Sometimes the perfect job is thousands of miles away. How do you know if it’s worth relocating for a new opportunity? You might be tempted to weigh the pros and cons in an Excel spreadsheet, but it’s better to think holistically about your personal and professional goals. For example, consider the lifestyle you’ll have in the new location. Do you want a small-town life, or do you prefer a big city? Do you want to spend your weekends traveling, or do you want to feel rooted in a community? Think about the repercussions of taking the job, especially for your partner and kids. Will your spouse be able to find meaningful work after the move? Be realistic about what the move will mean for your family, and talk it through — a lot. If you’re still not sure what to do, you may want to try a short-term stint or job swap to test out the new location before committing.
Open-mindedness at work — about new products, strategies, business models — is one key to success. But how do you develop it? Research has found there are several things you can do. For one, travel, whether it’s to another country or somewhere closer to home. As you encounter ways of living that differ from the ones you know best, your brain will get better at accepting new approaches and ideas. For a cheaper option, read fiction. Books can train your brain to be curious about others’ experiences and opinions. Another low-cost option is mindfulness meditation, which has been shown to help people be willing to revise their ideas. And if you’re someone who tends to get stuck in their ways, there’s a simple trick you can try: Start sentences with “I could be wrong, but…” This conveys your openness to others and forces you to start conversations with a willingness to change your mind.
Sometimes you have to work with a colleague you don’t particularly like. They may not be toxic or difficult — they might just get on your nerves. To work with them productively, remind yourself that while you won’t get along with everyone, there is potential value in every interaction. Think about the other person’s point of view: Why do they do the things that annoy you? What might be motivating them? And how do you seem to them? It also helps to approach conversations with a problem-solving mindset: “I don’t feel like we are working together as effectively as we could. What do you think? Do you have any ideas for how we can work together better?” If that doesn’t work, try asking for their help: “You’ve been around here longer than I have. What should I be doing more or less of?” This can ease tensions and reboot a difficult relationship because it shows that you value the person’s experience.
It’s not always clear how you should think about growing in your career. One thing to try is writing a “from/to” statement that articulates where you are today and where you want to go. For example: I want to progress from an individual contributor who adds value through technical expertise and closely follows others’ directions, to a people leader who creates a clear strategy and delivers results through a small team. To write a from/to, ask trusted superiors and colleagues for their candid view of your current role and your goals. Tell them to be brutally honest, because their transparency will help you figure out how you need to grow. Reflect on their answers and incorporate them into your from/to statement — and then have your colleagues read it. Sometimes people think they’re far ahead of where they are, or choose a destination that is unrealistic. Your advisers can provide a reality check.
Bosses have a lot of influence on how employees spend their time. That’s why it’s so important for them to consider the ripple effects their input can have. Think of your comments, suggestions, and questions as pebbles you’re throwing into a stream: Each one can have an impact far larger than you may intend. So always recognize the weight your words carry, and speak with intention. During meetings with your team, try not to “think out loud,” and avoid lobbing ideas at everyone. Be sure you’re giving the team a clear, unified picture of projects and strategies; if you aren’t ready to do that in a certain situation, hold off on saying anything until you are. And don’t ask for updates unless you really need them. That kind of message appears urgent, even when it’s not. Always specify what information you need, why, and when, so you don’t create an unnecessary fire drill.
It’s not uncommon for people on a team to get together outside of work hours. These unplanned, informal events can be useful ways to connect, share information, and even make decisions. But they can also exclude some team members, even if it’s unintentional. As a manager, you can make sure everyone feels welcome at these kinds of events. Start by learning your employees’ preferences around social gatherings, including dietary restrictions and activities that make them feel comfortable. For example, make sure that not all events center around alcohol, so people who don’t drink aren’t excluded. When you’re thinking about future events, plan some gatherings during the day or over lunch, so those who can’t stay late don’t miss out. And then pay attention to how often the team meets informally and who’s showing up. These details will help you figure out who isn’t coming, and reach out to invite them when necessary.
For many managers, the hardest part of delegating is trusting that a task will be done well. But it becomes easier when you think of it as a chance to train your staff — not just get rid of some work. The next time you need to delegate something, start by determining who on your team is ready to handle more responsibility. Then create simple tasks to help them learn the skills they’ll need. If you’d like someone to take over running a weekly meeting, for instance, have them practice each part of the process: One week, they can create an agenda, which you’ll review. The next, they can watch you run the meeting, with plenty of chances to ask questions. Eventually they’ll be ready to try running the meeting themselves, after which you can offer feedback. This kind of teaching can be time-consuming, but it will go a long way toward preparing your team for more-complex work.
Every manager knows it’s important to keep their best people. But when retention issues crop up, it’s easy to want to blame anyone but yourself. Instead of pointing the finger, think long and hard about why your employees may be thinking of leaving and what’s needed to increase their engagement. Consider the possibility that you, or other leaders, are contributing to the problem. Don’t rely on your gut, though — collect some data. For instance, quick “pulse surveys” can be useful for keeping tabs on how employees feel about their jobs, and the job that management is doing. You might hear some uncomfortable truths when you ask for their opinions, but don’t get defensive. Be open to listening and to changing how you manage based on what people say. The good news is that, if you signal to employees that you’re willing to make meaningful changes, some of them will feel supported and inclined to stay.
Data and analytics are increasingly important to how we do our jobs. But how do you know which data skills to learn (or brush up on)? To figure this out, think about two factors: the amount of time it will take to learn a certain skill and how useful it will be in your role. For example, data visualization might be relevant and useful to your job, and it’s generally straightforward to learn (at least the basics). Focus on skills that are useful and aren’t time-consuming to acquire; these will have the most immediate payoff for your career. Think carefully about skills that would be useful but would take a lot of time and effort to learn. You’d have to prioritize them ahead of other activities, so you’d need to be sure they’re worth the investment. And the skills that are easy to learn but not that useful? Skip them.
Commercial bribes are illegal in many countries, but members of your global team may still encounter officials who demand them. To handle these sensitive situations, prepare people to respond. Often a bribe isn’t about money — it’s about respect. So empower managers on the ground to say, “I can’t give you a bribe, but what I can do is…” You might offer the official or their staff members a chance to participate in high-level decisions about your company’s commitment to the local community. Or you could talk about the official’s desired legacy and promise to publicly highlight their involvement in a mutually beneficial way. And be realistic about the costs of saying no to a bribe request. Could it lead to delays in delivery (if a customs official refuses to release goods at the border until he gets a kickback)? To failing to win a contract (if a minister expects a 10% cut of the procurement deal)? When needed, adjust cost and timing estimates so that your company can pursue its goals in an ethical, sustainable way.
Some bosses wonder how to manage creative people. Research suggests that they may in fact have a different type of personality. But that doesn’t mean you need to manage them in a completely different way — a lot of the same rules apply. Here’s what to focus on: Make sure there’s a good fit between their creative tendencies and their role, so you can tap into the full range of their talents. Surround them with detail-oriented project managers who will handle the implementation of their ideas. Don’t worry if their approach to work is nothing like yours — as long as they’re meeting deadlines. Prove that your company truly values creativity by rewarding people who come up with innovations. And apply the right amount of pressure to projects — too little will lead to a lack of motivation, and too much will create stress that inhibits creativity. Organizations that provide their most talented people with personalized development plans and mentoring opportunities, and that promote a culture of support and inclusion, will benefit from increased creative performance.
We all get frustrated with colleagues from time to time. But complaining about a coworker behind their back can be destructive. It erodes trust on the team, risks hurting the person’s feelings, and makes you look bad. The next time you’re tempted to complain about someone, stop and ask yourself why. If it’s to justify your feelings or to confirm that you’re right, don’t do it. On the other hand, if you’re having a problem with a coworker and want someone else’s take on the issue, or you want to brainstorm helpful solutions, then go for it. And when someone comes to you for a gripe session, pivot the conversation away from complaining and toward problem solving. You can also adopt a “tell them first” policy with your colleagues, meaning you’ll let someone vent to you about a coworker — as long as they’ve already talked to that coworker about the issue.
A support group at the office can be a boon to working parents. But companies should make sure their group is as inclusive as possible. It shouldn’t be just for moms — working parents can be male, female, biological, adoptive, gay, straight, from every conceivable background, and from all parts and levels of the organization. If you’re spearheading the creation of a support group, it’s your job to make sure every single parent in your company gets the message that they are welcome. Start by ensuring that the group’s leadership is diverse; prospective members will want to “see themselves” in its composition. Be sure to keep communications welcoming, too: In emails, for example, go out of your way to specify that the group is open to everyone. And don’t be afraid to get personal: If you sense that any parent in the company might feel left out, walk down the hall and invite them to the next meeting.
When you’re staffing a high-profile project, you want an all-star team. But it’s not enough to put your high performers on the task. There are three types of people who should be on the team of any breakthrough initiative. First, look for employees who are comfortable with uncertainty. You need individuals who will remain curious and focused even when the project is far from the end goal. Second, be sure you have people who create structure within chaos and take action. These workers can drive a team forward even when circumstances change. Finally, find employees who have a combination of three critical traits: divergent thinking (the ability to connect seemingly unrelated information and ideas); convergent action (the ability to execute on ideas and create something tangible); and influential communication (the ability to share knowledge in a coherent, compelling way). Lots of people have one of these critical traits, but your project team needs employees who have all of them.
We all want to get better at something. Maybe you’d like to be a more inspiring leader, be more productive, or take more risks. But ask yourself two questions. First, do you really want to do better? Presumably the answer is “yes,” but if you’re looking to improve because, say, your boss wants you to, be honest about that. Change will happen only if you’re committed to it. Second, are you willing to feel the discomfort of trying things that don’t work right away? Learning anything new is inherently uncomfortable, so be prepared to feel a little awkward. You will make mistakes. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed, especially if you are used to succeeding. But if you remain committed through all of that, you will get better.
Even when you love a job, sometimes you recognize that it’s time to move on. Whatever your reason for leaving, don’t give your two weeks’ notice and rush out the door. Take the time to say goodbye to the people and spaces that have been important to you. When you do a certain task, attend the all-hands meeting, or even look out your favorite window for the last time, stop for a moment and acknowledge it. And be sure to have a proper farewell with the coworkers you value most. Remember that you aren’t saying goodbye forever; those connections will continue, and can even develop in new ways. Of course, it’s OK to be sad about what you’re losing, even as you celebrate what’s coming next. Feeling sad might make you wonder if you are making a mistake. But maybe it just means that, for a period of time, you were lucky enough to have a job you really enjoyed.
We all like to consider ourselves smart, but raw intelligence isn’t everything. When we get stuck on a problem, sometimes it’s because we’re overthinking it. Pay attention to when focused thinking isn’t getting you anywhere; perhaps it has turned into obsessing over the same answers or approaches. Consider whether experimenting with a new strategy or talking ideas through with others might be more likely to result in success. Take breaks to let your brain relax and get unstuck. Expand your range of skills for reaching insights and coming up with new ideas; don’t be someone who sees every problem as a nail because your only tool is a hammer. And when you do find yourself ruminating, disrupt it by doing a few minutes of an absorbing activity, such as a puzzle. This can be a surprisingly effective way to break your brain out of a rut.
Peer-to-peer learning can be a powerful (and free) development tool. Research shows that when people want to learn a skill, turning to colleagues for help is often the first thing they do. You can encourage this kind of learning in your organization by setting up a formal program for it. Start by appointing a facilitator to oversee the program. It’s important to have a neutral party — who is not the team’s manager — to organize sessions, keep everyone on topic, and maintain a positive atmosphere. You also need to build a safe environment so that people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, experiences, and questions. Setting ground rules around honoring confidentiality and accepting feedback graciously can help. During sessions, be sure that learning is tied to real-world situations and problems so that participants can apply the skills they’ve learned quickly. And encourage employees to network, whether online, at networking events, or through another method, so that anyone in the company can get involved.
Visionary bosses can be fun to work for. But they can also be overwhelming if they seem to have an endless supply of ideas. How can you possibly implement everything they come up with? First of all, don’t assume your boss expects you to do something every time they have a brilliant thought. It’s OK to just listen and respond with a simple, “That’s a great idea” or “I’ll take a look,” and then wait to see if it comes up again. That way you’ll be able to tell whether the idea is actually important to your boss. If your manager does expect you to take action, shape and contain the idea by asking where it fits into the team’s goals and how your boss wants you to prioritize it. By connecting the idea to other, ongoing projects, you can help your boss assess it from a strategic perspective.
Every good manager wants their team to have the skills to succeed. So it makes sense to invest in training, right? Not so fast. Training can be powerful when it addresses an underdeveloped skill or knowledge deficit. But too often managers turn to training or formal learning when it won’t actually solve the problem it’s meant to. When is training worth trying? First, be sure your internal systems support the newly desired behavior. For example, training in proactive decision making won’t help employees if senior leaders make all the decisions in your company. Second, there needs to be a commitment to change. If your team isn’t willing to address a problem’s root cause, training won’t have the intended benefit. Third, the training needs to be connected to strategic priorities. If employees can’t see how what they’re learning relates to where the company is headed, you’ll waste your money — and their time.