When a disagreement with a coworker spirals into the kind of fight where you regret your words and actions, you need to be proactive about mending the relationship. Set up a one-on-one meeting with the other person. Your initial goal is simply to apologize, so specifically acknowledge what you did wrong. Then say you’d like to discuss what happened and how to keep it from happening again. (If emotions are still running high, it may be better to pause the discussion here for a day or two.) Think through the incident together, identifying when the situation turned negative and why. For example, if you got upset because your colleague seemed to take credit for your idea in a big meeting, talk about how to make sure everyone’s contributions are publicly acknowledged. And be sure to express how much you care about having a collaborative relationship. Highlight what you value about the colleague’s work, and discuss how you two can rebuild trust.
Great innovators see the world differently. They look beyond what’s obvious and expected, and seek out novel solutions to problems. You can push yourself to be more creative by trying out new approaches to challenges. When you’re in a situation where you’re tempted to resort to your usual methods — starting a new project at work, for example — stop and think about what’s influencing your approach. What expectations and assumptions are you bringing to the situation? How are your personal background, professional expertise, and relationships at work affecting your methods? How might someone from another department or industry view the challenge? How might you tackle the project if you didn’t already have a plan in mind? These kinds of questions can help you break out of your standard patterns of thinking and reach for new ones. It may also help to write down the project’s key requirements and details. Having to choose words to describe a situation can reveal your perspective on it; once you’re aware of your perspective, you can try switching to another one.
Getting the whole family around the dinner table at the same time is one of the most challenging parts of working parenthood. A few tactics can make it a little easier:
- Prioritize it. There will always be another meeting to attend or another errand to run. If you can’t find time for family meals, ask yourself what’s getting in the way.
- Save time. Buy fruits and vegetables pre-cut, set up grocery delivery for the foods you always eat, and have a go-to emergency meal on hand as a backup.
- Set ground rules. For example, everyone gets the same meal, and your kids have to help (maybe by setting and clearing the table). Taking a firm stance on the rules will make mealtime more organized and (eventually) more pleasant.
- Reset your expectations. If a family dinner every night proves impossible, commit to once a week, or try a family breakfast instead. And it’s fine if the meal involves the microwave, leftovers, or paper plates. The point is to eat together — regularly.
When your life is disrupted by a big life event — a job change, a baby, a relative’s illness — how do you maintain your focus and well-being? Add some stability to an unstable time by making sure you have habits that align with your long-term goals. Think about the five to 10 things you need to do every week to keep your life on track, and write a list of them. Many critical habits fall into one of four areas: personal reflection, professional reflection, relationships, and health (both physical and mental). You should also think about how you’ll create accountability for yourself. Will you post the list where you’ll see it often? Use an app to set reminders? Check in with a friend each week? Creating and reinforcing habits this way can assure you that you’re doing what you need to — no matter how many things you’re juggling.
There’s a lot of information that new hires need, from how to work the coffee maker to what the company’s strategy is. That’s why you should consider assigning your next hire an onboarding “buddy” during their first few months on the job. Having a buddy can help the new person start being productive sooner and feel more satisfied in their role. Choose someone who has been with the company long enough to know what the new hire won’t find in the employee handbook, such as key stakeholders and cultural norms. Explain what the goals are for the relationship, and encourage the hire and their buddy to meet at regular intervals to check in. It’s also important to consider the buddy’s workload: You may need to reset their priorities so that they can be available. And don’t forget to remind the buddy of the benefits for them. This relationship is a chance to show their communication and leadership skills.
The most innovative companies encourage their employees to experiment. If you’d like to push your team to be more entrepreneurial, here are some things to try. Start by encouraging people to bring their outside interests to work. Ask your employees about their hobbies. What do they enjoy doing on weekends? What are they proud of outside of work? Employees who feel comfortable expressing their full, authentic selves are often better at coming up with new ideas. Creating a culture of experimentation also requires a fairly hands-off approach to leadership. Don’t be a micromanager. Instead, show employees that you trust them to get work done, even in ways that haven’t been tried before. When people have a sense of ownership, they feel more freedom to try something new. And finally, get comfortable with failure. People won’t take risks if they’re afraid of what will happen if a project doesn’t work out. Measure someone’s performance by their level of ingenuity, not their ability to play it safe.
The amount of influence people have at work isn’t always determined by their job titles. To gauge your informal power, do a simple audit. Write down the top 10 people who help you get things done, and give each a score from one to 10 based on how much you depend on them. Think broadly about what they offer: career advice, emotional support, access to stakeholders? Next, assign yourself a score from their perspectives. Consider what you offer them and how difficult it would be to replace you. Finally, look for red flags: Do you add value mostly on one team? Do your contacts help you more than you help them? Do most of your contacts work in one function or business unit? If you’re not satisfied with your audit’s results, plan how you’ll improve them. This might mean contributing more across the company or spending more time with stakeholders. The more value you create, the more irreplaceable you’ll become.
Nursing parents have particular needs, and it’s important that your company does what it can to meet them. After all, supporting new parents is good for retention and the firm’s reputation — and, in some cases, there can be legal consequences for companies that don’t. But doing what’s required by law isn’t enough. If you’re in a senior position, here are some ways your organization can help nursing employees:
- Provide accommodations for pumping. These can include adequate break time; a clean, private room with a table, a chair, and electrical outlets; and a refrigerator or cooler for storing milk.
- Don’t reduce pay for breaks. Your state or country may not require paid pumping breaks, but not paying them creates a disparity among employees and may force lower-paid workers to stop pumping.
- Raise awareness. Send the message that you and other leaders support nursing employees. Offering to sponsor a peer support program, for example, can build a positive environment and help parents connect with each other.
And remember, if you aren’t sure what nursing employees need, ask.
There are benefits to optimism. Some studies have found that feeling optimistic can help fight stress and improve health; others have found that optimists earn and save more money. To build your optimism, try a few things. For one, practice gratitude. When you wake up each morning, think of three things you’re thankful for. It only takes a minute, and it puts a positive spin on the day. (Also, resist the urge to immediately check the news, which often does the opposite.) Second, find ways to make progress toward your goals. Whether you want a new job or you’re launching a new project, taking even small steps forward can give you a larger sense of momentum. Third, prioritize connecting with others. Get lunch with friends you haven’t seen lately, or send a coworker a note that you’re thankful for them. Social connection is one of the top predictors of happiness.
If you come across a job posting with 10 qualifications listed, and you have six or seven of them, should you apply? Yes. Think of a job posting as the company’s wish list for the role. While the hiring manager may hope to find candidates with all 10 skills, organizations want new hires to grow into their roles. That’s why you should look for positions that will stretch you, not ones where you already tick all the boxes. It can be tempting to seek out jobs you’re very qualified for — even overqualified for — since you know your chances of succeeding are high. But a job you’re immediately great at won’t teach you anything new, which means your opportunities for growth are limited. (Plus, you might be more than a little bored.) So don’t be afraid to apply for a job that makes you a little nervous. If you have some of the skills needed, and you aren’t afraid to ask questions and make mistakes, you’re probably a good candidate.
Team meetings can be useful for making important decisions, but only if everyone knows the process for them. When there’s confusion around how the final call will be made, or by whom, the situation can get tense or awkward. That’s why it’s important to start a meeting by laying down the ground rules. For example, you might tell the group there will be 30 minutes of discussion and then a vote, and if there is no resolution, the issue will be brought to an executive. Or, if an executive is in the room already, they might make the decision right then and there. It’s especially useful to explain the finer points: Does anyone have veto power? Does the group vote determine the final decision, but a two-thirds majority is needed? Will minority viewpoints be documented for stakeholders to review? Whatever the process, explain it clearly so that everyone is aware.
High expectations can motivate team members. But if your standards are too high, you may be doing more damage than good, possibly hurting the self-confidence of those on your team. To temper the negative effects of overly ambitious expectations, try the following three things. First, be judicious about when and how often you express dissatisfaction. In situations where people need to improve, push them to stretch, but if people sense you’re constantly discontent, they’ll be demoralized. Second, make sure every person on your team knows what you value about them. If you want them to take your critique to heart, it’s imperative they also know what you find special about them and their contributions. Third, make sure to communicate your expectations ahead of time, not just after someone has failed to meet them. And don’t forget to be self-compassionate. You will be more forgiving of others if you loosen unrealistic expectations of yourself.
To make good decisions, it’s important to think critically. And, yet, too many leaders accept the first solution proposed to them or don’t take the time to evaluate a topic from all sides. To guard against these mistakes, there are several things you can do to hone your critical thinking skills. First, question your assumptions, especially when the stakes are high. If you’re coming up with a new business strategy, for example, ask: Why is this the best way forward? What does the research say about our expectations for the future of the market? Second, poke at the logic. When evaluating arguments, consider if the evidence builds on itself to produce a sound conclusion. Is the logic supported by data at each point? Third, seek out fresh perspectives. It’s tempting to rely on your inner circle to help you think through these questions but that won’t be productive if they all look and think like you. Get outside your bubble and ask different people to question and challenge your logic.
As a manager, you probably have to talk a lot. You want people to have the guidance and direction they need, of course, and there are plenty of situations where you need to speak your mind. But at some point, talking a lot can turn into overcommunicating. You can end up dominating conversations, which means employees’ perspectives aren’t being heard. To make sure you aren’t talking too much, listen as much as you speak. When someone raises a question in a meeting, invite others to weigh in before you. In fact, don’t contribute your thoughts until several other people have offered theirs. That way everyone is included and feels that their input is valued. You can also schedule regular one-on-one sessions with your team members to encourage open communication. Ask employees about their wants, needs, and concerns — and then hush. You may be surprised how much you learn when you’re saying nothing.
When you need advice, how many people should you ask? It’s tempting to get a lot of opinions — say, from friends, coworkers, and mentors — but doing so can backfire. You won’t be able to follow everyone’s advice, of course, and research shows that those whose advice you don’t take may have a worse view of you afterward. They may even see you as less competent or avoid you. (Imagine a senior executive in your company who is pleased that you asked her what to do — and then less pleased when you don’t do it.) So the next time you need advice, think carefully about who you’re asking and be transparent about your goals. Clarify the reason you are soliciting advice (“I am hoping to explore all my options”) and whether you’re asking others for their view as well. That way you can set the tone for the discussion and the expectations for the actions you take in the future.
Attending conferences and scheduling meet-ups are great ways to network, but they aren’t the only way. An often overlooked approach is organizing a gathering yourself, which lets you be strategic about who you get to know. Think carefully about how many people you’ll invite and who they should be. It’s good to keep the event small, which makes it more intimate. One strategy is to bring people together who have something in common, which guarantees they have things to talk about. For instance, they could all be alumni of your alma mater, or tech industry folks, or women entrepreneurs. You could also just invite people who interest you. And think about the mix of personalities in the room. Your goals should be to ensure everyone is on equal footing and to create a great group dynamic. So if you know someone tends to dominate the conversation, leave them off the invite list.
It’s hard to stay productive when work is slow. If deadlines aren’t looming, it doesn’t take much to drift away from your to-do list and start reading the internet. There are a few ways you can keep getting things done. One is to turn a boring day into a series of mini sprints. Write down the three tasks you definitely want to get done today, and plan how much time you need for each. For example, by 11 AM you’ll finish writing that memo, by 12 you’ll file the expense report, and by 2 you’ll send next week’s meeting agenda to your boss. Slow days are also great times to catch up with colleagues. Schedule lunch with someone you haven’t talked to for a while, or get coffee with a coworker you want to know better. Another option is to use the time for professional development: Update your résumé and LinkedIn page, take an online class, or attend a conference. And don’t forget that taking a vacation is really good for you — maybe now’s the time.
Part of being a leader is doing things that make you feel uncomfortable. Maybe you need to raise a tough issue with a direct report, or maybe you have to handle negative pushback on a project. To improve the way you deal with uncomfortable situations, build your emotional courage. Start by thinking of a leadership skill you want to get better at: giving feedback, listening, being direct — whatever you want to grow in. Then practice that skill in a low-risk situation. For example, let’s say you want to get better at being direct. The next time there’s a mistake on your phone bill, call customer service and practice being succinct and clear. Notice how you want to react — Get angry? Backpedal? — and focus on resisting those impulses. These are the same feelings you’ll encounter in higher-risk situations at work, so learn to push through them. Continue to practice until you feel comfortable and can respond the way you’d like to.
All of us have tasks we don’t want to do. Maybe they’re boring or time-consuming or stressful — but we’ve still got to get them done. One way to push yourself is to involve other people. Delegate part of the task, complete the project with someone else, or simply be around others who are working (in a library or a coffee shop, say) — the positive social pressure can create accountability. If looping in other people doesn’t do the trick, pair that approach with another one, such as not letting yourself check email or social media until you’ve finished the project. Or you can plan your time around the task: Block off a few minutes every day, or a few hours every week, to make some progress. No matter what, don’t let the unpleasant task keep lingering. The longer you put it off, the more it will wear on you, and the more unpleasant it will seem.
No manager wants to lose a valued employee, but should you convince them to stay if they want to leave? If the person hasn’t already accepted an outside offer, try to find out more information. Take them out to coffee and ask about their concerns and hopes for the future. Also ask whether the employee is open to staying at the company, and what they would need to do so — more money, more career opportunities, better work-life balance? What aren’t they getting enough of in their current role and career path? There may be a solution the person hasn’t thought of. Offer what you can, within reason. On the other hand, if the employee is set on leaving, let them go gracefully. Congratulate them on the new job, and send them off on a positive note. After all, someday the person might be in a position to recommend (or not) your organization to future applicants.