip make it that much harder.  Chip’s sense of entitlement, which he will call destiny, will prevent him from seeing the reality of the situation and at first might make it hard for him to support you.

So kill him with kindness.  In The Godfather, when Michael when says, “Fredo, you’re my brother and I love you.”  He is really saying, despite the fact that you resent my position and the power you feel I have over your life,  I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt for the good of the family.

When you’re dealing with Chip, make sure he knows how much you value his contribution to the team. Praise him in public at the team meetings, especially when he reluctantly gets on board for something new.  Hopefully, he will see you as someone who is on Team Chip and decide to return the favour and support you.  These small wins are huge in your career as a manager – when you give someone the chance to turn around and they take it.

What if he doesn’t and continues the small acts of defiance?  Better to address it quick behind closed doors before he calls Johnny Ola and Hyman Roth.  Give him a chance to vent his real reason for not getting on the bus.

Assuming it’s jealousy or immaturity is a mistake on your part.

Chip is a person and there may be personal stuff going on beyond “they promoted you and not me.”   If that’s all there is, we can all sympathize with being passed over and you should tell him that.  Give him examples of all the good things you have done together in the past and the great things to come and his importance to the team.  But at some point he has to suck it up and decide if he wants to continue doing things his own way or get over himself and enjoy the ride.

Make it clear this meeting is the first step in the disciplinary process and what the timetable is for seeing improvement and what that specific improvement should be.  This starts the clock ticking in his head – either how quickly he needs to change or what the latest date he has to find another job.

From this point on it’s a win for you as a manager either way.

  • Chip stays and is a team player and is grateful for your role in keeping him at the company, WIN!
  • Chip leaves on his own and takes his toxic attitude with him, WIN!
  • Chip stays and so does his attitude?  You’re covered and can move toward dismissal. WIN!

Every Chip you manage is an opportunity shine.