Change can create uncertainty, instability, and stress for your team. To get people on board with a change, and to ease them through the transition, it’s helpful to clearly articulate the meaning or purpose behind it. Start by crafting a narrative that explains the big picture: why the change is important and how it will positively affect the organization over the long term. Be consistent with this narrative; all of your communications should tie back to it, reiterating the case for change and presenting a compelling vision for the future. Sometimes you won’t have all the answers about the situation, so be honest about what you know and candid about what you don’t. Tell employees that you are committed to communicating openly and transparently, and will follow up as soon as you know more. And don’t forget to articulate how the change will benefit them. If team members understand what’s in it for them personally, they’re more likely to commit.
When you’re building a business, it’s obvious that you want to find lucrative projects. What’s less obvious is that, at a certain point, saying yes to all opportunities — even profitable ones — may actually thwart your future success. Why? If you take on too much, you’ll become spread too thin and risk prioritizing money over other important factors, such as learning. In the early days of your business, a project that tests and expands the limits of your skills is exactly what you should be looking for. But after a while, things that used to be novel no longer seem so interesting — and that’s when it’s tempting to say yes to something just for the money. Make sure to ask yourself: “Do I really want to do this project? Paycheck aside, will it help me reach my goals?” Sometimes, to preserve your happiness, it’s OK to say no to the money.
We all have parts of our jobs that aren’t fun. But even an unpleasant task can have meaning if you search for it. Try this exercise. Think about an activity that you don’t always enjoy doing — delivering performance reviews, for example. Now ask yourself why you do it, but ask four times. The first time you ask “Why do I do this?” you might answer, “Because I have to” or “I want to let my people know where they stand.” Then ask a second time: “Why do I want to let my people know where they stand?” The answer here might not be inspiring: “Because it’s part of my job.” But the answer might also start to sound more meaningful: “So that people can know how they can reach their career goals.” Then ask a third time: “Why do I care if people know how to reach their career goals?” Continue for one more iteration. By the fourth round, you’re likely to uncover a meaningful reason behind the activity — and a motivation for doing it well.
Do you have a coworker who’s in a different office or location? When you work virtually with someone on a regular basis, it can be helpful to talk about how you’ll work together. Have a conversation about the best ways to communicate. For example, you might decide to email for simple matters but get on Skype when something complex requires you to share screens. Also, discuss what times of day are better to call or text, and whether there are particular days of the week you should avoid. If you collaborate on documents, establish a process to ensure you don’t inadvertently delete updates or create conflicting versions. Consider using Dropbox, Google Docs, or another service that monitors revisions. Establishing these kinds of ground rules early on demonstrates respect for each other’s time and helps avoid the frustration that can come from mismatched expectations.
Project overload is real. But as a leader, it can be hard to tell whether your team needs more resources or just could be working more efficiently. Start by asking people to identify their key activities and how much time they spend on them in a typical week. Use that data to assess workloads and priorities. Consider which tasks the team could stop doing and which might benefit from having their process rethought. Pay special attention to low-value projects that have to get done but that take up an inordinate amount of time. Are there ways to simplify the workflows to reduce the amount of time your team spends in these areas? And last but not least, look for tasks that simply can be done more quickly. If your team is still struggling after these steps, it might be time to hire more people.
Everyone wants their customers to be happy. And that requires using the right words, especially since more and more customer interactions take place through writing (email, live chat, even Twitter). Start the conversation by establishing a personal rapport. Show the customer that you’re listening to their problem or complaint, and then shift to a take-charge attitude, using confident, assertive language. Research shows that customer satisfaction is higher when you avoid deferential words (“afraid,” “mistake”) and use dominant language instead (“must,” “confirm,” “action”). In addition, customers will see you as more helpful if you use specific words. For example, a clothing retailer should talk about the “white turtleneck” rather than the “shirt,” and the “high-top sneakers” rather than the “shoes.” And don’t be afraid to explicitly endorse a product to the customer (“I suggest this comforter” or “I recommend this album”); doing so implicitly, by sharing your personal preference (“I like this comforter” or “I love this album”), can be less effective. An explicit endorsement signals both confidence and expertise.
If you work with someone who is constantly stressed out, you’re more likely to feel that way too. But there are ways to keep secondhand stress at bay. For starters, seek out the positive people in your office and spend time with them, even if it’s just to grab a quick coffee. Positive emotions can be just as infectious as negative ones. You can also stave off stress by being a role model for optimistic thinking. If an overwhelmed colleague constantly criticizes or shuts down ideas, counter those comments by pointing out what you find valuable in them. At the same time, don’t ignore or shun stressed-out colleagues — reach out to them and try to be helpful. You could ask if there’s anything you could do to move their project forward, for example. Being compassionate and action-oriented will also help you avoid “catching” their stress.
Being a good mentor takes time. How can you make sure your schedule full of meetings, speaking engagements, and travel doesn’t hinder your ability to be an attentive mentor? First, appreciate that some time is better than none. If 60-minute meetings aren’t possible, try to set aside 30 or even 15 minutes. These smaller windows will force your mentee (and you) to get to the point. And face-to-face meetings aren’t your only option: text messaging, email, video conferencing, and phone calls can all help you connect with your mentee. Most important, be fully present and engaged during mentoring sessions. Whether you are meeting in person, over Skype, or even having a text conversation, demonstrate to your mentee that for the next few minutes, they are all that matters. If you start to get distracted by other tasks or your next meeting, refocus your attention and remind yourself: Be here, now.
When Hollywood screenwriters pitch their movie ideas, producers are typically listening for a logline: one or two sentences that explain what the movie is about. If there is no logline, more often than not, there is no sale. This is a valuable lesson for business leaders trying to answer basic, essential questions: What does your startup or product do? What’s your new idea? You should be able to respond in a compelling sentence that is both easy to say and easy to remember. Identify the one thing you want your audience to hold on to. The iPod, for example, was “1,000 songs in your pocket.” A sales rep for a large tech company might focus on savings: “Our product will reduce your company’s cell phone bill by 80%.” Your logline should specify the problem you’re solving and give people a story they can take to other decision makers in their organizations.
When it comes to planning our careers, we carefully choose our companies and jobs. But rarely are we deliberate about selecting the advisers and confidantes who help us succeed. Cultivate a support group for your career by thinking about whose advice and expertise you wish you had on speed dial. Consider who you feel inspired by, whether they’re colleagues, senior leaders, or peers in your field. Seek these individuals out, and be candid about why you admire them and why you want to connect. Focus on building a relationship that will benefit both of you. As you get to know each other, don’t be afraid to explore big life questions: What do you want to do with your life? What motivates you? What are you doing that you really don’t like to do? Work together to become better versions of yourselves.
Companies naturally fragment into silos as they grow, and it’s common for those silos to feel competitive with each other. But cross-departmental tensions don’t have to get in the way of your team’s success. If you lead a function that historically has been at odds with another, reach out to your colleagues in the other department and let them know you’d like to collaborate better. The first step is for both sides to understand each other’s work. Spend time talking about what your departments do and what it’s like for your teams to interact. (You may hear something like, “I had no idea you do that! No wonder our requests drive you crazy.”) Think through the decisions you’ll need to make together, and determine who will get the final call. You may also need to acknowledge the historical baggage between your departments. The goal of these conversations is to build mutual respect and commit to collective success.
Sometimes productivity is a team effort. If a colleague is struggling to stay focused and engaged, helping them may not be part of your job description, but it is the kind thing to do. Take time to chat with them at their desk, or invite them to grab a cup of coffee or a drink after work. Let them know that you’ve noticed they’re off their game, and talk openly about the times you’ve struggled with projects or had bad days, to show them they are not alone. But make sure the conversation stays productive; it’s easy for a well-intentioned check-in to turn into a gripe session about what’s wrong with your workplace. Brainstorm small steps they can take to make progress on their most important goals. Of course, be careful that helping your colleague doesn’t drain your energy or hurt your performance. You don’t have to solve their problems — just give them the little push they need to get unstuck.
Newsletters are a popular and effective way to reach customers. But when most people feel overwhelmed by the volume of email they receive every day, how can you convince them to let you into their inbox? Start by coming up with a lead magnet, a free giveaway that people can download in exchange for sharing their email address. This might be an e-book, a link to a sought-after webinar, or access to exclusive video interviews — anything they’ll find valuable. Then make sure your lead magnet is featured prominently in any content you create. Add it to your bio in online articles, or mention it when you’re interviewed in podcasts. You might also consider cross-promotions. If you have a good relationship with someone whose products and focus areas align with yours, introduce each other to your respective audiences, so you both increase the size of your mailing list. Of course, you should choose your partners wisely, since their content and tactics will reflect on your brand.
Going back to work is tough for any new parent, but the transition is especially difficult for those suffering from postpartum depression. (Remember, postpartum depression affects both women and men.) If you manage someone who has recently had a baby, pay close attention to how they’re doing — a parent’s struggle doesn’t always show on the outside. Some people may overcompensate by working too hard, while others may show a loss of enthusiasm. Familiarize yourself with the services your firm offers — which may include groups for working parents, health care coverage for counseling, or post-natal yoga or meditation classes — so that you can help your employee access support. Offer options such as flex time, telecommuting, gradual return, or peer mentoring. In fact, it’s a good idea to offer these things to all team members so that the new parent doesn’t feel singled out. Find ways to make supporting employees and their mental health part of your culture.
Every job contains some grunt work. If you manage someone who thinks they have more than their fair share, consider ways to change up their responsibilities. You might, for example, impose a time constraint on an unglamorous task: Tell them the previous week’s data needs to be compiled and reported by Monday at 4 PM. Expect some pushback, since the employee is likely to say they can’t complete the work in half the time. But ask them to at least try — a time constraint can turn an unexciting task into an engaging challenge. You should also consider assigning them some new work. Giving them more-exciting projects will compel them to get through their lower-value work more quickly. And share the burden: If employees see you doing grunt work, they’ll be less likely to complain about it.
When you’re chronically busy and stressed, it’s easy to react in ways that make the situation worse rather than better. For example, if you have a million tasks on your to-do list, you may not think you have time to stop and prioritize. But simply barreling through everything that feels urgent isn’t an efficient strategy. Step back and rank your tasks based on urgency and importance. Whatever meets both criteria should be done first; everything else can wait. You should also look for simple solutions to problems that eat away at your time. Constantly forget to charge your phone? Keep a power cord at the office. Catch the same mistakes again and again? Ask your team to make a checklist for spotting their common errors. Travel for work a lot? Create a universal packing list so that planning takes less mental effort. Strategies like these will give you more energy, confidence, and time.
We all overcommit ourselves from time to time. And then, because we feel overwhelmed, we cancel or back out at the last minute. It feels like no big deal — everybody does it, right? But not following through on your commitments, whether by constantly rescheduling meetings or by failing to get back to people when you say you will, erodes your trustworthiness. Honoring your commitments begins with saying yes only to things you know you can do. If you’re unsure about a request, ask for time to think things over. And practice saying no so that you’ll be ready to turn someone down when needed. (Think about how you can tactfully but frankly refuse, and then say the words out loud until they feel comfortable.) By thoughtfully — and honestly — assessing the requests that come your way, you can protect both your schedule and your reputation.
Every manager would love to have a team of A players, but that’s probably not realistic. You’re almost always going to have a mix of performers on your team, so make sure you’re not ignoring your B players. These employees can be selfless, dedicated employees who fill important roles, but often they don’t get the attention they deserve. Make sure you’re giving them enough support and guidance by learning about their concerns, preferences, and work styles. It’s a good idea to occasionally reassess their job fit to make sure they’re in roles that draw on their strengths. And don’t overlook someone’s talents just because the person is quiet or reserved, or because they don’t fit your idea of what a leader should act like. Some B players aren’t comfortable in the spotlight but thrive when they’re encouraged to complete a project or to contribute for the good of the company. When they have the motivation and the encouragement they need, B players can turn in an A+ performance.
When managers delegate too often, their employees feel abandoned and unmotivated. There are a number of warning signs that you over-delegate, from miscommunicating with your team, to hearing about issues at the last minute, to misunderstanding how your employees set priorities. But the solution isn’t to overcorrect and start doing a bunch of low-level tasks. One approach is to signal that you’re reengaging by taking on a project that’s closely tied to your team’s work. Another is to reset expectations with your team. Use an offsite or planning meeting to reconfirm the vision for the department and get everyone on the same page about goals. It’s also a good idea to double down on communicating your vision for the team. Use every opportunity to stress and reinforce the message. You can remind people about the overarching vision at the beginning of a project, during town halls and other forums, or periodically through email.
When senior executives retire, there is no shortage of activities to occupy them — serving on boards, mentoring others, being with family. In fact, deciding what to do with your time can be a bit overwhelming. To ease the transition into retirement, think through your priorities: Where do you want to focus your time and effort when it comes to business, philanthropy, and family? That way, when opportunities come up, you can assess how they fit your goals. Write down the number of hours per day, and days per year, that you want to work. (Budget a little extra, since having a portfolio of activities can lead to unexpected time requirements.) Be sure to allot time for family and your hobbies so that they don’t get crowded out by work commitments. And don’t be afraid to say “no,” or at least “maybe,” to new opportunities. Take it slow, and see what other offers come your way before committing.