I originally wrote this as a letter to my team when I left my last job. Since then I’ve sent copies of it to several people so I thought I’d share it more widely. I hope you find some value, and I’d love to know about your favorite resources I’m missing!
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First off you’ve got this. Most of management is meeting the person you have in front of you where they are, knowing where they need to be and what motivates them. Each of you have the compassion, kindness and insight to do that.
On rough days or when you’re looking to up your game here’s some stuff to dig into:
Leaders eat last — Ted Talk about the biochemistry of creating safety
Rand’s leadership slack — Some of the people on here are arrogant hotheads who should be taken with several grains of salt. The #tree-house (women & non-binary) channel is excellent however and I’ve learned a lot lurking in channels for jobs I don’t yet have learning what the main issues are as well as the accepted wisdom around how to approach them.
5 dysfunctions of a team — Best management book I know of. It gives ways to look at team dynamics, defines the concept of first team, and is a graphic novel so it’s a super quick read. Just read it.
Thanks for the feedback — The main thing I got out of this book is that there’s three types of feedback people need:
For Praise to be meaningful it should be specific. So “you’re doing a great job” is nice, but “I really like how you handled that presentation, especially how you ensured each of your points was backed up with specific data. It made for an airtight argument” means a lot more and helps the person grow more.
Coaching is described below and in this context also means giving negative feedback right away and helping people thing about how to grow from it. One trick I was taught was phrasing things in terms of the challenge people could take on to grow the most which helps keep people off the defensive quite so much.
Evaluation is done through an exercise like going through a career ladder and rating the person on each item. It can create anxiety when people don’t know where they stand in their boss’s eyes. Yes, they’ve been doing well here and poorly here, but what about the whole picture? Evaluation gives that feeling of knowing where you stand. It’s important to do for that reason, but can be overused as it has a tendency to focus people on their weaknesses and no two people will do a job in exactly the same way. First break all the rules goes into that concept in a lot more detail. Possibly more detail than is required. :)
How to win friends and influence people — A classic. Useful if you’re finding yourself bashing heads with someone and need to look at things in a different light.
Good Strategy, Bad Strategy — A book about strategy and higher level management that’s actually useful! If you’re ever being told to “be more strategic” or “put together a strategy” and you’re thinking… but I’m not totally sure what a strategy even is, then that’s the right moment to read this book.
Fierce Conversations — One of many conversation books. Crucial conversations, non-violent communication. I’ve read them all and they’re all pretty similar. I _think_ fierce conversations is the one that had a nice structure for running a 1:1 however. If it isn’t that one then it’s crucial conversations. It’s certainly the one that talks about different levels of delegation and being specific about that.
In general I find it really useful to think in terms of delegating problems and not tasks. The difference is that there are many ways to solve a problem — there isn’t an explicit solution defined. Tasks are simple work items that don’t really need creativity. Problems allow people to feel a sense of ownership and give them the opportunity to do something better than you would have and learn in the process.
Anyway, reading one of the books in this genre will help you when 1:1s get really heavy. Also you’ll laugh at my for linking a dog training blog, but I think about this post a lot: https://www.collared-scholar.com/dont-play-the-telephone-game-installing-a-feedback-loop-to-combat-confusion/ That whole blog has some great leadership nuggets as she’s a dog training who works for a leadership coaching school. It’s embarrassing to link people to though unless they have a dog. :)
Servant leadership is a good concept but the book isn’t really worth the time.
A short essay on Coaching Mentoring and Sponsorship
Coaching is the ability to pull out the wisdom of the other person through open ended questions. It can feel a bit like being a therapist except you’re helping people work through work issues — not childhood trauma. You don’t need any particular background to coach effectively. Instead watching what the other person is avoiding and leading them towards facing it is usually the key. It requires faith in the other person and a willingness to let them choose an answer that isn’t the one you might have picked. People will often surprise you by picking better options than you’d thought of.
Mentoring is using coaching skills and also layering in advice from your own experience. I’ve modeled doing this a bit heavier than is probably optimal. Often a useful thing to do is to tell a story about your experience and then say something to discount it slightly like “that isn’t a perfect map to this situation though. Is there anything in there that resonated with you?” The goal is still to have the other person drive as much as possible (when you’re looking to help them grow).
You know you’re really hard core winning with coaching and mentoring when people can build tiny models of you in their heads and work through harder problems without having to talk to real you.
Sponsoring involves everything in coaching and mentoring but also involves putting yourself on the line for the person you’re helping. Standing up and saying they should have more responsibilities, lead on a big project, that people should take a chance on them. You’re lending the person your credibility to get that chance and putting a bit of your reputation on the line in the process. People can’t progress without sponsorship.
Good luck, your team is lucky to have you.